Last week, departing Georgia Governor Nathan Deal paraphrased Mark 8:36 in another missive lobbed at the Republican candidates vying for his post. What good is it to preserve religious freedom, the Republican governor mused, if one thus forfeits the chance to attract an Amazon headquarters to the city?
Deal sent his top aide, Chris Riley, to a cozy event at a Democratic watering hole to send a clear message to Republican lawmakers and candidates: do not attempt to resurrect the religious liberty bill the governor vetoed last year, or else Amazon will cross Atlanta off the list of cities to which they might bring their new $5 billion corporate headquarters.
Sounding more like a communist apparatchik than a gubernatorial aide, Riley declared that even speaking publicly about the religious liberty issue could ruin a potential Amazon deal. “[R]emember when [you] speak, those headlines go as quick and far as the CEO’s desk,” he pointedly warned candidates.
This is disturbing stuff.
Not only is Governor Deal demanding that fellow Republicans literally amputate their legislative agenda to suit the whims of a private company’s CEO: he is actually demanding that Republican candidates censor their very words lest that CEO and other CEOs disapprove of something they say to their own future constituents.
And, what comes next? There is always a next thing. Don’t imagine for a moment that if the candidates for Georgia governor obey this diktat and zip their lips on religious freedom, Jeff Bezos, the Seattlesque overlord of Amazon, will be forever satisfied and ask for nothing more. Instead, a pattern of submission will be established: Bezos and other CEOs will have proof that all it takes to send shivers of fear down governors’ spines is to demand that all state elected officials bend – quickly and with no complaint – to their every ideological whim.
Bezos is a liberal and an unabashed globalist. He is also, despite all those appearances on “Oprah” to talk about their latest shared New Age obsession, a CEO with a rather bad reputation for poor working conditions in his warehouses. So what will he demand next: gun control laws for Georgia? Sanctuary city policies — statewide? No minimum wage for the Amazon workers sweating it out in one of Amazon’s notorious order fulfillment centers? If you are a liberal concerned about your vision of worker’s rights, this surrender of political power to a private corporate entity should worry you, too.
One thing we do know is that any Amazon deal will require lots and lots of corporate welfare in the form of tax credits. Bezos is demanding a massive transfer of money from working, taxpaying Georgia families to the zippered pockets of the spacesuit he wears while fiddling around with Blue Origin, his private space travel company, which itself is forcibly subsidized by the taxpayers of Florida. See here (for some useful insights into Bezos’ calculations leading up to locating Blue Origin in Florida.
Last year, in a slippery letter to the public, Governor Nathan Deal claimed that he was vetoing RIFRA, the religious freedom act, because there was absolutely no need for such a law, and that there was no need for such a law because there was absolutely no threat to freedom of religious expression in Georgia. A year later, Deal himself is the threat to freedom of religious expression in Georgia: he is the one attempting to put the thumbscrews to merely talking about religious freedom, let alone defending it.
Among the polite choices, this might be termed: gawking irony. But more than ordinary political cynicism is at work here. Exactly how much of our political system are we willing to simply cede to wealthy investors in exchange for paying them to move to Georgia, at least temporarily (they can and often do move again when those tax credits run out).
Both Bezos’ implied ideological demands and Deal’s eagerness to enforce them should worry everyone, not just the religious conservatives being targeted this time. If we silence political speech and suppress legislation every time some CEO demands it, we are silencing far more than any one individual voice or any one piece of legislation. We are giving away our freedom of speech, our political power and our right to legislative ourselves in exchange for … relative trinkets. What a disgrace.
Dr. Tina Trent is a Republican candidate for state office in District 26 for the Georgia House of Representatives.