Yesterday outside Koch Industries’ headquarters in Wichita, Kan., in front of local media, a California college student, ex-Marine and student leader got on a cell phone and called CEO Charles Koch.
“This is Joel Francis,” he told Koch’s secretary. “He knows who I am.”
If that’s true, it’s because the national media does as well, thanks to a YouTube video released on Oct. 20 in which Francis, a 31-year-old senior and former student president at California State University-Los Angeles, challenges Charles Koch to a debate: “I say, if you are going to try to hurt the economy in a state that you don’t even live in, that you ought to have the courage to explain yourself in person.”
At issue is the $1 million a Koch subsidiary contributed to back Prop. 23, the California ballot initiative that would halt AB 32, California’s landmark climate law, until unemployment levels drop to 5.5 percent for four successive quarters.
As he promised he would in the video, when Francis didn’t receive a reply from Koch, he showed up at Koch HQ—a week before the referendum goes before voters on Nov. 2.
Accompanied by three other California college students, Francis, who served in the Marines from 1997 to 2002, attempted to enter Koch Industries to give the billionaire industrialist a written invitation to a debate. (Francis studies rhetoric and communications.)
He was denied entry by the director of security, who took the letter and said it would be delivered to Koch, according to Francis.
Two Koch Industries spokeswomen did not return emails or phone calls seeking comment.
The Message: Prop. 23 Kills Green Jobs
This activism was the work of the California Student Sustainability Coalition’s Power Vote CA, a coalition of groups from 50 college campuses statewide attempting to “mobilize millions” of students, according to campaign director Gabriel Elsner.
Their key message: if Prop. 23 is installed, it will lead to job losses from a stymied green energy sector.
It’s a message intended to resonate with college students fearful of facing limited job prospects in a state where unemployment currently hovers above 12 percent.
“[Prop. 23] would erase over a half-million clean economy jobs,” Francis said, citing a University of California at Berkeley 2009 study. “The green energy job market is growing 10 times faster than any other.”
As for flying to Wichita to meet Koch in person, Francis told SolveClimate News that he’s never expected Koch to agree to debate him. “But I believe it’s important to do this because he’s been supporting anti-clean-energy groups for a long time,” he said.
He added, “That million dollars may not be anything to him because he’s so rich, but there are millions of Californians he’s affecting.”
Press Attention Flares, Then Wanes
While the video attracted national media attention, as of press time the event at Koch Industries had drawn a quieter response. Only four media outlets, including SolveClimate News, sat in on the teleconference, and Francis said he’s fielded only a few press queries.
No matter, says Steven Maviglio, a spokesperson for No on 23, a broad coalition of organizations that has campaigned heavily against the referendum. “The point was made: This mysterious out-of-state oil company donates a million dollars to kill California jobs. Mission accomplished.”
As for the timing a week before the election, Maviglio says: “Most people don’t make their [voting] decision until the last week.”