The Jolt: Executives warn abortion law is hurting Georgia companies

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Dozens of bipartisan business executives signed an open letter that warns Georgia’s anti-abortion law and other Republican policies will risk the state’s pro-business reputation.

The letter, released this morning, said the newly implemented restrictions that ban abortions as early as five weeks will force executives “to compete with other states on a whole different level, putting all Georgia firms at a disadvantage.”

“Companies now face the choice of moving to or staying in a state where half of their workforce is facing second-class citizenship and may be subject to investigation or prosecution for routine healthcare,” read the letter, which was promoted by Stacey Abrams’ allies.

It’s signed by corporate leaders and small business owners that “run the political gamut — from Democrat to Republican to independent.” They include Lynne Laube, the chief executive of Cardlytics, entrepreneur Steve Berman and Adam Halberg, the head of Barcelona Wine Bar.

Also on the list are Democratic state Reps. Dar’shun Kendrick, Shelly Hutchinson and Kim Schofield, along with Sarah Riggs Amico, a top executive at Jack Cooper and the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018.

In a recent interview, Laube told us she generally votes Republican but this year “there’s one issue that is just so overwhelming and so glaring that I have to vote for Stacey — and that’s women’s reproductive rights.”

It’s the latest attempt by Abrams’ supporters to link the two issues at the top of public polls — the economy and abortion — into a unifying November election argument. Gov. Brian Kemp, meanwhile, is banking that concerns about inflation will outweigh backlash to the new abortion limits.

On that note, Kemp’s campaign released a new 30-second TV ad this morning that frames Abrams’ economic proposals, support for federal climate legislation and her criminal justice platform as an “extreme plan for Georgia.”

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BARNES STORMING. Former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes was a featured newsmaker, along with Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “State of the State” event at the Georgia Aquarium Tuesday night.

Barnes served a single term as governor, from 1999-2003, before being defeated by former GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Credit: File photo

Credit: File photo

He had plenty to say about the state of Georgia today, threats to democracy, and the increased polarization in politics since he was on the ballot. Barnes noted at one point that he and the late U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson agreed they’d never be able to get elected as moderates in their parties in today’s hyper-polarized environment.

Other comments from Barnes:

Politics today: “It’s like both parties took a bottle of crazy pills.”

Advice he’d give himself: “Don’t change the flag in the first term!”

And advice he’d give others: “Huey Long had a saying, “Never speak when you can whisper. Never whisper when you can wink. They should have told Herschel Walker that a long time ago. You know, don’t speak. But I think (the Senate race) will be very close.”

We spotted many Jolt readers and boldfaced names you’d recognize at the aquarium Tuesday night, including former U.S. Sen. Wyche Fowler, DeKalb chief executive Michael Thurmond and more than a dozen state legislators from both sides of the aisle. Among the other political movers-and-shakers in the crowd were operatives Eric Tanenblatt, Brian Robinson and Tharon Johnson.

Also on hand: former Democratic state Rep. Calvin Smyre, the “Dean of the House,” who is still working through the process of becoming Ambassador to the Bahamas for President Joe Biden.

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Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

BATTLEGROUND GEORGIA. Even in the throes of last year’s Senate runoffs, Georgia doubled as a proving ground for potential 2024 presidential hopefuls. The state’s heated November election contests are attracting more attention from possible contenders.

The latest is former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who will arrive in Georgia on Friday for a pair of events with Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker in the morning and Gov. Brian Kemp in the afternoon.

Haley, a former South Carolina governor, has done little to tamp down speculation that she’ll run for president and often cites the need to elect a woman as president. Her visit to one of the nation’s premier battleground states will only heat up the talk.

She’s not the only potential contender to make a recent trip to Georgia. Former Vice President Mike Pence triggered his biggest break yet from former President Donald Trump by endorsing Kemp days before the May primary.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was in town in August to headline a super PAC convention designed to promote his candidacy. And Trump could return in October to headline a rally for Walker and other supporters despite his setbacks in Georgia.

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Credit: Mariam Zuhaib

Credit: Mariam Zuhaib

MCCONNELL CASH. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will be hosting a fundraiser for Gov. Brian Kemp tonight in Washington, an event that is expected to include 16 fellow GOP senators, including Mitt Romney of Utah, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

This type of Senate fundraising show of force for a sitting governor is unusual and speaks to the importance of Georgia for Republicans in 2022.

It also offers a reminder that as much as Republicans like to attack Stacey Abrams for raising cash outside of Georgia, Kemp has also searched out new fundraising opportunities.

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Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

DEBATE DEBATE. In the ongoing saga of scheduling a debate between U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and his GOP rival, Herschel Walker, we reported Wednesday morning that Warnock has agreed to a Savannah debate that Walker has accepted, with two conditions.

First, Warnock wants Walker to agree to one of the three other debates that Warnock committed to months ago. Second, the Warnock campaign stipulated that the topics for the debate not be provided in advance, as the Walker-approved Savannah format includes.

Our colleague Shannon McCaffrey caught up with Walker at an event in Emerson on Wednesday, where he ducked questions about Warnock’s conditions, saying only that “I’m gonna debate, so I’m ready for him.”

On social media, Walker said he wants to “lock down” the Savannah debate on Oct. 14 without the topics ahead of time, but didn’t immediately agree to another faceoff.

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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

HERSCHEL ON HEALTH CARE. In a Fox 5 interview, Republican Senate hopeful Herschel Walker was asked about the imminent closure of the Atlanta Medical Center.

“So I think what people need to do first is talk to Wellstar, and see what the problem is, then try to solve that problem,” said Walker.

When asked whether he thinks Georgia should expand Medicaid, something that he and other Republicans have opposed in the past, the former football star gave an equally confusing answer.

“I think everyone should be given what we promised to give them,” said Walker.

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Credit: Maya T. Prabhu

Credit: Maya T. Prabhu

LABOR DISPUTE. A series of Labor Day tweets from Democratic nominee for attorney general Jen Jordan, a state senator, caught some flack from her Republican opponent, our AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu reports.

While honoring the state’s labor force, Jordan tweeted: “Whether it’s cracking down on wage theft and misclassification, prosecuting human trafficking, or establishing a Worker Protection Division within the Attorney General’s office, I will always stand with Georgia’s working families.”

Attorney General Chris Carr’s campaign noted that Jordan voted against a 2020 bill they said would allow the attorney general to “go after human traffickers.” Jordan was one of 19 senators — all Democrats — to vote against Senate Bill 394.

Jordan’s campaign says Carr is misrepresenting her vote, since state law already allowed the attorney general and the Prosecuting Attorneys Council to prosecute human trafficking crimes.

But SB 394, which Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law, gave the attorney general the authority to employ peace officers to investigate human trafficking.

Jordan’s aides said the senator opposed the legislation because the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is tasked with investigating human trafficking and she did not believe money should be spent on creating a police force within the attorney general’s office.

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MINORITY CONTRACTS. A WSB-TV investigation found that the state of Georgia spent $6.1 billion on private contractors last year, but does not have a full accounting of how much of that business went to minority-owned or female-owned firms.

Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order in July that directed the Department of Administrative Services to study state contracting to potentially help minority-owned firms snag a greater share of business.

His Democratic rival Stacey Abrams has pledged to direct state agencies to actively seek out businesses owned by minorities, women and other underrepresented groups when putting out new contracts. She’d also require major state contractors to follow policies that encourage diversity.

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Credit: Andrew Harnik

Credit: Andrew Harnik

TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

- President Joe Biden will deliver remarks at the Democratic National Committee’s 2022 Summer Meeting outside of Washington, D.C.

- The U.S. Senate continues to work through nominations.

- The House is out until Tuesday.

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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

ISOLATING IN INDIA. We reported in Wednesday’s Jolt that U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff led an economic delegation to India last week, where he also sat down with the Dalai Lama to discuss world peace.

On Wednesday afternoon, his office disclosed that Ossoff had tested positive for COVID-19 while on that trip and remains in India while he recovers from mild symptoms.

“Senator Ossoff is isolating in India and has been unable to return to Washington as planned for Senate votes and committee business this week,” the statement said.

The Senate returned from its August recess on Tuesday, leading to questions about why Ossoff was absent from the Capitol.

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ON THE TRAIL:

- Herschel Walker kicked off his “Unite Georgia” bus tour at an event Wednesday in Bartow County. He’ll be in Cumming for a law enforcement themed event Thursday and making more stops later in the week.

- Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and former Mayor Shirley Franklin were among the hosts for an Atlanta fundraiser Tuesday for California U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, a candidate for mayor in Los Angeles.

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

BICKERS SENTENCE. Former Atlanta official Mitzie Bickers will be sentenced in federal court on bribery charges Thursday. The AJC’s Leon Stafford reports her attorneys are asking the court for leniency in her prison time.

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AS ALWAYS, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.