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Big businesses side with Democrats in clash over voting rights

Immediately after Major League Baseball announced it was moving this year’s All-Star Game out of Georgia in response to the state’s new law that makes it harder to vote, state Republicans behind the law blamed some of its leading Democratic critics — including Stacey Abrams.

After acting on former President Donald Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was stolen by enacting new restrictions on voting, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston, both Republicans, tried to spin the reality of the law they’d passed by blaming the backlash it has provoked on “lies” from the left.

“This attack on our state is the direct result of repeated lies” from Abrams and President Joe Biden, Kemp said. “Stacey Abrams’ leftist lies have stolen the All-Star Game from Georgia,” Ralston said.

But Abrams, the leading voting rights activist and former candidate for governor, had a different message for businesses and event hosts considering whether to pull out of Georgia: “Stay and fight.”

Abrams and other critics of the new law that imposes a raft of voting restrictions, passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed into law by Kemp last week, said they want corporations and associations to fight to reverse the law alongside them, rather than abandoning the state.

“I urge those who can to come and speak out, and I urge those who are here to stay and fight, to stay and vote. We need you,” Abrams said in a statement Friday afternoon shortly after the MLB announced its decision.

The business backlash in Georgia and other states where Republican lawmakers are advancing bills that would impose new voting restrictions — including Texas, where American Airlines and Dell lambasted the GOP legislation this week — is reminiscent of another recent fight: North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom bill.”

The NCAA pulled tournaments out of the state in 2017 after the state passed a law that said people in government-run facilities could only use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate. In practice, the law meant that many transgender and nonbinary people were unable to use a restroom in government buildings, and felt unsafe to do so elsewhere in public. The NBA delayed its plans to hold its All-Star Game in Charlotte by two years. Adidas, PayPal, Deutsche Bank and other companies scrapped plans for new facilities in the state.

Abrams and other leading Georgia Democrats said Friday they are worried about who will be penalized by the economic fallout of Georgia’s voter suppression law.

“I respect boycotts, although I don’t want to see Georgia families hurt by lost events and jobs. Georgians targeted by voter suppression will be hurt as opportunities go to other states. We should not abandon the victims of GOP malice and lies — we must stand together,” Abrams said.

Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock similarly said that while he respects MLB’s decision, he hopes to see those with influence fight against the state’s new law in person rather than boycotting Georgia.

“It is my hope that businesses, athletes, and entertainers can protest this law not by leaving Georgia but by coming here and fighting voter suppression head on, and hand-in-hand with the community,” Warnock said in a statement.

That’s not what MLB decided to do.

“I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”

MLB’s decision, and the reactions from Abrams, Warnock and other Georgia Democrats, underscored the big questions those making decisions about doing business in the state now face about how to most effectively demonstrate their opposition to the voting law — both in the state, where activists still hope to fight it, and to a broader national audience.

Georgia-based businesses, including Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, have criticized the new law. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a memo Wednesday — which came after criticism of Delta for not being vocal enough in opposing Georgia’s new law — that the “entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true.”

The companies quickly faced criticism from Republicans, including Kemp, who said Bastian “continues to spread the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists.”

On Friday, Kemp, Ralston and other Georgia Republicans blamed Abrams for “lies” about the new voting law.

“Georgians — and all Americans — should fully understand what the MLB’s knee-jerk decision means: cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included. If the left doesn’t agree with you, facts and the truth do not matter,” Kemp said.

“Totally caving to the lies of the Left. Boycott the MLB,” US Rep. Buddy Carter tweeted.

But its passage was built on the premise of the falsehoods and distortions of Trump: That widespread fraud in the 2020 election was responsible for his loss to Biden.

Kemp’s complaints about “cancel culture” follow an effort by the governor and other Georgia Republicans to make it more difficult to vote — especially for Black and brown people who experts say will face the most harm as a result of the new law — after Democrats won the state in a presidential election for the first time since 1992.

Democrats, meanwhile, said it’s up to the same Republicans that passed the voting law to halt the economic blowback they created.

“Unfortunately, the removal of the MLB All Star game from GA is likely the 1st of many dominoes to fall, until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted.

Abrams for years has said she respects boycotts, but believes they don’t have the effect of stopping the laws that prompt them.

“I believe that people should follow their values and if they believe that the refusal to invest makes sense, I understand that,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2019, after Georgia passed a strict anti-abortion law that prompted calls for major movie studios to boycott the state’s film production industry.

“While an industry boycott could have an effect, it will not have the effect of actually stopping the laws. We have to recognize that the men who are pushing this law — and it’s mostly men — they truly do not care about the lives of those they are affecting, and they are not to be persuaded by an economic boycott,” she said then. “In fact, if you listen to some of the pundits who’ve been on the air, they say, ‘Let’s let Hollywood boycott us.’ Because they think it actually makes them look stronger at home.”

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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