Biden says he’d “strongly support” moving MLB All-Star game out of Atlanta due to strict new Georgia voting curbs

FILE – In this Nov. 3, 2020, file photo, a poll worker talks to a voter before they vote on a paper ballot on Election Day in Atlanta. In addition to their nationwide efforts to restrict voting access, Republican lawmakers in some key states are seeking greater control over the local mechanics of elections, from voter registration to certifying results. It’s part of a broader GOP campaign to limit access to the ballot and challenge outcomes. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

President Biden says he’d “strongly support” moving the Major League Baseball All-Star game out of Atlanta as a rebuke to strict new voting restrictions in the state. The president said on ESPN Wednesday night that the curbs are “just not right.”

“This is Jim Crow on steroids, what they are doing in Georgia and 40 other states,” he said. “What it’s all about — imagine passing a law saying you cant provide water or food for  someone standing in a line to vote. Can’t do that. Come on? Or you close a polling place at 5 o’clock when working people just get off?

“This is all about keeping working folks and ordinary folks that I grew up with from being able to vote. Come on.”

Mr. Biden’s statement came as a backlash against the new limits grew.

Some of Georgia’s most prominent corporate leaders began to more forcefully criticize the sweeping new law Wednesday, acknowledging concerns of civil rights activists, Black clergymen and Black business executives who say the measure targets non-white voters and threatens the democratic process.

The chief executives of Delta and Coca-Cola pivoted from earlier, more equivocal statements and called the law “unacceptable,” opening an unusual rift with Republican leaders who championed the legislation and typically enjoy a cozy relationship with the state’s business community.

But lawmakers indicated they’re not backing down. Republicans in the Georgia House of Representatives voted late Wednesday to strip Delta of a tax break worth tens of millions of dollars annually. Even though that was rendered symbolic when the state Senate failed to take up the measure before adjourning its yearly session, it was a reminder of paths politicians could take.

The business lobby in Georgia, home to 18 companies in the Fortune 500, wields significant clout in state politics. Civil rights activists blamed influential executives for not helping spike the new law that’s become a focal point in the nationwide, partisan fight over voting rights, and there is rising pressure nationally on corporate titans to defend voting rights more explicitly and oppose Republican efforts in states that could follow Georgia’s lead. Delta’s and Coca-Cola’s latest declarations could push Georgia’s other marquee brands, including UPS and Home Depot, to take a stronger stand.

UPS and Home Depot still haven’t publicly opposed the law.

“Delta’s statement finally tells the truth – even if it’s late,” said Nsé Ufot of the New Georgia Project, which has launched an ad campaign targeting major corporations.

The new law has sparked calls for boycotts of major Georgia-based companies

After Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed it last week, Delta issued a statement promoting parts of the law such as expanded weekend voting but said “we understand concerns remain over other provisions … and there continues to be work ahead in this important effort.”

Delta and Coca-Cola get more forceful

Chief executive Ed Bastian was more blunt in a memo sent Wednesday to employees.

“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,” Bastian wrote, alluding to former President Trump’s false claims that he lost because of fraud. “Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.”

Bastian said Delta “joined other major Atlanta corporations to work closely with elected officials from both parties, to try and remove some of the most egregious measures from the bill. We had some success in eliminating the most suppressive tactics that some had proposed.”

But, he said, “I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.”

Speaking later on CNBC, Coca-Cola chief executive James Quincey called the legislation a “step backward.”

“It does not promote principles we have stood for in Georgia around broad access to voting, around voter convenience, about ensuring election integrity,” he said. “This legislation is wrong and needs to be remedied.”

Kemp insisted the law was being misrepresented. He accused businesses of ignoring their role in its development.

“Throughout the legislative process, we spoke directly with Delta representatives numerous times,” the governor said in a statement. “Today’s statement … stands in stark contrast to our conversations with the company, ignores the content of the new law, and unfortunately continues to spread the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists.”

Perhaps part of the reason some of those companies’ stances matter is that Coca-Cola, Delta and Home Depot have governing boards that are more diverse than the average S&P 500 firm. Four out of 15 of UPS’ board members are people of color, or nearly 30%. A recent study by recruiting firm Spencer Stuart found that at the 200 largest companies in the S&P 500-stock index, an average of 10% of their corporate board members were Black. Latino directors made up another 4%.

For Coca-Cola, three of its 12 board members, or 25%, are people of color, while Delta and Home Depot have two diverse board members out of 12, or 17%.

Pressure grows

Voting rights groups continued to fight the legislation and criticize corporate players for not trying to block it altogether.

Ufot chided Bastian for his timing and alluding to conversations “with leaders and employees in the Black community” late in the process. She also noted advocates’ pending demands that Delta and other companies no longer use their political action committees to back lawmakers who support voting restrictions.

Bastian’s memo didn’t address that matter. Quincey noted on CNBC that Coca-Cola, even before Georgia’s action, already had paused its PAC activity and would consider politicians’ position on voting rights as part of future contributions.

Also on Wednesday, dozens of Black business executives from around the country, including Merck chief executive Kenneth Frazier and former American Express chief executive Kenneth Chenault, released a joint letter in The New York Times urging corporate America to stand up forcefully on matters of racial justice.

“The reality is, corporations have been silent on this issue and that is why we’ve said action has to be taken,” Chenault told “CBS This Morning” Wednesday.

Black activists, meanwhile, recalled that many U.S. corporations took public stands last summer amid nationwide demonstrations against systemic racism and police violence.

Bishop Reginald Jackson, who presides over more than 400 African Methodist Episcopal churches in Georgia, said too many corporate leaders have been “silent” on voting laws. He has called for his 90,000 parishioners to boycott Delta, Coca-Cola and other major brands.

“This is not just a Georgia issue or problem. It is a national problem that we believe puts our democracy at risk,” Jackson said.

Business analysts say the dynamics are challenging for corporations.

“Delta clearly felt a lot of heat for its previous statement. Delta’s problem now is credibility,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst in San Francisco. “Will people believe future Delta statements or actions regarding voting rights or social justice?”

Civil rights groups have filed federal lawsuits seeking to overturn the Georgia law. They’ve otherwise turned their focus to Washington, where Democrats are pushing a comprehensive federal overhaul of election law that could effectively override many changes being enacted in Georgia and that are under consideration elsewhere. Advocates want corporate leaders like Bastian and Quincey to help.

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