DeSantis names Disney World admin to run elections in Democratic Orange County

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has a new job for the longtime supporter who has led Walt Disney World’s government since his allies took it over

Mike Schneider
Monday 04 March 2024 20:48 GMT
Disney-DeSantis (Orlando Sentinel)

Gov. Ron DeSantis has a new job for the man who has led Walt Disney World's government since his allies took it over — elections supervisor in Orange County, long one of Florida's most reliable sources of Democratic votes.

Glen Gilzean was appointed Monday by the Republican governor to oversee the voting in Florida’s fifth largest county, where more than 1.4 million residents live among the largest theme park resorts in the U.S. Just last May, Gilzean was chosen to be administrator of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Committee after DeSantis’ allies took over the Disney World governing district.

Gilzean previously served as a DeSantis appointee on the Florida Commission on Ethics and was president and CEO of Central Florida Urban League.

The county's longtime elections supervisor Bill Cowles retired in January, about a year before his term was up. Cowles, a Democrat, was first elected in 1996 to the job, which oversees elections in Orlando and surrounding communities.

Neither Gilzean nor a spokesman for the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District responded to email inquiries on Monday. As the district's administrator, Gilzean had an annual salary of $400,000. He'll earn around half that as elections supervisor.

Gilzean's new appointment comes at a time of turmoil for the district, which has seen an exodus of experienced staffers since the takeover and multiple litigation. The district provides municipal services such as firefighting, planning and mosquito control, among other things.

A fight between DeSantis and Disney began in 2022 after the company, facing significant pressure internally and externally, publicly opposed a state law which critics have called “Don’t Say Gay.” The 2022 law bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades and was championed by DeSantis, who used Disney as a punching bag in speeches until he suspended his presidential campaign this year.

As punishment, DeSantis took over the district through legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature and appointed a new board of supervisors, which named Gilzean as administrator.

Disney sued DeSantis and his appointees, claiming the company's free speech rights were violated for speaking out against the legislation. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit in January. Disney has appealed.

A separate lawsuit over who controls the district is still pending in state court in Orlando.


Follow Mike Schneider on X, formerly known as Twitter: @MikeSchneiderAP.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in