President Biden and Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred apparently never got the memo about the Two Georgias.
That’s about the only conclusion to be drawn from their reaction to the enactment of Georgia Senate Bill 202, aka “The Election Integrity Act of 2021.” When Biden publicly urged MLB to strip Atlanta of this year’s All-Star Game, he was basically calling in friendly fire on his own party’s home turf in perhaps the most politically important state in the nation right now.
More specifically, he targeted Cobb County, home of the Atlanta Braves’ Truist Park and designated site of the 2021 All-Star Game, which last year went Democratic for the first time since well back into the last millennium. Kudos to the political wizards who helped him think that one through.
If economic punishment was the goal, a better strategy might have been to rattle some budgetary sabers at, for example, Augusta’s Fort Gordon, which sits next door to the district represented by the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Max Burns (R-Sylvania), as well as other military installations and federal facilities.
If instead, the objective was political humiliation, you’d think they might have noticed that Burns’ sprawling, largely rural East Georgia district also sweeps into Augusta and brackets a certain well-tended golf course that will be ground zero for the sports media for the next several days.
Not for nothing, the 2021 Master’s Tournament, as it does every COVID-free year, will double as a post-legislative party scene for lobbyists and lawmakers, and an entertainment venue for the state’s well-heeled corporate leaders, who will no doubt have to spend some of their time trying to convince their out-of-state customers and prospects that the state is not actually run by knuckle-dragging racists.
Enter now the White House and Major League Baseball, and recognize that the laws of physics also apply to politics: For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. Put another way, if Republicans do something stupid, they can count on the Democrats to do something just as stupid right back. Thus did Biden and MLB lurch into ready/fire/aim mode and deprive businesses and employees in an increasingly Democratic part of the state of, according to a Cobb Travel and Tourism executive, more than $100 million in projected cash flow.
Clearly, one of the Two Georgias deserved all this economic pain, radioactive headlines and political opprobrium—but it wasn’t metro Atlanta or Cobb County. Now, though, the problem isn’t just that Atlanta is paying an economic price for rural Georgia’s retrograde politics, it’s that there’s almost certainly more to come. As Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports columnist Steve Hummer put it this weekend, “The loss of baseball’s All-Star Game was just the beginning. Why, with a little more work from those beneath the Gold Dome, we can become Birmingham before you know it.”
“Why,” he added a few paragraphs later, “would any major sporting league—or major company for that matter—want to have anything to do with a leadership that so eagerly gives credence to a bald-faced lie?”
Here he makes an important point. The Georgia General Assembly adjourned last week after devoting much of its legislative energy to producing a 98-page law based entirely on President Trump’s fictitious claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. One byproduct of that legislative disaster is that it spawned a political virus for which there is no obvious vaccine—and no way of knowing where or how it might spread.
Aside from the economic development implications, it doesn’t take much imagination to wonder whether the five-star Black athletes now dressing out for Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs might begin to think twice about playing football in a state where the legislature apparently wants to hinder their right to vote. If, for instance, running back Zamir “Zeus” White and wide receiver George Pickens were to even glance in the direction of the transfer portal because of the new law, let’s just say that the likely opposite reaction would be very unequal—and would require Gov. Kemp to build a bigger fence around the state capitol to hold the UGA Alumni Association at bay.
If the recent presidential and Senate elections marked tipping points in Georgia politics, the enactment of SB 202 may prove to be an even more important inflection point in the long-running political war between metro Atlanta and rural Georgia. My hunch is that one opposite and equal reaction to SB 202 is that voter outrage in metro Atlanta will remain at a boiling point through the 2022 election cycle. Bad press for depriving voters standing in long lines of food and water may prove to be the least of the Republicans’ problems.
In the Two Georgias, a mega-million-dollar hit on metro Atlanta and Cobb County is a small price for Sen. Burns and his colleagues to pay to calm the Trump-inflamed fever swamps they represent. In fact, it’s no price at all, which is the problem. Burns’ hometown of Sylvania is more than 200 miles from Truist Park, and most of his fellow GOP colleagues live at least 100 miles from the ballpark.
At the risk of being uncharitable, I can’t help but wonder if some of these legislators—and their constituents—aren’t laughing up their sleeves (if not out loud) at metro Atlanta’s misfortune. For them, SB 202 was a twofer. Not only did they weaken the region politically, but they also nicked it for tens of millions of dollars in business in the process.
I’ll close by suggesting that this need not be the end of the opening chapter of this story. Georgia’s newly-empowered Democrats in Washington—led by Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock—should make this case to the White House and MLB and implore them to reverse the All-Star Game decision. It may not be too late, and a reversal would undo a major mistake and set the stage for a discussion about how to exact economic retribution on those who actually deserve it.
This article is condensed from the longer version, which ran online at troubleingodscountry.com.
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