Georgia governor Brian Kemp on CNBC's "Closing Bell" on Wednesday denied corporate backlash against the voting laws he signed.
The governor signed a comprehensive GOP-backed electoral law on Thursday that civil rights activists say disproportionately hurt color voters. The legislation adds new identification requirements to postal voting, limits ballot boxes and, among other things, prohibits the offering of food or water to voters.
"I'm happy to deal with this," said Kemp, citing the backlash from business leaders in Georgia and the US over the electoral law. "If you want to have a debate on the merits and facts of the bill, that's what we should do."
Kemp's comments come after prominent black business leaders urged corporate executives in the US to oppose a restrictive electoral law following the passage of Georgia's electoral law.
"Companies have to stand up. There is no middle ground," said Ken Chenault, former CEO of American Express and one of the first black directors of a Fortune 500 company, on CNBC's "Squawk Box" Wednesday morning.
Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck, of "Squawk Box" said: "Free and fair access to the ballot has never been a partisan issue. It is a fundamental right of the constitution."
A number of companies made statements Wednesday following the Chenault and Frazier interview.
"I would encourage these CEOs to look at other states they do business in and compare the real facts to Georgia," said Kemp.
The governor highlighted provisions in the legislation such as increasing personal pre-election times in most Georgian counties as examples of why Republicans believe the bill will expand voter access.
In early March, civil rights groups called on large companies headquartered in Georgia to clearly oppose the election restrictions proposed in the state parliament. The lawyers targeted six major companies – Aflac, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Home Depot, Southern Company and UPS – through demonstrations, telephone banks and campaigns in the local press and social media.
Companies responded with full statements about fair and safe elections without taking a direct stance on the bills in the weeks leading up to Kemp's signing of the new law. After the law was passed, some voting proponents threatened to boycott Georgia-based companies.
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Coca-Cola responded to the passage of the bill last week with a statement on electoral access and electoral integrity without commenting on the law. In a statement on Monday, Coca-Cola's chief executive Alfredo Rivera said the company was "disappointed" with the law.
On Wednesday afternoon at CNBC's "Power Lunch", James Quincey, CEO of Coca-Cola, said the legislation was "unacceptable" and "a step backwards".
Ed Bastian, Delta CEO, said in a statement last week that the signed legislation "improved significantly" during the legislative process.
In a reversal on Wednesday, Bastian busted Georgia’s new electoral law, calling it "unacceptable".
"Now that we have time to fully understand everything that is in the bill, along with discussions with executives and staff in the black community, it is evident that the bill contains provisions that would make many underrepresented voters, especially blacks It is harder for voters to move about their constitutional right to elect their representatives. That is wrong, "Bastian said in a staff note on Wednesday morning.
In a statement to CNBC on Wednesday, Kemp defended the law, specifically targeting Delta's executives.
"Today's statement by Delta CEO Ed Bastian is in stark contrast to our discussions with the company, ignores the content of the new law and unfortunately continues to spread the same false attacks repeated by partisan activists," said Kemp.
"Mr. Bastian should compare Georgia's electoral laws – which include apologetic absentee voting, online voter registration, 17 days early voting with two additional optional Sundays, and automatic voter registration upon receipt of a driver's license – to other states Delta Airlines works in," added he added.
The electoral law debate is taking place amid a wave of Republican electoral restrictions proposed in state legislatures across the country. The Brennan Center for Justice tracked 253 bills in 43 states with provisions that would restrict access to voting as of February 19.
Conspiracy theories of widespread electoral fraud led violent pro-Trump rioters to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 to dismiss the 2020 presidential election results.
The deadly uprising came after Republican leaders, including former President Donald Trump, continued to spread claims that mail-in and early voting resulted in widespread electoral fraud, although there was no evidence of such fraud.
– CNBC's Kevin Stankiewicz, Jessica Bursztynsky and Leslie Josephs contributed to this report.