Another Left-Wing Attempt to Shut Down Free Speech

Chad Richison is a billionaire who lives in Oklahoma. A liberal, he often weighs in on political issues. On March 22, he wrote an open letter to Oklahoma’s Governor, Kevin Stitt, calling on him to impose a harsh shutdown order. Richison criticized Governor Stitt and called for “bold action,” saying “We can’t afford not to act any longer, Governor.”

Richison laid out a lengthy “plan of action” that included commandeering all medical supplies intended for “non-essential” procedures, mandating “newly established uniform standards” for “critical portions of the supply chain,” banning all non-essential air travel, and closing various categories of businesses. Richison’s “open letter” received wide publicity in the Oklahoma news media, which was his intention.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, run by my friend Jonathan Small, is a highly-respected conservative policy organization. OCPA has clashed with Richison several times in the past. In 2017, an oil and gas downturn caused Richison to campaign for tax increases in Oklahoma. OCPA opposed raising taxes. Richison responded in classic liberal style, with a letter to the University of Oklahoma’s Board of Trustees, urging them to dismiss from that board those trustees who were also members of OCPA’s board of directors.

OCPA has taken an approach to the COVID epidemic different from Richison’s, by helping businesses apply for exemptions so they can return to work, publicizing the harm suffered by Oklahomans unable to get the medical care they need, and conducting a petition drive supporting the safe reopening of Oklahoma’s economy.

On March 23, OCPA published a post on its web site, titled “Stitt: Businesses’ survival important to state recovery.” The post mostly covered a press conference given by Stitt, but it included this anodyne reference to Chad Richison:

Some individuals have called for Stitt to order most businesses to close and have the government control how others operate, including grocery stores. Chad Richison, CEO of Paycom, is among those who have advocated such actions.

OCPA’s post included a link to Richison’s open letter, so any reader could see exactly what he had called on the governor to do.

Richison responded by suing OCPA. His lawsuit, brought (incorrectly) in the name of his company, Paycom Payroll LLC, accuses OCPA of defamation, on a single ground. Richison’s sole complaint is that his open letter called on Governor Stitt to close some, but not “most,” Oklahoma businesses. His lawsuit does not dispute that he called on Stitt to “control how others operate, including grocery stores.”

This is one more in a long series of episodes demonstrating that liberals don’t want to argue with conservatives, they want to shut us up or drive us out of business. OCPA released a statement on Richison’s lawsuit:

OCPA and Chad Richison have engaged in public-policy debates. Sometimes our views align, sometimes they do not. Today, Chad Richison continues to exercise his First Amendment rights; it’s a shame he does not respect the First Amendment rights of others. In recent months, Richison, a billionaire, advocated for closure of many businesses while OCPA argued for preserving citizens’ ability to get the medical care they need and earn a living to provide for their families, especially since society’s most vulnerable are hardest hit by these business closures. If Paycom has lost clients, it is not because OCPA truthfully reported on Richison’s public support and public advocacy for business shutdowns (including through a direct link to Richison’s public letter), but because of the economic consequences of governments following policies similar to those Richison endorsed.

I believe OCPA is currently seeking legal counsel to represent it in Richison’s defamation case. Unlike Richison, it does not have endless amounts of cash at its disposal. If you want to support both free speech and the work of an excellent policy organization, you can go here to donate to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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