Dick Parsons had to make countless difficult decisions during his rich career in business. The decision to speak out on Georgia’s electoral law was not one of them.
“It was easy. There is simply no excuse for what the Georgian legislature has done, ”Parsons told CNN Business in his first public comments on the controversial law.
Parsons, who in the early 2000s became one of the first black CEOs of a Fortune 500 company, is one of 72 black business leaders who signed a letter calling on businesses to fight Republican voting restrictions.
In the interview, the former CEO of Time Warner and CBS called Georgia’s law “stupid,” a blatant attempt to suppress black voting and a “ruse” that claims to be aimed at saving the elections.
Parsons, who has always called himself a Rockefeller Republican, has denounced Georgian law for placing restrictions on the supply of food and drink to voters queuing at polling stations. He pointed out that Black voters in Georgia wait much longer than white voters.
“What does feeding someone or giving them a drink of water have to do with fraud?” Parsons asked. “It’s just a bald attempt to prevent or suppress the number of black voters showing up to vote in Georgia. As a business community, we felt that we had to call on the legislature to come out, to hold it accountable. “
Defenders of Georgian law, including former President Donald Trump, say it is designed to prevent voter fraud. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned businesses they face “serious consequences” for trying to influence electoral laws.
Trump’s ‘impossible task’
Trump has called for a boycott companies that vote on voting rights, including Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS and Citigroup.
“Now they go a lot with WOKE CANCEL CULTURE and our sacred elections. It’s finally time for Republicans and Conservatives to fight back – we have more people than them – by far! Trump said in a statement over the weekend. “Don’t come back to their products until they give in. We can play the game better than them. “
Asked that the former US president is now calling for a boycott of some of America’s biggest brands, Parsons laughed and said, “Good luck, former President Trump.
“Do people really want to deprive themselves of all products and services [of those companies] in an effort to somehow bring the clock back to 1865? I don’t think so, but we’ll find out, ”said Parsons, who served as chairman of Citi during the financial crisis and before that, headed CNN’s former parent, Time Warner.
Parsons said Trump “basically ignored history” and wanted things to get back to where they were, or at least stop them from moving further.
“It is an impossible task. No one in history has ever been able to do it. And he won’t be able to do it, ”he said.
The message to other states debating Georgia-like laws
MLB announced last week that it move the All-Star game out of Atlanta due to the voting law in Georgia. Baseball will be would be the Mid-Summer Classic in Colorado instead.
“It was the right decision,” said Parsons, who was previously interim CEO of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers. He added that a large segment of professional athletes are blacks. “They must stand in solidarity with their own constituency, with their own employees.”
Of course, this debate on voting rights concerns much more than Georgia.
Lawmakers in 47 states introduced bills that would make voting more difficult, according to a tally from New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.
Parsons said the stance taken by some CEOs against Georgian law should send a message to other states considering similar legislation. He likened the situation to one where a baseball manager burns out and challenges an appeal made by an umpire.
“He really doesn’t expect the referee to change the call he made, but he expects the referee to remember that next time around,” Parsons said. “We hope that other states will see that they cannot pass this kind of legislation irresponsibly… and that they will have no consequences paying for it.”
“ The blacks have been left behind ”
There is growing momentum behind an effort to get the federal government to pay reparations to black families.
Last month, the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, approved the country’s first reparations program, which will finance home loans to residents who can demonstrate the harms caused by discriminatory housing practices.
Parsons said he did not support a reparations program based solely on writing checks to the African American community.
“I don’t think it’s helpful. This money would simply be wasted, ”he said.
However, Parsons said he would strongly support a broader reparations program, built around training, education and support to help black families get their hands on the American Dream.
“Listen bro, black people have been left behind and are still behind a hundred years and more and need help catching up,” Parsons said. “But it’s more than just transferring money to them.”
‘Hope and optimism’
Along with former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault, former Merrill Lynch boss Stanley O’Neal and former Fannie Mace CEO Frank Raines, Parsons was among the first class of black CEOs in large American corporations.
Long before joining the C-Suite, Parsons jumped twice during his studies and graduated from high school in New York City at the age of 16. He finished at the top of his class at Albany Law School.
He went on to work for prominent Republicans, including Nelson Rockefeller and President Gerald Ford.
Although Parsons said he was irritated by the blatant racism inflicted on black Americans, he said he had not personally experienced overt discrimination during his career.
“I had a lovely run, I guess,” Parsons said. “I guess that’s one of the reasons I still have a lot of hope and optimism that we as a country can overcome this in a sustainable and lasting way.”