Over the last year, Republican lawmakers from the Gold Dome to the halls of Congress have faced some of the most difficult quandaries in modern political history. First, each lawmaker had to decide how closely they wanted to align themselves with the most controversial president this country has seen in decades, an issue I explored in depth recently.
Now, thanks to Amazon and their search for HQ2, Georgia Republicans face another difficult choice – siding with voters or siding with big business. In theory, those two options should be able to coexist, but recent overtures toward social justice causes by large corporations over the last few years has changed the playing field. Now, a bill like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), an item long popular with the majority of Republican voters, could tilt Georgia in the wrong direction when it comes time for Amazon to make a decision. Bills which are perceived to be xenophobic, restrictive toward civil rights, or backwards-facing are at odds with how corporations now seek to do good.
That leaves Georgia Republicans in a tough spot. Republicans pride themselves on being two things – the party of business and the party of traditional family values, but it decreasingly looks like they will be able to hang on to both. If GOP lawmakers drop their most controversial efforts, they may very well face primary challengers from further to the right. However, if they keep pressing for things like RFRA, they risk not only scaring away Amazon, but any other organization looking to expand into the state.
There is no easy answer here. Siding with voters is more likely to keep them in office and aligned with their constituents’ interests but siding with companies with progressive messages could bring millions or billions of dollars to the state and thousands of new jobs. The choice is made all the difficult with looming elections at both the local and state levels.
The real question they must ask themselves, the same question every legislator across the country should regularly ask themselves, is “how do I maximize positive outcomes for my state?” Ultimately, RFRA and English-only legislation will do zero good in the long run, but $5 billion in new investment has the potential to make an incredible difference, assuming Georgia does not overplay its hand with incentives and tax breaks.
The Georgia GOP will have to come to a consensus to get much done in the 2018 legislative session, but I am confident they will make the right calls.