A slew of employers in the Atlanta area, including Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola, on Wednesday clashed with Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who signed the bill that critics described as a revival of Jim Crow’s racism.
The measure introduces new barriers to voting, reduces the number of drop-down boxes in African American regions and allows the state to step in to assert control over holding elections in democratic counties. It shortens the time available for absentee voting and introduces new registration requirements that campaign activists say are designed to target black voters.
After Delta initially voiced support for voting rights and largely accepted the line of Republican law earlier this week, airline chief executive Ed Bastian issued a memo to employees Wednesday criticizing it – saying he now had enough time to understand its true impact.
“It is clear that the bill includes provisions that will make it difficult for many underrepresented voters, especially black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives. This is a mistake,” Bastian said, adding that the law was based on a “lie.” “Elections rigged in 2020 in Georgia.
Coca-Cola CEO James Quincy told CNBC on Wednesday that his company had “always opposed this legislation” as “unacceptable” after intense pressure from civil rights organizations to take a stronger stance on the soft drink giant. Both Delta and Coca-Cola have been targeted by hashtag campaigns on social media calling for a boycott.
Pessimists might argue that the big companies that are quick to denounce the law are behaving just as the big corporations usually do, to protect the reputation of their brands and to avoid alienating their customer base over a hot political issue.
The time it took for the backlash to emerge explains the state’s Republican lawmakers rush to speed it up to the governor’s office earlier this month. But it’s hard to take seriously claims by some of the world’s most sophisticated companies that it took some time to figure out what’s on the bill.
The shock of the 2020 elections
The changing attitudes in the corporate world regarding legislation reflect the still reverberating shock waves of the 2020 elections and Trump’s destruction of the tradition of peaceful transfer of power in his efforts to nullify his election loss. Like every citizen, and every American entity, large corporations are called upon to make a choice that they may prefer to avoid in whichever side of the divide lies – not least because the democratic system that made them powerful is still under attack.
Whether Democrats and voting rights activists now have the influence of powerful allies in the fight against the wave of voter suppression measures in multiple states through events. The Democratic Party of Georgia said the executives of Coca-Cola and Delta were right to criticize the law, but they said that now they should stand firmly behind two Democratic Washington House bills sent to the Senate that would help remove restrictions on voting in states like Georgia.
The legislation would reverse many provisions of Republican Party laws and bills in Georgia, Texas, Arizona, and other states by setting national voter standards. But it faces horrific expectations, with some Democrats in the Senate worrying about some of the details. To pass it, Democrats may have to spark a political fire by abolishing the tradition of procrastination that effectively means an overwhelming majority of 60 votes is needed to pass key legislation.
“We look forward to engaging with Georgia companies like Coca-Cola and Delta as true partners in these crucial issues, which affect the civil rights of Georgians and all Americans,” said Representative Nikima Williams, who heads the Peach State Democratic Party. Statement kept pressure.
Businesses are facing change
The rash of rhetoric by corporate leaders critical of Georgia’s law underscores how sensitive the majors are to public opinion – at least in the short term. It may also reflect pressure from Georgia’s large workforce and also a judgment of the future consumer. Long-term demographic trends are unfavorable for white conservative political leaders who face a wave of diversity that could overwhelm their cultural populism in the coming decades. Firms that fall on the wrong side of the equation can dent their bottom line in years to come.
The pressure in the corporate world for more companies to speak came amid an effort by black business leaders led by Kenneth Chennault, former CEO of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck, to get their corporate colleagues to take stronger positions against voter suppression.
“The companies have to stand up. There is no compromise,” Chennault said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” at the start of the day that saw the companies’ violent backlash and their reprisals on the business channel.
The declaration said: “The new law and other non-democratic and non-American laws at the same time, and they are wrong.” “Make no mistake, we have seen this evidence before by those seeking to deny fellow Americans the opportunity to have their vote heard at the polls.”
Kemp, the Republican governor of Georgia, also appeared on CNBC and pressed CEOs, arguing that they had chosen provisions of the law and did not understand them.
The governor argued that critics are ignoring the fact that the new law now requires every county in Georgia to provide a drop fund for the early vote to be collected. But he didn’t mention new restrictions on the number of funds allowed, and the hours they could be accessed, making it actually difficult to vote in Democratic-leaning counties plagued by long election day lines.
In a statement, Kemp also criticized the law from Bastian, the CEO of Delta, claiming that there is no difference between requiring people to show official ID cards such as driver’s licenses to allow people to vote or board the plane.
Exercise after you feel stressed
The intervention of corporate CEOs is a sign of the success of the lobbying campaign by Democrats and civil rights groups in Georgia, which is now a critical swing state. Biden became the first Democrat since 1992 to win the state, which was also responsible for handing his party control of the Senate 50-50 in two rounds of the January run-off election.
The voting law would guarantee a scorching race for the governor’s mansion in 2022 – which could put Kemp in a rematch against the voting rights activist and former Democratic leader of the Georgia House of Representatives Stacy Abrams who played a key role in turning the state blue in November.
She called on business leaders to truly realize what is happening as Republicans seek to enact new nationwide voting laws in response to Trump’s loss. She said the big corporations should put a solid footing in their criticism by refusing to donate their campaign to lawmakers who are suppressing votes.
“I ask like-minded Americans to stick to their stated values - by measuring their actions and demanding to stand with us,” Abrams wrote.
The next front in the lobbying campaign against Georgia’s law in the sport may come. Ahead of Opening Day Thursday, the Major League Baseball Players’ Union said it was open to discuss this year’s All-Star Game outside of Georgia. State politics will likely intervene at next week’s Masters at the Augusta National, the first major golf game of the year.
The National Coalition of Black Justice, a leading civil rights group, has asked the PGA Tour to withdraw from the tournament. The race issue was already high on this year’s Masters because Lee Elder appeared as an honorary starter alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
Elder was the first black player to participate in the tournament in 1975 and his inclusion is widely seen as an attempt by the exclusive club to address the mistakes of the past after failing to accept African-American members for most of its history. The Sheikh’s honor was announced during the nationwide race calculation process after the murder of George Floyd. The trial of the police officer accused of his death is currently taking place in Minneapolis.
(AT&T, which owns CNN, is the master’s longtime sponsor).
CNN’s Chris Isidore and Frederica Scotton contributed to this report.