Amazon Bid Makes Georgia GOP Worry About The Politics Of Corporate Citizenship
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There's a new cause for bipartisanship in some state capitols - the effort to lure Amazon's second headquarters. But the peace might not last. In Georgia, some conservatives worry that new businesses coming into the state just speeds up demographic and political changes. And they do not worry about turning away corporations. From member station WABE, Johnny Kauffman reports.
JOHNNY KAUFFMAN, BYLINE: It's the middle of Georgia's annual legislative session. And the halls inside the state House are packed with lobbyists and lawmakers. Most are older white men. State Representative Brenda Lopez is not. Last year, she became the first Latina elected to the Georgia legislature.
BRENDA LOPEZ: Whatever perceived notions about what Georgia may have been even 10 years ago is not where we are today.
KAUFFMAN: As metro Atlanta's population grows, it's getting less white. And it's getting younger. Lopez says the crowd here at the legislature does not represent who actually lives in the state.
LOPEZ: Georgia and the South is not changing. Georgia and the South has changed. It is a fact already.
KAUFFMAN: Republicans still control the governor's mansion and Georgia's House and Senate by big margins. But many of the most conservative proposals at the state House have stalled recently. And that's thanks to the lobbyists filling up the halls and, more importantly, the corporations they work for.
THARON JOHNSON: They have a very diverse workforce. And a lot of their workers want to live in a progressive state.
KAUFFMAN: Tharon Johnson has been a lobbyist since 2012. He's seen companies like Delta, Coca-Cola and even Disney help squash efforts to expand protections for religious groups. LGBT activists called the bills discriminatory. It's all frustrated, conservative Republican lawmakers like State Senator Michael Williams.
MICHAEL WILLIAMS: If the mere fact that we want to reinforce our religious freedoms means that a company does not want to come to Georgia, then we're better off without them.
KAUFFMAN: Williams is an underdog candidate for governor this year. And he's tried to get attention by questioning Georgia's efforts to lure Amazon's second headquarters. Metro Atlanta is one of 20 finalists. Williams says he worries the Seattle-based company will make Georgia more liberal and undermine what he calls the state's culture. Williams points to CEO Jeff Bezos' donation to fund scholarships for DACA recipients.
WILLIAMS: When you talk about giving Amazon billions of dollars, and then the founder CEO of Amazon is giving $33 million to education for illegals, there seems to be a disconnect there between what the values of Georgia are and a guy who wants to give away tons of money to illegals to go to school.
KAUFFMAN: Williams supports legislation that would require driver's license tests and ballots be printed in English only. Civil rights groups put that bill on what they call the Adios Amazon list, measures the groups and State Representative Lopez say, just by being introduced, hurt Georgia's chances of landing the corporation's new headquarters and the 50,000 jobs it promises.
LOPEZ: When, basically, do we stop shooting ourselves in the foot by continuing to push something again for a Georgia that is no longer the Georgia that maybe some people might be referring to?
KAUFFMAN: None of the bills on the Adios Amazon list are likely to become law. Republican leaders say making Georgia attractive to companies is a priority, and that includes Amazon. The lobbyist Johnson is an outspoken Democrat. But even he has praise for Republican Governor Nathan Deal and other top GOP officials. Johnson says it's not new in Georgia for business interests to bring Republicans and Democrats together.
JOHNSON: I think Amazon is just at the top of the list right now. We have been a state that has recruited many, many corporations here - many, many headquarters for so many decades.
KAUFFMAN: Even if it's not Amazon, the hunt won't stop. And as the flow of new corporations and people to Georgia continues, their influence at the state House and the polls look set to keep growing. For NPR News, I'm Johnny Kauffman in Atlanta.
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