The Jolt: Customer requirements by Walmart, Kroger make mask mandates a property rights issue

Kemp has banned cities and counties from adopting rules requiring masks

We have been here before. In fact, almost exactly a year ago in El Paso, a gunman targeting Hispanics killed 23 people and wounded 22 more at a local Walmart.

One month later, the mammoth retail chain announced it would stop selling ammunition for handguns and some assault weapons. Within a few hours of that announcement, the Kroger grocery chain followed suit, asking customers not to display firearms in stores located in “open carry” states. Which include Georgia.

It was a matter of the market separating itself from a Republican unwillingness or inability to address the issue of mass gun violence.

Today, we are witnessing a repeat -- but the topic is the required wearing of masks during a pandemic.

Late Wednesday, for the first time, Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order that explicitly prohibited cities and counties from mandating the use of masks, triggering a furious reaction from local government officials who accused the Republican of placing his political interests above their efforts to protect residents from a growing pandemic.

The governor has said he believes requiring masks are a “bridge too far” and that such a mandate is unenforceable – even though Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey crossed that bridge on Wednesday. A mask mandate was essential to “slow the spread and turn these trends in a different direction,” she said.

The Alabama governor was actually behind Walmart, which hours earlier had announced its decision to mandate face coverings before customers can enter. From the Washington Post:

Walmart’s decision to require masks — with its potential to alienate the company’s clientele in red states and rural areas — echoed its choice last year to end the sale of ammunition following a mass shooting at its store in El Paso.

The Arkansas-based retailer announced the mandate in a Wednesday news release, citing the recent resurgence in U.S. covid-19 cases and the need for consistency across its operations. Walmart said roughly 3,500 of its more than 5,300 namesake stores and Sam’s Club locations already comply with public health mandates in their respective markets.

“We know some people have differing opinions on this topic,” according to the news release from Dacona Smith and Lance de la Rosa, the chief operating officers of Walmart and Sam’s Club, respectively. “We also recognize the role we can play to help protect the health and well-being of the communities we serve by following the evolving guidance of health officials like the CDC.”

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Worth noting is the fact that Walmart has estimated that 10% of its workforce is on some sort of coronavirus leave. Also Wednesday:

Kroger will require its customers and its employees to wear masks, starting July 22, according to a company spokesperson.

“We are taking this extra step now because we recognize additional precautions are needed to protect our country,” the nation’s largest supermarket chain said Wednesday in a statement. Kroger said it would make an exception for customers with medical reasons as well as small children.

Best Buy and Starbucks started requiring consumers nationwide to wear masks Wednesday.

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It is important to note that these announcements by major retailers shift the legal ground -- and thus the politics of an issue that shouldn't be politicized at all. At least at Walmart and Kroger, Best Buy and Starbucks, mask-wearing is no longer a test of libertarian objections to government edicts.

It’s a matter of property rights. And trespassing statutes are something law enforcement officials in Georgia are obliged to enforce -- even if they ignore ordinances enacted by Georgia cities. This was the point made by the National Retail Federation on Wednesday in support of Walmart’s decision. From the press release:

Stores are private businesses that can adopt policies permitted by law for the health and safety of their associates and their customers. Shopping in a store is a privilege, not a right. If a customer refuses to adhere to store policies, they are putting employees and other customers at undue risk.

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You can forgive Raphael Warnock for his optimism.

The Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate out-raised his top two Republican rivals, incumbent Kelly Loeffler and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, for the second quarter in a row. The two are so busy attacking each other, they’ve hardly focused on the first-time candidate.

On Thursday, Warnock released a four-page memo that outlines his position in the race — and points to his strategy in a likely January runoff against one of those two Republicans.

You can read it as a plea for more national and local investment in his campaign, with a retelling of the pastor’s background, Georgia’s battleground dynamics and the soaring primary turnout.

What you won’t find is mention of any of Warnock’s Democratic rivals in the 21-candidate special election. They include Matt Lieberman, the son of the former U.S. senator; and Ed Tarver, a former state legislator and prosecutor. Warnock outraised them, too.

Among the tidbits:

-- Warnock’s campaign said he’s built one of the “fastest growing email lists” for a first-time candidate, proving he’ll have the resources to compete with the GOP candidates in the fall.

-- He intends to play up the endorsements of more than half the U.S. Senate Democratic caucus and Stacey Abrams. Notably, the memo says he was the first candidate in the country to earn her support. Read the memo here.

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We started rolling out the latest fundraising numbers in Wednesday’s Jolt, but now that most candidates’ reports are in, here’s the big takeaway: Georgia Democrats out-raised their Republican opponents in both U.S. Senate races and the high-profile Sixth and Seventh District congressional contests.

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An interesting, outside-the-courtroom move: The ACLU of Georgia announced this morning that it has begun a program to recruit poll workers for the Aug. 11 runoffs and Nov. 3 general election. From the press release:

Given the particular circumstances of our time and the fact that 72 is the average age of poll workers throughout the state, the program is looking to recruit younger Georgians who are at lower risk of COVID-19 complications, lawyers committed to understanding the ins and outs of election law and administration, or tech-savvy Georgians who can help keep the electronic voter machines up and running.

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Republicans in the state Legislature are getting more reinforcements from outside groups.

The State Government Leadership Foundation released a slate of digital, mail and text campaigns to back 11 incumbents with reminders of their votes to slash their pay by 10% and to incentivize companies who make life-saving protective gear.

Among them are some of the top Democratic targets in November, including state Reps. Sharon Cooper of Marietta, Chuck Efstration of Dacula and Deborah Silcox of Sandy Springs.

An allied group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, on Wednesday unveiled a new attack aimed at House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, one of the few Democrats to hold a district in Georgia that was also carried by Donald Trump in 2016.

“Keep $pending and $pinning guys. Every dollar you put in House District 132 further imperils the House majority you are so poorly defending,” Trammell tweeted in response.

And on the congressional front the National Republican Senatorial Committee has released an ad that accuses Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff of exaggerating his resume and financing his campaign with out-of-state cash.

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Candidates in four runoff races for the US House have received invitations to participate in the Atlanta Press Club’s Loudermilk-Young Debate series on Sunday.

Below is the schedule and list of invited candidates. All debates will stream live on GPB.org and its Facebook page, then will be broadcast on GPB-TV either Monday or Tuesday evening:

-- Ninth District Democratic runoff: Devin Pandy and Brooke Siskin are invited to debate live at 11 a.m., with the TV broadcast scheduled for 7:30 p.m.Tuesday.

-- Ninth District Republican runoff: Andrew Clyde and state Rep. Matt Gurtler will debate at 12:15 p.m., with the GPB broadcast at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

-- First District Democratic runoff: Joyce Marie Griggs and Lisa Ring face off at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. The TV broadcast is 7:30 p.m. Monday.

-- 14th District Republican runoff: Marjorie Taylor Greene and Dr. John Cowan are scheduled to debate on 2:45 p.m. Sunday. The debate will air on TV 7 p.m. Monday

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U.S. Rep. Tom Graves’ time in Congress is winding down. He gave a farewell speech during a Wednesday “markup” meeting of the House Appropriations Committee, which he expects will be his last time with the full 53-member panel.

Graves said he was initially reluctant to serve on the committee that controls America’s purse-strings, but was pushed into it by then-Speaker John Boehner. Graves, R-Ranger, has served on the committee during his entire tenure in Congress and said it helped evolve his thinking about how to govern.

“I was put on this committee as part of the wave of conservatives that were elected to Congress in 2010,” he said. “I was supposed to be the ultra-partisan guy. But something else happened. Working here has taught me the value of just the opposite. Who would’ve thought that the Tea Party guy from 2010 would close out his career working as Derek Kilmer’s vice chair on the non-partisan Modernization Committee?

“Being a member of this committee has reinforced the value of working through differences together, the value of bi-partisanship, that while you may have disagreement over the color of the paint on the wall — you don’t have to destroy the room.”

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Nabilah Islam may not have been successful in her bid for Georgia’s Seventh District congressional seat, but she still is pushing forward with a progressive agenda in the same vein as U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley.

Islam has now launched an organization, the Progressive List, that she said will support like-minded candidates with professional resources that will give them a better chance of winning on Election Day.

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Hillary Clinton will campaign virtually with U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, on Friday. Clinton would be the highest profile Democrat to date to join McBath, who has been using Zoom events to connect with supporters and potential donors.

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