In Bid for Amazon HQ, Georgia Politicians Abandon Religious Liberty Promises
My home state of Georgia has had plenty of practice at being a one-party state. For generations the Democrats ruled the Peach State, but over the past couple of decades, Georgia has transformed into a Republican stronghold. The GOP holds both legislative houses as well as the governor's mansion.
With Republicans firmly in charge, one might think that Georgia is a conservative stronghold. Well, yes and no.
In one sense, Georgia is a boon for conservative ideas — at least when it comes to capitalism. We're a business-friendly state for sure. For five years straight, Site Selection magazine has ranked Georgia the number one state for business climate, citing factors like these:
- Eighty-six projects are foreign direct investment deals that will create more than 6,000 jobs;
- International investments from European companies number 51, particularly from Germany, Ireland and Italy, creating more than 4,400 jobs;
- Asian companies will create more than 1,400 jobs and $751 million in capital investment; and
- Industries seeing significant job growth from this influx in investment include financial technology, logistics and distribution, automotive, digital media and food processing.
Corporations in the automotive industry and the health care sector call Georgia home, among other industries, and the entertainment industry maintains a huge presence in the state. This capitalism-friendly atmosphere is a point of pride for Georgians for sure. But now, courting one corporate giant has led the state's Republicans to abandon their social conservative values. That client is Amazon.
Atlanta is on the short list for Amazon's second headquarters, and the state GOP is throwing in everything it can to lure them in. Georgia is ready to show a little leg in terms of economic incentives. Amazon already has an office in Atlanta and delivery fulfillment centers throughout the state, so the company knows what it's getting into here. Yet Georgia's Republican leadership still seems to be willing to turn its back on popular social conservative measures in order to pursue that second Amazon headquarters complex.
Georgia's political gamesmanship in order to woo Amazon has caught the attention of the national press. The Wall Street Journal notes:
From a religious-freedom bill to a proposed English-only constitutional amendment, Georgia politicians and advocates are invoking Amazon’s name.
The prospect of luring the retailer here is being used as political ammunition, notwithstanding that Amazon.com Inc. is months away from picking among Atlanta and 19 other finalists for the location of its second headquarters.
For a couple of years now, Governor Nathan Deal has sought to modernize Georgia's adoption laws. Deal is one of those Democrats who bailed to the GOP during the Clinton years, and he hasn't quite gotten the hang of conservative values. When the state legislature offered an adoption bill last year similar to the one in Texas that allows religious adoption agencies to stay true to their values, Deal vetoed it. A similar bill stands to suffer the same fate this year. Deal cites potential discrimination against LGBT families who want to adopt. He's also worried that such a measure would turn Amazon's head away from Atlanta.
Similarly, Deal has yet to meet a religious liberty bill he likes. In 2016, he mentioned certain provisions that he wanted in religious liberty legislation before he would sign it. When the legislature put the specific language in the bill to appease the governor, he vetoed it anyway. Last year, a measure that simply applied federal religious liberty standards to Georgia met with Deal's disapproval. In both cases, Deal cited hypothetical discrimination and hinted at the disapproval of corporations like — you guessed it — Amazon.
The thing is, Amazon is already looking at other states with similar legislation to what Republican legislators have promised their constituents, while critics also point out other pending legislation that could turn off Amazon. As the Wall Street Journal points out:
Several states on Amazon’s shortlist, including Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida, have passed religious-liberties legislation. Opponents of Georgia’s religious freedom bill, however, point out that many states, including Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida, also have civil-rights statutes that explicitly protect gay people, while Georgia doesn’t.
Opponents of several Georgia bills dealing with immigration, including a state Senate resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to make English Georgia’s official language, have labeled the proposals “Adios Amazon” bills. A state Senate committee favorably recommended the resolution about the English language to the full Senate last week.
Nathan Deal is a lame duck in his final term in office. He will never face the voters again, so he has nothing to lose. Unfortunately, his fellow Republicans in the legislature — many of whom promised the voters to make religious freedom a priority — do have to face the ballot box.
At least four of the Republicans running to take Deal's place in this year's election have promised to sign religious liberty legislation into law. Will Georgians have to wait another year? Will the state shaft its conservative constituents one more time in order to appease a company that may never choose Atlanta? Will GOP leaders in the Peach State lose their soul in order to gain Amazon? The answers to these questions await.