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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a conference in Jerusalem, on April 27.POOL/The Associated Press

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Thursday brushed off legal action taken against him by Walt Disney Co, describing it as politically motivated and accusing the global entertainment giant of lacking accountability and transparency.

Disney, in a lawsuit filed this week, accused the DeSantis administration of “weaponizing its power to inflict political punishment” in a dispute over special provisions for the Disney World theme park in central Florida. Disney is one of the state’s largest employers and its amusement parks draw millions of visitors every year.

“I don’t think the suit has merit, I think it’s political,” DeSantis told reporters in Jerusalem, his latest stop on an international tour before an expected announcement of a presidential run that would pit him against former President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination.

DeSantis is embroiled in a battle with Disney over a Florida measure banning classroom discussion of sexuality and gender identity with young children. Elected Republicans have increasingly attacked companies’ social policies as businesses push to diversify their workforces, fund climate-related measures and support more LGBTQ+ rights.

Florida passed legislation ending special conditions that gave Disney virtual autonomy in the Florida district where Disney World is located.

“They had no transparency, no accountability, none of that, and that arrangement was not good for the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “We did not think that that should continue, so we now have brought accountability.”

Disney, which has criticized the Florida classroom measure, says the state government has illegally punished it for voicing an opinion that should be protected by free speech rights. Shares of the company’s stock were up 1.4 per cent on Thursday after falling on Wednesday.

Initially, DeSantis won plaudits from supporters in Florida and the base of the Republican party, but he has of late been criticized for what has turned into a legal imbroglio.

Trump has said DeSantis is being outwitted by the global entertainment giant, while fellow Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, suggested the company could move to her state.

In a national Reuters/Ipsos poll taken this week, 44 per cent of Republicans said they had a more favourable view of DeSantis because of the fight with Disney. But 73 per cent – including 82 per cent of Democrats and 63 per cent of Republicans – said they were less likely to support a political candidate who backs laws designed to punish a company for its political or cultural stances.

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