ATLANTA — With Atlanta among the 20 cities on the short list to become the home of Amazon’s second headquarters, the corporate giant’s name has become a contentious rallying cry inside the conservative Georgia Capitol.
Lawmakers and lobbyists in Georgia are viewing various pieces of legislation through the lens of how they will affect the city’s chances of winning Amazon’s business – and the estimated 50,000 jobs expected to be generated by the new headquarters.
Two flashpoints have been a “religious liberties” bill – viewed by some as anti-LGBT – as well as a trio of bills that opponents have dubbed “adios Amazon” because they’re related to immigration issues.
“It’s putting a target on our back,” Democratic Rep. Bee Nguyen said of the immigration-related bills, which she said would draw unnecessary scrutiny from the Amazon selection committee.
Amazon has yet to publicly release specific criteria it will use to judge the 20 finalist cities, but its initial call for proposals lists “Cultural Community Fit” as a priority, noting it requires a community with a “diverse population.” Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is a big-time donor to pro-LGBT causes and has given large amounts of money to fund scholarships for young immigrants.
William Hatcher, associate professor in the Department of Social Sciences at Augusta University, said that many of the bills being introduced will appeal to conservative voters, even if they don’t have much chance of becoming law. “There is a lot of symbolic politics going on,” Hatcher said.
“It really represents the conflict you have in the Republican party nationwide, but especially in a number of Southern states … between more economic conservatives and more social-religious conservatives,” he said.
But some lawmakers are skeptical that state legislation would have any effect on Amazon’s selection.
“It is a smart tactic to create this boogeyman of, ‘Oh, we are going to lose out on economic development,’ ” Republican Sen. Josh McKoon said. He said there was “zero evidence” that conservative policies make a state less likely to attract employers like Amazon and that state legislators should not be swayed by out-of-state companies that may not share the same values as the people of Georgia.
“Perhaps we should just have their board of directors come down and sit in our seats in the House and Senate,” McKoon said sarcastically.