Delta Airlines is in the middle of a PR crisis. Georgia, home of Delta Airlines, just passed sweeping changes to the state’s voting laws. At first glance, it would seem that Delta isn’t involved with writing state laws and doesn’t run the state of Georgia. Their only fault is that the company has been based in Atlanta since 1941.
That’s a long time ago. It’s four years before Georgia did away with the poll tax, which was a fee you had to pay to register to vote. It’s also three years before Georgia did away with the “white primary” system where only white voters could choose the party nominee for office. Since then, Georgia hasn’t have the best track record with regards to expanding voting rights. They did many things regarding voting rules to skirt around the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Georgia is once again in the headlines after passing a new law regarding voting in the state.
Delta’s biggest problem is that they’re based in Georgia. No one blamed them for the voting rules in the past, so what’s changed? Delta is now the largest private employer in the state, by a lot.
When you’re that important to the state economy, you get a direct line to the seats of power in the Georgia statehouse. Delta recently indirectly butted heads with the state legislature when they did away with discounted fares for the NRA after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018. In response, the legislature removed an exemption on jet fuel taxes that reportedly would cost Delta $40 million per year. Both Republican candidates for governor supported the legislature’s action but after Brian Kemp won the primary (and eventually the election), the outgoing governor issued an executive order that suspended the collection of the tax.
Here’s what Delta CEO Ed Bastian said about the resolution:
“With 33,000 employees in Georgia, we are honored to call this our home state, and proud of the $58 billion in economic impact that Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport creates statewide every year,” Bastian said. “The savings will allow us to invest additional flights into Georgia in the years to come. We look forward to continued growth of our service in Georgia and the job creation that will accompany it.”
And incoming governor Brian Kemp shared a similar statement.
“I support economic incentives that generate a sizable return on investment for Georgia taxpayers and create economic opportunities for communities throughout our state.”
Delta called the legislature’s bluff and won that round, but not without a standoff. So it would make sense they don’t want to do anything to rock the boat. As the recent voting bill was moving through the legislature, activists were putting pressure on Delta (and other large Georgia-based companies like Coca-Cola and The Home Depot) to use their influence to derail the bill before it reached the governor’s desk.
The companies remained silent as the bill progressed and eventually was passed and signed into law. Now there’s a campaign to #boycottdelta because of their inaction. How effective would this be? That depends on how much blame the public puts on Delta. This should have been a relatively easy storm to weather.
That is what makes Ed Bastian’s press release about the new law so confusing:
Delta believes that full and equal access to voting is a fundamental right for all citizens. Over the past several weeks, Delta engaged extensively with state elected officials in both parties to express our strong view that Georgia must have a fair and secure election process, with broad voter participation and equal access to the polls. The legislation signed this week improved considerably during the legislative process, and expands weekend voting, codifies Sunday voting and protects a voter’s ability to cast an absentee ballot without providing a reason. For the first time, drop boxes have also been authorized for all counties statewide and poll workers will be allowed to work across county lines. Nonetheless, we understand concerns remain over other provisions in the legislation, and there continues to be work ahead in this important effort. We are committed to continuing to listen to our people and our communities, and engage with leaders from both parties to ensure every eligible employee and Georgia voter can exercise their right to vote.
He placed Delta in the middle of the crafting of the bill. Why would any CEO do that?
Not to mention that he basically copied and pasted the talking points being used by Governor Kemp and other Republican state officials. What is Delta’s reasoning for this move? It’s a totally different tone than the statements from the other major Georgia companies.
In contrast, here’s the statement from Home Depot:
We believe that all elections should be accessible, fair and secure and support broad voter participation. We’ll continue to work to ensure our associates, both in Georgia and across the country, have the information and resources to vote.
For example, we promoted voter participation in the last election through our internal Get Out The Vote initiative, confirming 15,500 voter registrations among our associates. In addition, we matched more than 1,800 associates with local opportunities to volunteer at polling locations across the country, including 600 technology worker volunteers in Atlanta to support complex technology issues and cybersecurity related to the election. We also donated 9,200 plexiglass dividers across Georgia to help meet poll station safety requirements.
See the difference?
The statement from Delta’s CEO was so perplexing that people don’t believe it’s real, prompting a fact-check post on Snopes called “Did Delta Air Lines CEO Praise Georgia’s New Voting Law?” Snopes has also reached out to Delta with pointed follow-up questions about the statement.
We reached out to Delta asking what its role was in crafting the legislation and whether it had any further comments on the criticism over Bastian’s statement, but didn’t get an answer in time for publication. We will update if we hear back.
Update: Delta CEO Ed Bastian has onw released another statement which includes this excerpt. You can read the whole statement on Delta’s website.
However, I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.
The right to vote is sacred. It is fundamental to our democracy and those rights not only need to be protected, but easily facilitated in a safe and secure manner.
After having time to now fully understand all that is in the bill, coupled with discussions with leaders and employees in the Black community, it’s evident that the bill includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives. That is wrong.
The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.
By placing his company in the middle of a controversy, Delta needed to release a strong rebuke of the new bill. This may invoke a retaliatory response from the legislature, as it did before. I’m just saying, keep an eye out to see if there’s any news about removing that tax break for jet fuel.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary