Georgia's Republican governor on Saturday stepped up his attack on Major League Baseball's decision to pull this summer's All-Star Game from the state in response to a sweeping new voting law, saying the move politicized the sport and would hurt minority-owned businesses.
“It’s minority-owned businesses that have been hit harder than most because of an invisible virus by no fault of their own," Gov. Brian Kemp said. “And these are the same minority businesses that are now being impacted by another decision that is by no fault of their own.”
Kemp spoke along with Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, also a Republican, at a seafood and po'boy restaurant miles from the stadium in a suburb north of Atlanta where the game would have been held, though he said he didn't think the restaurant was minority-owned.
He has previously criticized MLB's decision. The game will now be played in Denver. Kemp noted at Saturday's news conference that Denver has a much smaller percentage of African Americans than Atlanta. And he said MLB's move has injected politics into the “great American pastime.”
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“People shouldn't have to go to the game and worry about if they’re sitting next to a Joe Biden supporter or a Donald Trump supporter,” he said. “They ought to be able to go to the game, cheer for their team just like if you're in church worshipping.”
Critics say it's the voting law that's political and will disproportionately affect communities of color. Kemp's news conference was trying to deflect from that, as the governor gears up for next year's election to try to win a second term, said Aklima Khondoker, state director of the voting rights group, All Voting is Local.
“He’s pivoting away from all of the malicious things that we understand that this bill represents to people of color in Georgia,” she said.
About two dozen protesters turned out near Augusta National on Saturday, holding signs that said “Let Us Vote” and “Protect Georgia Voting Rights."
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said he made the decision to move the All-Star events after discussions with individual players and the Players Alliance, an organization of Black players formed after the death of George Floyd last year, and that the league opposed restrictions to the ballot box.
An MLB spokesman said the league had no immediate additional comment Saturday.
Several groups already have filed suit over the voting measure, which includes strict identification requirements for voting absentee by mail.
It expands weekend early voting, but limits the use of ballot drop boxes, makes it a crime to hand out food or water to voters waiting in line and gives the State Election Board new powers to intervene in county election offices and to remove and replace local election officials. That has led to concerns that the Republican-controlled state board could exert more influence over the administration of elections, including the certification of county results.
The rewrite of Georgia’s election rules — signed by Kemp last month — follows former President Donald Trump’s repeated, baseless claims of fraud after his presidential loss to Biden. Democrats have assailed the law as an attempt to suppress Black and Latino votes, with Biden calling it “Jim Crow in the 21st Century.”
Carr and Kemp blasted that comparison.
“This made up narrative that this bill takes us back to Jim Crow — an era when human beings were being killed and who were truly prevented from casting their vote — is preposterous,” Carr said. “It is irresponsible, and it's fundamentally wrong.”