Georgia Gov. Brian KempBrian KempTrump calls for Republicans to boycott companies amid voting law controversy Georgia county says removal of All-Star game will cost tourism 0M Kemp: Voting law ‘worth the boycotts as well as the lawsuits’ MORE should ask fellow Republicans Fife Symington and Pat McCrory about the intense fire he’s about to face.
Kemp recently signed state legislation imposing voting restrictions that civil rights groups say are targeted at voters of color. It follows an election in which Democrats, fueled by Black turnout, won the presidential contest and both Georgia Senate seats — which Donald TrumpDonald TrumpLawmakers say fixing border crisis is Biden’s job Trump calls for Republicans to boycott companies amid voting law controversy Georgia county says removal of All-Star game will cost tourism 0M MORE falsely charged was due to “voter fraud.”
Backlash to this Georgia voter suppression law from the sports and corporate world is building rapidly. We have seen this movie: 30 years ago, when Arizona refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday — and five years ago, when North Carolina enacted a bill to punish transgender citizens. Both states faced massive protests from sports organizations and businesses and had to back down.
Kemp, up for reelection next year and trying to placate Trump, insists — incredulously — that the Republicans want to expand voting rights. In reality, the measure reduces the time voters can request, cast and return absentee ballots, truncates early voting in run-offs like the two in January that Republicans lost, and gives the Republican state legislature power to control voting rules in counties, like the heavily Black Atlanta area venues.
The first bombshell dropped Friday when Major League baseball announced its was moving the July 13 all-star game from Atlanta as a protest to the voting law. “Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support,” commissioner Robert Manfred said in a statement. This is an even bigger deal, as the all-star game is honoring Atlanta Braves great Henry Aaron who died a few months ago. Having known Aaron a little and about him a lot, I suspect the baseball legend and civil rights advocate would have wanted the game moved in light of the voting suppression bill.
The Arizona parallel starts with Ronald Reagan signing the bill making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday. A Republican governor nixed that for Arizona, prompting protests. The National Football League moved the Super Bowl — and the $200 million it would bring in — from Phoenix to California. Several years later, Gov. Symington — not the man who cancelled the holiday — supported a state referendum that reinstated the holiday. Several years later, the Super Bowl came to Arizona.
In 2016, the right-wing Republican North Carolina legislature passed a law that, among other things, required transgender people to only use public bathrooms for the gender on their birth certificate. Republicans, including Gov. McCrory, saw the bathroom law as a winning cultural/political issue.
They hardly saw what hit them.
With civil rights protests and multiple lawsuits, businesses cut back, concerts and conferences were cancelled, tourism suffered. One analysis suggested the state would lose $3.7 billion over 12 years.
The most lethal blow came again from the sports world: The National Basketball Association moved its Charlotte all-star game from Charlotte, and the NCAA threatened to cancel any championship tournaments in the Tar Heel State for six years. Legendary basketball coaches Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Roy Williams of the University of North Carolina — both far more popular than any politician there — called the bill an embarrassment.
McCrory then was defeated in the November election by Roy Cooper. The following spring the bathroom law was repealed. The NBA all-star game came to Charlotte in 2019.
A number of large companies, from Wall Street to high tech, have weighed in against the Georgia voter law. Ken Chenault, the former chairman of American Express, and 71 other top Black corporate executives are mobilizing against the Georgia law and similar anti-voting measures in other states, including Texas and Florida. “This is the first time a collection of African-Americans in the corporate sector have taken a stand on a social issue,” he told me in an interview; the high-powered signatories were assembled in only two days. “This is a moral issue, focused on the right to vote, the lifeblood of our Democracy, particularly given the tortured history of Black Americans.”
Leading Georgia companies were slow to respond, though Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines now criticize the voter suppression legislation. Democrats urged them to support a national voting standards bill in Congress. That’s fine, but a bigger message would be for those companies to join in the lawsuits against the legislation.
The role of sports and the significance of moving the all-star game, as President BidenJoe BidenLawmakers say fixing border crisis is Biden’s job Trump calls for Republicans to boycott companies amid voting law controversy White House: GOP has ‘struggled to articulate a reason’ to oppose infrastructure plan MORE called for, can’t be overstated. Baseball owners, unlike professional basketball or even football, are more conservative, with a don’t rock the boat mindset. Only about 8 percent of the players are Black, though more than 30 percent are Hispanic.
This will bring pressure on other athletic events slated for Georgia. The powerful Southeast conference college football championship is scheduled to be played in Atlanta next December.
The conventional wisdom says Republicans won’t change this law — perhaps a minor concession like lifting the ban on providing water and food to citizens in long lines — and will benefit from a suppressed Black vote, helping Kemp ride to reelection next year.
That’s what they said in North Carolina five years ago.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.