According to an official Florida government news release, Governor Ron DeSantis has named Charbel Barakat to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board — responsible for the governance of a special administrative district mostly comprised of Walt Disney World property.
Barakat, of Tampa, is the Regional General Counsel for D.R. Horton, Inc. He currently serves as a Commissioner for the Second District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission and serves on the Florida Development Finance Corporation. Barakat is Vice President of the Federalist Society for the Tampa Bay Chapter and Chairman of the Volume Builders Council for the Florida Home Builders Association. Barakat earned his bachelor’s degree in international studies from Johns Hopkins University and his juris doctor from New York University School of Law.
The appointment is not official until confirmed by the Florida Senate, though the Republican Party (to which the Governor belongs) currently holds a supermajority, meaning there likely will not be any obstacles to Barakat’s approval.
This announcement comes after Michael Sasso resigned from his Board position only a few months into a term set to last until February 2027.
A reason or explanation was not given by Sasso or the CFTOD Board, but it is worth noting his wife was recently appointed by DeSantis to serve on the Florida Supreme Court. Litigation between Disney, the CFTOD, and the State of Florida (including the Governor) is still pending.
A History of the Disney-DeSantis Feud
The Florida Governor and Walt Disney Company initially clashed over the corporation’s opposition to a much-debated and controversial Florida law regarding classroom instruction and discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, alongside various other recent state laws and proposals in a similar vein.
Bob Chapek was Chief Executive Officer at the time and initially remained silent and passive on the issue — until massive internal criticisms from cast members, the LGBTQ+ community, and controversy over Disney’s practice of making hefty political contributions to campaigns and individuals allegedly against their own stated human principles came into focus.
In an apparent act of retribution over Chapek’s expression of dissent, the Governor moved forward with various verbal and legal assaults on Disney, including the dissolution of Reedy Creek and eventual transfer of power directly under his control. DeSantis argues he is attacking a rather vague perception of something he calls “woke politics,” invading the state. He further states he aims to put the people of Florida first through his actions:
Disney has gotten away with special deals from the state of Florida for way too long. It took a look under the hood to see what Disney has become to truly understand their inappropriate influence.
After heated exchanges and dramatic actions taken by the Governor alleged to be intentionally harmful punishments, The Walt Disney Company sued the Governor and his newly handpicked board not long after Bob Iger’s return as CEO, citing a “targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.” The plaintiff argues that this chronology of events “threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”
The Walt Disney Company is suing for “declaratory and injunctive relief.” Injunctive relief forces a party to act in a certain way or prevents them from doing various things. An “injunction” is sometimes known as a restraining order.
Disney regrets that it has come to this, but having exhausted efforts to seek a resolution, the Company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests, and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials.
DeSantis insists he will double down on efforts to punish the resort through methods both in the Legislature and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board. Notably, he promised to hike hotel taxes and institute tolls on the roads around Walt Disney World Resort property and suggested the idea of building a prison on land directly beside Disney property. Additionally, a bill was passed mandating state inspections of the resort’s monorails.
There’s a lot of little back-and-forths going on now with the state taking control, but rest assured, you know, you ain’t seen nothing yet. There’s more to come in that regard.
A recent poll showed Americans are mostly split about whether or not Disney and Governor DeSantis have behaved “appropriately,” but think the court should rule in Disney’s favor.