Joel Francis, the Cal State-Los Angeles senior and Marine Corps veteran, today followed through on his promise to visit Koch Industries headquarters in Wichita, Kansas to formally deliver his letter challenging CEO Charles Koch to a public debate about his funding of Prop 23, an attack on California’s clean energy investments and job creation efforts.
After receiving no response from Koch following the video posting of his challenge last week, Joel traveled all the way from Los Angeles with a group of fellow college students and Gabe Elsner, campaign director of Powervote CA and the California Student Sustainability Coalition. The goal was simple and the approach polite – Joel simply hoped to meet with Charles Koch to invite him to a public debate “anytime, anywhere in the state of California” between now and election day about why Koch would attack the fastest growing sector in California’s struggling economy – clean energy jobs, which are growing 10 times faster than other sectors.
But as the students arrived, it was clear that Koch wasn’t rolling out the red carpet for Joel.
Pairs of security guards were stationed prominently outside each entrance to the Koch corporate campus. Marked and unmarked Koch security vehicles trailed several cars after they dropped the students off on the front lawn of Koch HQ. (The vehicle I arrived in along with PowerVote’s Gabe Elsner was also trailed as it left the scene.)
Larry Moorman, Koch’s Director of Corporate Security, immediately approached Elsner and wrongly claimed that we were on private property. Elsner responded that county records indicated the first 18 feet of lawn adjacent to the curb was public property, which sent Mr. Moorman on his way back to guard the front door from the apparent ‘threat’ of an articulate college senior challenging the company’s secretive CEO to talk to him.
Huddled closely together on the narrow strip of public lawn in front of Koch Industries’ infamous corporate logo, Joel delivered a statement reiterating his modest challenge, flanked by several California students holding signs saying “Mr. Koch: Got Courage?” and “Hands Off Our Clean Energy Jobs!”
Joel and Gabe then approached the front door of Kochtopus HQ to try to get inside to meet the elusive CEO, but were met again by the trenchcoat-wearing Mr. Moorman (whose appearance recalled to memory the Cigarette Smoking Man from X-Files).
Moorman refused them entry, but agreed to personally deliver Joel’s letter to Charles Koch. However, when pressed by the pair on whether Koch had any statement in response to Joel’s challenge, Moorman quickly made it clear that they were on private property and said “you know where the easement is,” a barely concealed way of saying ‘get back on public property or else.’
Retreating 20 steps back to the safety of the public strip of lawn, Joel placed **a phone call** to Koch’s main line and was transferred to Charles’ secretary, who again said Mr. Koch was not available, but took Joel’s cell number and promised to deliver the message.
Thwarted in his attempts to shake the hand of the billionaire bankrolling Prop 23, Joel is headed back to California to rally students across the state to vote no on the dangerous proposal. Whether Charles Koch will answer his polite request to a public debate remains to be seen.
Will the billionaire stay locked inside his Kochtopus fortress, cowering at the prospect of a college student’s outrageously reasonable challenge to a civil debate on Koch’s own terms? Or will he finally explain to California voters why he’s bankrolling an effort to wreck the clean energy job prospects of Joel Francis and millions of other young Californians?
**Disclosure: Since Joel and Gabe both experienced technical difficulties with their phones, I let Joel use my cell to place the call to Charles Koch’s office.**
Update #1: The car I arrived in was tailed and passed by three times by a red burgundy Cadillac with Missouri plates AA3Z5L, driven by a white male smoking cigarettes.
Update #2: Here is a video from PowerVote CA about Joel’s visit to Koch HQ.