Georgia Electric Vehicle Plant Becomes Kemp’s Campaign Battle, Perdue

RUTLEDGE, Ga. — There are few things politicians love more than creating jobs and cutting ribbons.

But what if those jobs are on the wrong side of the culture war?

Plans to build a massive electric vehicle factory in rural Georgia have divided Republicans ahead of their primary next week. the aim is to fight against climate change.

Rivian, the well-capitalized electric pickup company that had one of the biggest IPOs in history six months ago, wants to spend $5 billion on a new assembly plant on farmland in the exterior of Atlanta. The gigantic plant will create 7,500 jobs and produce up to 400,000 cars a year in what officials say is the biggest economic development project in Georgia’s history.

But the price to pay for the deal was $1.5 billion in taxpayer incentives. And Perdue, a former U.S. senator, and other Republicans say Kemp made a bad deal with a bad company.

“This is a woke California company on a mission to make the world green,” Perdue said this month as he clashed with local activists trying to shut down the plant. “They are not interested in this part of the country. They just want to make money with us.

Vernon Jones, the Trump-backed candidate in a crowded Republican primary for the region’s open congressional seat, wrote on Facebook that Rivian is “a company whose corporate attitude is seemingly incompatible with Georgia values.” . He highlighted the company’s vaccination mandate for employees and its “great focus on diversity and inclusion; including transgender benefits.

In another post, Jones wrote, “Rivian must step aside and Kemp must be dismissed.”

The controversy reveals a growing rift within the GOP between its traditional pro-business wing, embodied by Kemp, and a rising populist wing, embodied by Perdue, which is as quick to fight corporations like Disney and Delta as Democrats are to oppose conservative social policy. .

It also highlights the challenge the entire country will face in its transition to a greener economy. Even climate-friendly projects can negatively impact local environments, and communities and opposition not in my backyard can be fierce and politicized.

“There are legitimate reasons to criticize this, but I don’t know what George Soros has to do with it,” said JC Bradbury, an economics professor at Kennesaw State University who has studied economic development plans. from Georgia. “You just connect it to him like Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees.”

Soros, the liberal Jewish billionaire who is often touted as a boogeyman in conservative circles, has a small minority stake in Rivian, while larger investors include Amazon, BlackRock and T. Rowe Price, among others.

Opposition to the Rivian plant has become a key part of Perdue’s closing message, though it’s unlikely to be enough to save its spraying campaign.

He visited the proposed site twice, hammered Kemp on the deal during their debate, spoke out against national television and aired a TV ad suggesting the factory was part of a corrupt deal between Kemp and Soros.

Republican gubernatorial candidate David Perdue speaks at a campaign event in Marietta, Georgia on March 29.Elijah Nouvelage File/Getty Images

Linking Kemp to Soros could resonate with conservative voters in more remote parts of the state and out of state, as the issue has caught the attention of conservative media.

During a tele-rally for Perdue this month, Trump said, “I’m not surprised George Soros is getting all this money from Kemp.”

The pivot comes as Perdue seeks to catch Kemp in the polls and differentiate himself from the governor, whose only major apostasy has been refusing to help Trump attempt to void the 2020 election. That issue has helped put Kemp on the Trump’s list of targets, but that wasn’t enough for Perdue to eat away at Kemp’s steady lead in the polls.

Opposition to the plant also allows Perdue to tap into vocal and well-organized opposition to the plant locally.

Anti-Rivian construction signs have sprouted like wildflowers around lush green fields where the automaker soon hopes to innovate on a project so massive it will straddle two counties and be bigger than the Pentagon.

Amazon wants to transition its delivery fleet to clean electric vehicles, starting with an order for 100,000 zero-pollution Rivian plies that could be made in Georgia. But many residents of the heavily Republican region see the project as devastating to their environment.

“Sherman and his troops destroyed our community. Now this so-called green business is coming to destroy it again,” said JoEllen Artz, president of local group No2Rivian, which claims to have raised more than $250,000 and hired Atlanta lawyers to help fight its battle. . “We want to keep it as it is.”

In Rutledge, a bucolic town at an intersection that served as the backdrop for movies like “Selma,” the old red caboose that now houses a lunch counter was abuzz last week with questions about what Rivian would mean for the people – their drinking water, their traffic, their schools, their dark skies prized by astronomers at the nearby Georgia State University Observatory, their rural way of life.

Several residents said they moved here to escape Atlanta’s inexorable growth and now fear the Rivian plant will usher in more development that will eventually swallow their hay fields and pre-war mansions, thanks to the combination of cheap land and close to a highway and rail. double.

Keith Wilson, who is running for the Morgan County Board of Commissioners to try to shut down the Rivian plant, said he found no supporters after knocking on more than 800 doors during his campaign. The county’s unemployment rate is just 2%, he said, so the company should take its jobs where they’re needed.

“Lost is going to get a lot of votes here,” Wilson said. “I think that might be enough to put him at the top of the primary. I really do.”

Local opponents like Artz and Wilson say their opposition has nothing to do with the fact that Rivian is from California and makes electric vehicles and say the opposition movement includes people of all political stripes.

But they’re happy to have a champion in Perdue – especially since he could potentially shut down the project if elected governor.

“People write to me and say, ‘You know Perdue is just using you for a problem?’ Artz said. “And I say, ‘And?'”

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