EDITORIAL:

States that threaten companies over speech don’t deserve their business

First, Republicans in Georgia clamped down on voting access in the state to suppress Black and brown voters. Then they defiled the First Amendment.

In a move that reflects an ever-broadening attack on American democracy and freedoms by the GOP at large, Georgia’s Republican-led House voted Wednesday to strip Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines of a tax break worth tens of millions of dollars in retaliation for Delta CEO Ed Bastian’s condemnation of the state’s newly approved slew of voting restrictions.

The vote didn’t eliminate the tax break — the state Senate adjourned before considering it — but the House action sent a clear and ominous message to Georgia and the nation.

Initially, it appeared Delta touted elements of the new laws, to the dismay of pro-voting advocates. However, facing public outrage, the company quickly disowned statements suggesting support. Bastian stepped forward to proclaim the Georgia law “unacceptable” and “based on a lie that there was voter fraud.” Delta’s criticism of the law was met with a convulsive and retaliatory reaction from the GOP-controlled state legislature, which voted to withdraw Delta tax incentives to punish the company for disagreeing with the GOP agenda.

The GOP lawmakers’ message to other prominent Georgia companies couldn’t have been clearer: We will use taxes to penalize any dissenters, so shut up and support us. This reaction by the Georgia GOP is the stuff of dictatorships: Comply with the rulers and get favors; dissent and you will suffer. Using the power of the state to control expression is a blatant assault on the First Amendment.

Tax breaks like these are not partisan goodies to be gifted to your political friends. They are tools to encourage economic development, irrespective of party alliance or political views.

The new statutes, among other things: eliminate Sunday early voting to prevent the tradition of “souls to the polls,” popular among Black parishioners who bus from church to polling places after religious services; limit voting boxes; make it a crime to provide food or water to someone waiting in line; and give lawmakers outsized authority over local elections — power that used to be held by the independently elected secretary of state. Taken as a whole, the laws essentially hand control of elections to GOP lawmakers and grant them sweeping powers to limit and invalidate the votes of Black and brown Georgians.

The laws are an affront to democracy, and Delta did a responsible thing for its community and its state by denouncing them. Georgia-based Coca-Cola also has struck back, urging Congress to pass its sweeping voter access bill and saying the company opposes any legislation that “would diminish or deter access to voting.” Delta’s Bastian also called for passage of the congressional bill, saying the recent Georgia laws “could make it harder for many Georgians, particularly those in our Black and brown communities, to exercise their right to vote.”

We applaud these companies for sticking up for the vote, and we encourage others to follow suit in Georgia and numerous other states where the right to vote is under full assault by the GOP. That’s shown in the 250-plus bills that have been filed by Republicans in an effort to essentially erase the 1964 Voting Rights Act.

Companies can make a difference in politics, as we saw several years ago when pressure from corporations helped defeat transphobic same-sex bathroom bills in North Carolina, Texas and elsewhere.

Georgia lawmakers may think tax breaks are a way to silence companies, but they need to remember that their relationships with those companies are a two-way street. Companies can leave for another state, after all, and take their jobs and economic impact with them.

Speaking of which, we’d like to be the first to invite Delta, Coca-Cola and any other Georgia company that is fed up with the GOP’s un-American behavior to resettle right here in Las Vegas. Not only do we value the right to vote, as our local and state leaders have shown by expanding voter rights in recent years, but we fully respect your right to express your beliefs, as guaranteed by the First Amendment. We appreciate robust discussion.

To the companies who stay put and fight the GOP for their communities, though, more power to them. The Republicans’ abuses of power and misuses of governance cannot be tolerated.