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DeSantis’ Disney district boss gets a new gig: Elections supervisor in Democratic-leaning Orange County

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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 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.

Gilzean didn’t respond to an emailed inquiry.

Responding to an email, the district’s office of public information said the “transition should be completed in one week,” without offering further details. As the district’s administrator, Gilzean had an annual salary of $400,000. He’ll earn about half that as elections supervisor.

In a joint statement, a group of federal and state Democratic lawmakers in the Orlando area, including U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost, said Gilzean’s appointment was just the latest example of DeSantis naming unqualified loyalists to elected positions “so he can control every part of our state and local governments and warp our democracy to his will.”

“Glen Gilzean is a Ron DeSantis loyalist who’s top priority seems to be making Ron DeSantis happy, not protecting the integrity of our elections,” the Democratic lawmakers said. “This move signals the Governor’s focus on silencing the voices of Central Florida voters as one of the most northern progressive hubs in our state. We cannot let this happen.”

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 lots of 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 internal and external pressure, publicly opposed a state law that 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.

In his new job, Gilzean will oversee the GOP presidential primary this month, primaries in August and the November general election. He has no previous experience running elections. Currently, five Democrats, a Republican and an independent have filed to run for elections supervisor in Orange County later this year. Gilzean is not among them.

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