As Florida feuds with Disney, GOP voters, donors live inside elite Disney World community

Republicans outnumber Democrats 3-to-1 in Disney’s Golden Oak neighborhood

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently mounted political attacks against The Walt Disney Company over its opposition to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – After driving under Walt Disney World’s entrance archways and winding past theme parks and hotels, resort visitors may find themselves outside the guarded gate of an elite residential community containing some of Central Florida’s most expensive real estate.

Golden Oak caters to Disney’s wealthiest fans by offering multimillion-dollar homes in a luxury development designed by Disney Imagineers, with private shuttle service to the company’s theme parks.

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Gov. Ron DeSantis recently mounted political attacks against The Walt Disney Company over its opposition to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

While DeSantis’ Republican allies in the Florida Legislature, like Rep. Jackie Toledo, have accused Disney of being “perverted by a woke mob of liberal extremists,” it appears many residents of Golden Oak are anything but liberal.

Using publicly available voter rolls, News 6 identified 262 Golden Oak residents registered to vote in Florida.

Only 40 of those voters, or about 15%, are registered as Democrats, state records show.

A majority – 124 voters, or 47% – are Republicans.

Another 98 voters are registered with minor parties or have declared no party affiliation.

About 45 of Golden Oak’s nearly 300 homes are owned by business entities, vacationers who live out-of-state, or Florida residents who are not registered to vote in the state, records indicate. Some Golden Oak residents own multiple homes in the community.

Besides outnumbering Democrats 3-to-1 among Florida voters, Republicans in Golden Oak also outspent their Democratic neighbors in political contributions.

Golden Oak residents have donated $371,512 to GOP candidates and organizations since 2014, according to state and federal campaign finance records, while just $28,542 was contributed to Democrats.

Retired Walmart CEO H. Lee Scott and his wife Linda are among the most generous donors in Golden Oak, publicly available campaign finance data shows. The couple has given $78,400 to Republican candidates and committees since 2014, according to records.

Scott declined to comment about the criticism aimed at Disney by Republican elected leaders.

“I appreciate you asking the question, and I know you will appreciate me not answering it,” Scott told News 6.

Records show Golden Oak donors have contributed to the very same politicians who have recently sparred with Disney including DeSantis, Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and congressional candidates Marjorie Taylor Greene and Anthony Sabatini.

Sabatini participated in a demonstration outside one of the Walt Disney World entrances earlier this month where some protesters appeared to temporarily block one of the resort’s entrance roads by claiming a vehicle’s battery was dead.

In a video posted on Sabatini’s Facebook page that is no longer publicly visible, the state representative from Lake County stood in front of the Disney World marquee as someone held a sign behind him that read “Disney is Satan’s church.”

“It is time for the Disney rat to go to hell,” Sabatini said in the video as he gestured toward an image of Mickey Mouse. “No more woke, communist and corporate tyranny telling we Republicans what to do here in the state of Florida.”

It is unclear what residents of Golden Oak think about the political war of words waging outside the walls of their very private community.

News 6 sought comments from nearly 50 Golden Oak residents with a variety of political affiliations. Most did not respond, and those that did declined to discuss politicians’ recent criticism of Disney.

In 2015, News 6 spoke with Golden Oak resident Jonathan Ledden as part of a feature story about the community.

“If it’s a quiet Friday afternoon and you want to go ride Space Mountain, you’re there in 15 minutes,” Ledden said in the 2015 interview. “Everyone here certainly likes Disney. Some are absolutely Disney-philes, and their whole house is decorated that way. And then you have us, who just like living here, with or without Disney.”

Ledden, a Republican philanthropist, declined to comment about the recent political dispute between Disney and some elected leaders.

“We continue to enjoy living in Golden Oak and have made Orlando our home,” Ledden wrote in an email to News 6 last week. “We look forward to being here for years to come.”

Before Golden Oak was built, the subdivision was de-annexed from the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which provides government services to the Disney resort.

All Golden Oak property owners are residents of unincorporated Orange County, making them ineligible to vote on Reedy Creek matters.

Last week, DeSantis signed a bill that will abolish the Reedy Creek Improvement District in June 2023, stripping Disney of its governmental powers.

Although the governor insists the move will not financially impact Florida citizens, Orange County’s tax collector estimates that property owners could potentially see Orange County’s portion of their property tax bill increase 15% to 20% if the county is forced to absorb Reedy Creek’s $1 billion to $2 billion bond debt.

A 9,444 square foot home in Golden Oak is currently listed for sale at $9.5 million on Disney’s website for the community.

That home’s tax bill totaled $77,808 last year, county records show, with about $21,700 of the tax specifically levied by Orange County.

Disney did not respond to an inquiry from News 6 asking whether the political dispute involving the company might impact home sales in Golden Oak.

A realtor familiar with Golden Oak told News 6 that high demand for homes in the exclusive Disney community is not expected to subside because of the political controversy.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.