The Jolt: GOP to Coke: Keep your free drinks!

The World of Coca-Cola: This large circular sign hung over the entrance at The World of Coca-Cola's original location near the Capitol when the museum opened in 1990. (CHARLOTTE B. TEAGLE / AJC file)
The World of Coca-Cola: This large circular sign hung over the entrance at The World of Coca-Cola's original location near the Capitol when the museum opened in 1990. (CHARLOTTE B. TEAGLE / AJC file)

Credit: CHARLOTTE B. TEAGLE

Credit: CHARLOTTE B. TEAGLE

“Cancel culture” in Georgia now comes without the fizzy aftertaste.

On the same day Gov. Brian Kemp claimed big corporations are trying to “silence” conservatives, eight Republican state legislators demanded in a letter that Coca-Cola products be removed “immediately” from their offices.

“Given Coke’s choice to cave to the pressure of an out of control cancel culture, we respectfully request all Coca-Cola Company products to be removed from our office suite immediately,” wrote the group of lawmakers.

“Should Coke chose (sic) to read the bill, share its true intentions and accept their role in the dissemination of mistruths, we would welcome a conversation to rebuild a working relationship.”

Keep in mind at this point that the drinks in question are provided to lawmakers free of charge. Coke has, for decades, provided Coke, Diet Coke and other hometown products to Republican and Democratic offices in Georgia and Washington, which typically offer them to visiting constituents.

Although Georgia GOP lawmakers have often sparred with Delta, the state’s largest private employer, over its stances on controversial legislation and tax hikes, the Coca-Cola Company has, until recently, avoided overt criticism from the state GOP.

That changed when the Atlanta-based beverage giant joined Delta in condemning the state’s new elections legislation, agreeing with Democrats and others who say it significantly restricts access to voting. Major League Baseball upped the ante on Friday when it pulled the 2021 All-Star game from metro Atlanta.

Like the lawmakers, Kemp also called out Coke in his press conference, which left us with the impression that he’s spoiling for a fight.

“Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola and Delta may be scared of Stacey Abrams and Joe Biden and the left, but I am not,” he said.

Along with dinging Coke in statements, state legislators attempted to rescind a tax break for Delta in the final hour of the legislative session, but Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan never brought the measure up for a vote.

Next year could be a different story. We’re told both Coke and Delta won’t get a “seat at the table” anymore for major policy decisions.

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Some other takeaways from yet another busy weekend in Georgia politics:

* The supporting cast for Gov. Brian Kemp’s press conference on Saturday was notable for who was involved... and who was not.

The two other speakers were Attorney General Chris Carr and U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson.

Carr is the state’s statewide official charged with defending the new election law in court. Ferguson is the top-ranking Georgia Republican in the U.S. House.

But both are also considering 2022 campaigns for U.S. Senate against newly elected Democrat Raphael Warnock, and the fight over the election law could have a rallying effect for Republicans desperately seeking some semblance of unity.

* Among the faces we did not see: Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, another potential 2022 candidate, who has made a GOP answer to Stacey Abrams’ voting rights groups her calling card.

* Kemp clearly relished the chance to talk about election laws at Saturday’s press conference. The governor is a veteran of battles over voting rights, including nearly a decade as Georgia’s secretary of state. His challenge is that fighting over the right to vote happens to be Stacey Abrams’ specialty, too…

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Kelly Loeffler penned a weekend op-ed for the AJC that highlights the Republican voters who stayed home in January. Wrote Loeffler:

“The consequence of a loss of faith in elections extends beyond those who already vote. Half a million Georgians who voted in the November election, did not vote in the January runoffs – and 339,000 of those typically vote Republican.”

The piece did not include any mention of former President Donald Trump, whose lies about a “rigged election” factored heavily into the GOP no-shows.

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The children of three Georgia civil rights icons also weighed in with an AJC op-ed criticizing Georgia’s new election law.

Bernice King, the daughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Al Vivian, the son of the Rev. C.T. Vivian, and John-Miles Lewis, the son of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, encouraged corporations and lawmakers to prevent similar voting laws from passing in other states, while backing federal laws that could blunt some of Georgia’s planned changes.

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Saturday Night Live had more fun at Georgia’s expense, joking on Weekend Update, “Delta Air Lines, which is based in Atlanta, publicly criticized Georgia’s new restrictive voting laws. You know you messed up when Delta is, like, ‘Hey! You’ve got to treat people with respect!’”

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Unlike Major League Baseball, the PGA announced it will not move its planned events out of Georgia, according to ESPN.

The PGA Tour Championship is played annually at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is scheduled for June at Atlanta Athletic Club.

“The Tour Championship’s commitment to East Lake has helped our partners transform distressed neighborhoods into healthy and thriving ones, which is a key to ending the cycle of intergenerational poverty,” the PGA Tour said in its statement.

“The charitable and economic benefits that have led to these substantial changes would not continue if we simply walked away from those in need.”

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There’s a Georgia connection to The New York Times’ blockbuster report that the Trump campaign automatically signed unwitting donors up for weekly recurring gifts to the campaign, even if they meant to give just once.

The Senate campaigns of both David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler used the same GOP vendor and the same practice. Angry donors have demanded refunds:

“Keith Millhouse, a transportation consultant in California, intended to donate once to Mr. Perdue, with the aim of keeping Republicans in control of the Senate. He wound up a recurring contributor and called the practice “repugnant" and “deceptive."

“In the final 2020 reporting period, from Nov. 24 through the end of the year, Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler refunded $4.8 million to WinRed donors — more than triple the amount refunded by their Democratic rivals via ActBlue, even though the Democrats had raised far more money online.

“The refunds have stretched into 2021 and have been a source of frustration for the Loeffler campaign, according to a person familiar with the matter."

- The New York Times

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U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock caught a ton of online heat for this now-deleted Easter Sunday tweet:

“The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether you are Christian or not, through a commitment to helping others we are able to save ourselves.”

The pastor came under fire from Republican activists, who accused Warnock of insinuating that people can save themselves and was, therefore, straying from the teachings of the Bible.

A Warnock adviser said the tweet was posted by an aide and not approved by the Democrat.

In his Easter sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Warnock focused on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy fighting systemic racism and the contrast with how the late Civil Rights icon is “romanticized” today.

Sunday was the 53rd anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination in Memphis, Tenn.

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National Democrats want to make sure Georgia voters don’t forget about the wide-ranging effects of the new $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus measure.

The Democratic National Committee unveiled a new billboard near Hartsfield-Jackson Airport that thanks U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock for providing the votes to pass the sweeping plan.

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As President Joe Biden begins the process of selling his multi-trillion dollar infrastructure proposal to the American people and Congress, Amtrak has an idea of how it would use its share of the potential funding.

The passenger railway says it would step up services across the nation, including the South. An Amtrak fact sheet shares plans for separate new lines from Atlanta to Montgomery, Nashville, and Savannah. It would also add service to portions of its existing a line from Charlotte to New Orleans, which runs through Atlanta.

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POSTED: Vaccine hesitancy among Republican men is one of the more pressing hurdles for public health experts in reducing the spread of coronavirus, the AJC’s Ariel Hart and Chris Joyner report:

“Mainstream conservatives want answers they can trust about safety, side effects and the speed at which vaccines were developed. Many don't see the coronavirus as a serious threat. They want to be assured they won't be required to carry a government-issued “vaccine passport."

“The fiercest vaccination opponents, though, also cite conspiracy theories about side effects and secret government plans as among their reasons for rejecting the shots."

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Although hesitancy among Black Americans had been a concern early in the process, polls show that group is now among the most likely to have received a vaccine.

Separately, we asked the members of Georgia’s U.S. House delegation whether they are vaccinated. All six Democrats have received their shots. Only four of the eight GOP members responded that they are vaccinated.

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U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff has now filled out his top staff positions:

  • Rey Benitez, chief of staff, a veteran of the offices of Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.) and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid;
  • Donni Turner, legislative director, who previously worked for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), U.S. Rep. David Scott and former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.);
  • Chandra Harris, state director, a former District Director for U.S. Rep. David Scott;
  • Steven Parker, deputy state director, a former Senior City Attorney for the City of Atlanta;
  • Miryam Lipper, Senior Advisor for Communications and Strategy, who worked stints with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and campaigns for Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, and Ossoff;
  • Jake Best, press secretary (previously announced).

As we wrote previously, Turner is one of five Black LD’s in the Senate. Ossoff’s is now among the most diverse staffs on Capitol Hill.

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More personnel news: Joan Kirchner Carr, the longtime top aide to former Sens. Johnny Isakson, Zell Miller and Kelly Loeffler, is launching her own shop.

Joan K. Carr Consulting will be based in Atlanta and will focus on government affairs and communications.

Carr worked for 20 years in the Senate, including 15 with Isakson. Before working on the Hill, Carr worked as a reporter in Atlanta for several outlets, including the AP.

She is married to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr.

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Don Farmer, the longtime anchor for WSB-TV in Atlanta, died last week. Before he became a fixture in local Atlanta news, Farmer was also one of CNN’s original anchors, along with his wife of 49 years, Chris Curle.

Farmer’s son, Justin, followed his parents into the family business and is now a lead anchor at WSB-TV as well.

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