Battle over election law boycotts heats up as Masters approaches

Ann White of Roswell holds protest signs at the Georgia Capitol opposing the state's new election law. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
Ann White of Roswell holds protest signs at the Georgia Capitol opposing the state's new election law. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The economic battle over Georgia’s election law is intensifying as corporate giants face potential boycotts from supporters and opponents of the overhaul, scrutiny that will only increase as golf’s premier event begins this week in Augusta.

The critics of the measure are divided between activists who are demanding more aggressive action to punish companies that haven’t opposed the voting restrictions and many Democratic Party leaders who say it’s too soon to take that sort of step.

Meanwhile, conservatives have promoted their own calls for economic payback against Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines — which issued statements opposing the law — and urged a breakup with America’s pastime after Major League Baseball yanked its All-Star game from metro Atlanta in protest of the changes.

The attention to what Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms described as a potential “domino effect” of backlash will only grow as tournament play for the Masters begins Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club and opponents of the law plan to stage protests outside the course’s storied gates.

The club has sidestepped the election law, the same strategy its leaders employed when dealing with past controversies. But many of Augusta National’s influential and exclusive members — who include MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred — are under pressure to oppose the changes.

Bishop Reginald Jackson, who leads an influential AME church district that includes Georgia, is among the critics momentarily torn over how to respond. He was one of the earliest voices calling for boycotts, but now that some major firms have opposed the measure, he’s recalibrating his approach.

Caption
Gov. Brian Kemp said he will not back down in supporting Georgia's new election law, which has drawn rebukes from some of the state's leading businesses and stirred talk of boycotts on both the left and the right. “We will not be intimidated, and we will also not be silenced,” Kemp said. (STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Gov. Brian Kemp said he will not back down in supporting Georgia's new election law, which has drawn rebukes from some of the state's leading businesses and stirred talk of boycotts on both the left and the right. “We will not be intimidated, and we will also not be silenced,” Kemp said. (STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)
Caption
Gov. Brian Kemp said he will not back down in supporting Georgia's new election law, which has drawn rebukes from some of the state's leading businesses and stirred talk of boycotts on both the left and the right. “We will not be intimidated, and we will also not be silenced,” Kemp said. (STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

The bishop plans to gather faith leaders outside Augusta National on Sunday morning to demonstrate against the measure with a goal of raising the “consciousness of the golfers and those in attendance.”

Jackson is also delaying plans for a boycott until a virtual meeting next week with the executives of some of Georgia’s blue chip companies, including Aflac, Home Depot and UPS, which have each tried to skirt the debate.

“Hopefully, we won’t have to give the signal,” Jackson said. “We want these companies to speak out publicly against this legislation, to use their lobbying resources to fight voting restrictions in other states and to publicly support federal legislation to expand voting rights.”

Republicans have fast rallied around the overhaul, which includes new ID requirements for mail-in ballots, curbs the use of ballot drop boxes, gives the GOP-controlled Legislature more control over local elections and bans outside groups from giving water and food to voters in line.

And Gov. Brian Kemp has expressed a willingness to go toe to toe with corporate powers over the law, eager to rally Republicans as he gears up for a potential primary challenge from the wing of the party supporting Donald Trump. (The former president is not convinced; he issued two statements saying the measure wasn’t restrictive enough.)

“I want to be clear: I will not be backing down from this fight,” said Kemp, who said the corporate critics have “caved to fear” from voting rights advocates and Democrats. “We will not be intimidated, and we will also not be silenced.”

‘Ridiculous’

Augusta National offers a different sort of staging ground for the fight, one with its own long history of defying pressure. The club didn’t invite a Black player to compete in the tournament until 1975 and didn’t admit its first Black member until 1990. It remained all-male until 2012.

The Masters is also perhaps the most prestigious sporting event in Georgia, one that is irrevocably tied to the azalea-lined cathedral to golf off Washington Road. The governor sniffed at talk last week that the tournament would buckle to pressure and forgo its annual date in Georgia.

Caption
Augusta National Golf Club could be the new scene of protest against Georgia's new election law as one of the sport's premier events, the Masters, will draw widespread attention to the state this week. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: CURTIS COMPTON / AJC

Augusta National Golf Club could be the new scene of protest against Georgia's new election law as one of the sport's premier events, the Masters, will draw widespread attention to the state this week. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Caption
Augusta National Golf Club could be the new scene of protest against Georgia's new election law as one of the sport's premier events, the Masters, will draw widespread attention to the state this week. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: CURTIS COMPTON / AJC

Credit: CURTIS COMPTON / AJC

“I can tell you the Masters isn’t going to bow to that,” the governor said. “We’re going to have a great week in Augusta. You obviously can’t play the Masters if you’re not in Augusta.”

President Joe Biden, who earlier encouraged baseball to pull its All-Star game, said he’d leave it “up to the Masters” to decide whether to relocate. But he said it was “reassuring to see that for-profit operations and businesses are speaking up.”

On Wednesday, Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley for the first time addressed the political firestorm, declining to support or oppose the measure.

“I don’t think that my opinion on this legislation should shape discussion,” he said. “I just don’t think that’s going to be helpful to ultimately reaching a resolution.”

‘A unified message’

The split over how far to push the envelope has unnerved some Democratic leaders who are mindful ahead of statewide elections in 2022 that Republicans are eager to pin the blame on them for whatever economic damage follows.

State Sen. Jen Jordan, a suburban Atlanta Democrat expected to run for attorney general, has urged other critics of the law to “stop with this boycott Georgia nonsense” and instead channel their economic power to advocate for change.

And in an interview, former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said corporate giants shouldn’t face a boycott “yet” over their refusal to forcefully oppose the new law. Instead, she said, they should leverage the chance to publicly condemn it and invest in initiatives to expand voting rights.

Caption
Religious leaders hold bottles of water with labels that read “Voter Suppression” following a press conference earlier this month outside the World of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Religious leaders hold bottles of water with labels that read “Voter Suppression” following a press conference earlier this month outside the World of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
Religious leaders hold bottles of water with labels that read “Voter Suppression” following a press conference earlier this month outside the World of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

“The companies that stood silently by or gave mealy-mouthed responses during the debate were wrong,” said Abrams, who is likely to challenge Kemp in a 2022 rematch. “What people want to know now is where they stand on this fundamental issue of voting rights.”

Earlier this week, the outdoor apparel company Patagonia drew praise from Georgia opponents of the law by announcing it would give $1 million to groups pushing an expansion of ballot access in the state. And the drumbeat of criticism has only grown, including a statement Wednesday by leaders of Atlanta’s most famed historically black colleges condemning the law.

But others have pushed for strident action beyond letters and protests. Khadijah Abdur-Rahman, a Fulton County commissioner, said she’s hearing from opponents of the law eager to take more drastic steps, though she’s willing to pause her efforts in the “spirit of collaboration.”

“I do not think that all the diplomacy and all the protests in the world will work as well as putting pressure from boycotting and taking action with our dollars,” she said, adding: “A boycott would send a clear unified message that we’re not going to take this foolishness.”

The Rev. Darryl Winston, pastor of Greater Works Assembly in Atlanta, is working with a group of religious leaders across the state to hone the response that might blend boycotts, protests and other action.

“We can do both at the same time,” Winston said. “What I’m hearing in the faith community is that we need to fight this all the way and do whatever needs to be done to send a message to corporate giants.”

Conservatives warn they, too, could marshal an effective economic counterstrike against the firms that speak out. Republicans in the Georgia House last week attempted to roll back a lucrative tax break that benefits Delta, and some legislators have publicly snubbed Coca-Cola by refusing free deliveries and touting their newfound taste for Pepsi products.

“They like our public policy when we’re doing things that benefit them,” said House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “You don’t feed a dog that bites your hand. You’ve got to keep that in mind sometimes.”