Until late Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp was about to go Hollywood. Literally.
Next Wednesday was to be “Georgia Day in L.A.,” an annual, state-sponsored event to thank the movie industry for frequenting the state’s “film-friendly locations.”
The timing was far from ideal. Scattered threats of a Hollywood boycott of Georgia over its new “heartbeat” law had prompted war cries — first from the left, then from the right. Caught in between were rattled local studios and tens of thousands of Georgia employees.
Details of the event, which was to be held in toney West Hollywood at the Sunset Tower Hotel, were already scarce before Tuesday morning, when the Cone of Silence descended upon Kemp’s office and the state Department of Economic Development.
There was the question of whether many – or any — California natives would be willing to be seen at the event. More important, there was the matter of what the governor of Georgia could say to improve the situation, while at the same time defending his decision to put his signature on one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the nation.
Apparently, the necessary words just weren’t there.
The event has been rescheduled for November. There’s a reason for this cooling off period. By then, an ACLU lawsuit, challenging Georgia’s “heartbeat” law, will probably have been filed. A federal judge is likely to block its Jan. 1, 2020 implementation until the matter is settled.
This will allow Governor Kemp and film industry executives to celebrate their relationship – while telling nosey journalists that they can’t comment on matters subject to pending litigation.
But it is also possible that over the next six months, this fierce battle will simply shift from a legal to a purely political venue.
In weeks past, we told you that Georgia Democrats have actively tamped down talk of a Hollywood boycott — despite their nearly unanimous opposition to House Bill 481. The many union jobs at stake are a factor.
But in the past several days, it has also become clear that some Republicans think a widened culture war with Hollywood, though it might mean the loss of tens of millions of dollars in business revenue to Georgia, could help offset the disaffection of women voters in 2020 — here and elsewhere.
Clutch your pearls if you must, but remember that in the South, self-identity often trumps economic self-interest. Just two months ago, the Republican-led Senate went to the mattresses rather than give Delta Air Lines, the largest private employer in the state, a jet fuel tax break backed by the governor.
On Saturday, in his commencement address at Liberty University in Virginia, Vice President Mike Pence thought our “heartbeat” law worth mentioning. “When the state of Georgia recently was debating legal protections for the unborn, a bevy of Hollywood liberals said they would boycott the entire state,” Pence said.
On Monday, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., made an early morning appearance on “Fox & Friends.” President Donald Trump’s trade war with China wasn’t a topic. Rather, Perdue and friends talked about the “heartbeat” law passed by the state Legislature and signed by the governor of Georgia.
“This governor did exactly what the state Legislature voted to do, what the people of Georgia elected him to do. And it’s the law of the land today,” Perdue said. “Life is precious at any stage, and I think we’re called to protect it as long as it’s there.”
Perdue was followed on the Fox News set by conservative actor-producer Dean Cain — you’ll remember him as a TV series “Superman.”
“The people of Georgia made their mark. They made their decision. Now we have Hollywood coming in, saying, ‘Listen, we want you to have our values,’” Cain said.
Georgia is one of several states with so-called “heartbeat” laws, which require women to carry their pregnancies to term after only about six weeks — before many know they’re pregnant. All are overtly intended as vehicles to overturn Roe v. Wade.
But Georgia’s purple status is one reason why we’re getting much of the attention. “We are a swing state. And we are going to continue to be a swing state, far ahead of the other states that are competing to get to the U.S. Supreme Court — and bragging about it,” state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, said on Monday’s edition of GPB’s “Political Rewind.”
Moreover, Georgia is the only “heartbeat” state with a sizeable, home-grown movie industry. Put those two factors together, and the 2020 race for U.S. Senate becomes more than interesting.
Former Columbus mayor Teresa Tomlinson, the only announced Democratic challenger to David Perdue’s bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate, isn’t generally a fan of boycotts, but won’t condemn those who call for a Hollywood version.
”I understand the desperation of people wanting to get women heard,” Tomlinson said. But she said a better way to do that may be to emphasize, in a very public fashion, the details of HB 481 – including the criminal liability that physicians say it poses for them and mothers, and the impact it’s likely to have on a state already starved for obstetricians.
This is why a war with Hollywood might tempt Republicans. Warnings of dire consequences could take a back seat to protests against West Coast moral subversion.
Kris Bagwell hopes this isn’t the case. “The first rule of job creation might be, don’t shoot the jobs you’ve already created,” he said.
Bagwell heads up EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Atlanta, but he was talking to me as chairman of the Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance, a collection of 14 companies that service the movie and TV industry in Georgia. They provide a lion’s share of the 92,000 jobs said to be generated by tax breaks offered to production companies.
Bagwell is the personification of how complicated Georgia’s soup of entertainment, politics and economic development has become. Throughout the 2019 session of the Legislature, which produced the “heartbeat” law, GSIA has lobbied Democrats to shun all talk of a Hollywood boycott.
He’s declared himself publicly neutral on the content of the “heartbeat” bill.
“We run studios and stages. I have 41 more years left on a lease with the city of Atlanta. My lease doesn’t say anything about there being a film credit, and it doesn’t say anything about social legislation,” Bagwell said. “On my lot, when I look at the call sheets, at least 70 percent of the jobs and often 90 percent are Georgians.”
The cost advantage Georgia offers can’t be underestimated. “It is so much more expensive to hire out-of-towners in this business,” Bagwell said. “They have to pay them housing and per diem.”
So if you go to war with Hollywood, you’re giving up Georgia jobs, he said.
As I said, this gets complicated. Consider: At the same time Bagwell is attempting to persuade both Democrats and Republicans not to go nuclear with Hollywood and his business colleagues, he has on one of his sets the actress Alyssa Milano. She’s living in Georgia at the moment, shooting Netflix’s “Insatiable.”
Milano has advocated for a Hollywood boycott of Georgia. Last week, she pulled a page out of “Lysistrata” — and proposed that the women of Georgia withhold sex from their men until the “heartbeat” bill disappears.
She may have moved on from both ideas. “I’m donating $10,000.00 to the grassroots orgs on the ground fighting against hurtful policies in Georgia and I challenge all corporations who work in Georgia to match my donation,” she wrote via Twitter on Tuesday, just before Kemp cancelled his trip to Hollywood.
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