Business opposition hasn’t moved the needle in voting rights fight; sports might

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The voting restrictionists are winning, as corporate America — which vowed to oppose voter suppression — is proving to be a paper tiger thus far. The battle, however, is far from over; voting rights advocates have several potentially big cards to play.

Following Georgia, both Florida and Arizona enacted measures aimed at making voting harder for some citizens, targeting especially urban areas with large minority populations. A battle is brewing in Texas where the state Senate has passed a radical bill while the state House has approved milder, though still restrictionist, legislation.

As Republicans reconcile these measures, some businesses are weighing in on the voting rights side. Some members of the business group Greater Houston Partnership broke off to oppose the state Senate bill. The larger group stayed neutral, infuriating Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who refused to address them: “It is very difficult to speak in front of an organization who remains silent on an issue that affects us all.”

In general, businesses have been reluctant to fight against specific legislation. Georgia companies waited until after the state legislature passed its voting suppression bill. Business interests were largely irrelevant in Florida and Arizona. In Texas, the exceptions have included: Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Technologies and a native Texan; American Airlines; clothing makers Levi Strauss and Patagonia; Microsoft and those Houston businesses.

Big business has heard the warnings — threats, some would say — to stay away from this issue. Nationally, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told corporations to “stay out of politics.” The Kentucky Republican, who thrives on big money and politics, quickly caught himself: “I’m not talking about political contributions.”

Texas Republicans were nastier. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said business opponents of voting restrictions were a “nest of liars.” There were other pointed warnings.

Most businesses care a lot about taxes and regulation; they often look to Republicans to champion their cause. The national Chamber of Commerce opposes the congressional Democrats’ federal voting rights bill which would override many of these state restrictions. (That legislation has passed the House but is stalled in the Senate.)

The easiest course is to extol the importance of voting rights — as well as apple pie — and cave on battling the specific suppressions; Republicans assure the issue politically will fade away after these restrictions are enacted.

There is, however, potential peril for some. Many of the more successful businesses rely on younger employees, who are often more progressive politically. Under pressure, the businesses also are trying to diversify their work force.

These employees are likely to find it less attractive to work in a state notorious for voter suppression. With a tight labor market, these employees would have options and be tough to replace.

Texas has been a haven for corporate growth and relocations. Tesla’s Elon Musk recently announced plans to move the company from California to Texas. Apple already has nearly completed a huge new facility in Austin.

But if this stays a front burner issue — as civil rights and voting rights advocates vow that it will — this is going to cause discomfort. There aren’t many Tesla buyers in rural Trump country. It may be too late for a socially conscious company like Apple, but other high-tech companies may take this into account. (Apple just announced plans for a $1 billion facility in North Carolina’s robust Raleigh-Durham area; the state’s Republican legislature is blocked from major voting changes by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.)

Professional and business associations may face pressure about holding their conventions in states that restrict voting. Orlando and Miami, Fla., Phoenix, Ariz., and Dallas, Texas, are among the top ten convention sites in America.

As occurred in North Carolina four years ago when right-wingers were forced to change a law restricting transgender use of public bathrooms, sports could play a role here.

Major League baseball — the least diverse of the three major professional sports — pulled the all-star game out of Atlanta. They worried some Black stars might boycott the game.

That may be even more of a concern with basketball and football, sports dominated by Black stars. The National Football League’s Super Bowl is scheduled for Arizona in 2023; 30 years ago, the game was moved from there after the state refused to recognize Martin Luther King’s birthday. The two semi-final NCAA football championship games in December are scheduled to be played in Texas and Florida. The 2023 Women’s basketball final four is to be played in Texas. Two of 2022’s men’s March madness rounds are scheduled in Texas.

The fight over voting rights has multiple rounds to go.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags American business Arizona Business and politics Elon Musk Florida Georgia Mitch McConnell Republican efforts to restrict voting following the 2020 presidential election Sports and Politics Sylvester Turner Voter suppression voting restrictions

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