‘Outright lies’: Republicans rip baseball’s leap in polarizing voter rights debate

Major League Baseball’s decision to relocate the 2021 All-Star Game and draft in response to Georgia’s new election law has pushed the nation’s favorite pastime into a polarizing debate over voting rights.

Former President Donald Trump and Republicans are fighting back, calling for a boycott of MLB and other corporations that have embraced the “outright lies” that President Biden, Democrats and some in the media are peddling about the law.

For the most part Democrats are cheering on the move, which came after Mr. Biden urged MLB to consider relocating the game and described the new law as “Jim Crow in the 21st century” and “Jim Crow on steroids.”

Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said Mr. Biden and Democrats are misleading the public about what the law does.

“He is lying about this bill,” Mr. Christie said. “He’s lying to the American people about it, to cause the raging fire he said he was going to put out.”

Mr. Christie said Mr. Biden is breaking his Inauguration Day pledge to reject “a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, signed a law last month revising the state’s election rules. The bill, among other things, establishes new guidelines for drop boxes, requires voters to show ID when voting by mail, and gives the legislature more oversight authority over election results.

Democrats sound convinced that the message the boycott sends about the importance of voting rights outweighs the negative effect the move could have on workers in the Atlanta area.

“There is undoubtedly going to be a cost,” Cecilia Elena Rouse, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I think that was the point that Major League Baseball was trying to make.” 

“Workers at another place will benefit,” Ms. Rouse said. 

“These companies have the opportunity to vote with their feet and they are using their economic power to express their dissatisfaction,” she said.

Democrat Stacey Abrams, a voting rights activist and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate, said last week she is “disappointed” the game is being relocated because she did not “want to see Georgia families hurt by lost events and jobs.”

Asked about Ms. Abrams’ concern, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that history shows boycotts have “allowed for justice to be delivered in many spaces.”

“The civil rights movement was rooted in boycotts,” Ms. Omar said. “We know that apartheid ended in South Africa because of boycotts.”

“So our hope is this boycott will result in changes in the law because we understand when you restrict people’s ability to vote, you create a democracy that isn’t fully functioning for all of us. And if we [want to] continue to be a beacon for hope for democracies around the world, we must stand our ground,” she said.

Republicans said the entire fight is bogus and based on falsehoods.

Mr. Kemp said at a press conference Saturday he won’t “apologize for wanting to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

“I will not back down,” Mr. Kemp said. “This bill is creating more accessibility.”

He joined others in pointing out that other states, such as New York, where Major League Baseball has headquarters, have more restrictive voting laws.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Friday that the 2021 All-Star Game and 2021 draft will be moved out of Atlanta.

Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Mr. Manfred said.

Others have called on other professional leagues to follow suit.

But golf is resisting.

The Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the Masters Tournament at its historic Georgia course, has issued no public statements despite calls for boycotts. 

Chairman Fred Ridley hosts the club’s annual pretournament news conference Wednesday, the customary day, and almost certainly will be questioned about the state’s law then, though the venerable club typically refuses political comment.

The PGA Tour holds its season-ending FedEx Cup playoff event, the Tour Championship, at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, and the Tour said the September event will stay put.

“The Tour Championship’s commitment to East Lake has helped our partners transform distressed neighborhoods into healthy and thriving ones, which is a key to ending the cycle of intergenerational poverty,” the PGA Tour said in a statement Saturday. “The charitable and economic benefits that have led to these substantial changes would not continue if we simply walked away from those in need.”

The PGA of America, which has scheduled the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship for the Atlanta Athletic Club in June issued a statement Saturday saying it was “monitoring developments,” but said “our intention to stage an event in a particular market should not be construed as indifference to the current conversation around voting rights.”

The rewrite of election laws in Georgia came after Mr. Trump insisted the 2020 election was stolen from him through a combination of massive voter fraud and shady Democrats and election workers, including in the Peach State.

Mr. Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger denied Mr. Trump’s accusations, saying he was relying on faulty information and bad data.

Some political observers now say both parties deserve blame for the current mess in Georgia.

They say the conservative-led “election integrity” push there was based on Mr. Trump’s “big lie,” and the liberal hyperventilating over the law has been filled with exaggerations and bogus claims.

Mr. Biden claimed incorrectly on ESPN that the new law ends voting at 5 p.m. on Election Day. Voting hours will remain the same as before, ending at 7 p.m., under the new law.

The law requires voters to provide ID to vote by mail, a change that critics say will disproportionately affect Black voters. The new law also shortens the time during which voters can request early ballots, but from six months before Election Day to 78 days, or in mid-August for the big November elections. 

Counties can begin sending ballots to voters 29 days before Election Day, rather than the previous 49 days.

Mr. Kemp said the league’s action is an alarming example of liberal cancel-culture run amok. He said the development is a wake-up call for others to “get in the fight.”

“They’re coming for you next,” Mr. Kemp said.

Mr. Trump is urging the GOP to fight back against the corporations, some of them traditionally Georgia based, who have criticized the law, often using what Republicans call the falsehoods and exaggerations.

“It is finally time for Republicans and conservatives to fight back — we have more people than they do — by far!” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “Boycott Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS, Citigroup, Cisco, UPS, and Merck. Don’t go back to their products until they relent.”

“We can play the game better than them,” he said.

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