It started in Michigan when protesters created a traffic jam outside of the capital building on April 15. From there it spread. Other people in other states protested local stay-at-home orders that they felt were hindering their ability to make a living and pay their bills and feed their families. Businesses have opened up in defiance of these orders to be met with enthusiasm from the public, and fines or worse from the government. And now, this resistance to the self-inflicted depression that has gripped our country has found an unexpected champion: Elon Musk.
For those of you unaware, Elon Musk is the man behind Tesla, the company that manufactures electric cars. Additionally, he is the man behind SpaceX, the company working hard to put humans on Mars.
It is in his role as CEO of Tesla that Musk has taken to the battlefields of public opinion and the law to combat what he views as the heavy handed policies in regard to the Corona Virus.
The drama started Thursday when California Governor Gavin Newsom cleared the way for manufacturers to resume activity. However, this came with the stipulation that local authorities could maintain whatever precautions they thought prudent given their individual circumstances. This happened to be the case in Alameda County where Tesla’s main American factory is located.
Musk, anxious to return to business as usual and seeing other operations of his in California not subjected to the same rules, immediately took action. This action came on Saturday when Musk filed a lawsuit against the County. Describing the County’s actions as a power grab, the Musk legal team alleges in the lawsuit that these actions are defiant of the Governor’s orders and that they offend both the Federal and State constitutions.
There are several additional points to consider as well. First, as mentioned earlier there is the fact that other Tesla operations in the state have been allowed to resume. Additionally, other car manufacturers in the country have a clear path forward to resume operations (the Big Three in Michigan will have May 18 set as the date for reopening). And Tesla has comprehensive safety plan in place for their operations in regard to the virus.
This move on the part of Musk came as a surprise to the Alameda County authorities. One county official stated that they had been in negotiations with Musk on reopening the plant. As far as he knew, said negotiations were going well and they were close to a deal. He couldn’t understand Musk’s unwillingness to wait a few more days.
In addition to legal actions, Musk has taken to the battlefield of Twitter to win public opinion over as well. In a Tweet storm to his 33.9 million followers, he said that the actions of the County government were the final straw and that he would be moving Tesla operations out of state. Texas and Nevada were the two that he mentioned specifically and both have benefitted from businesses fleeing California for friendlier environments in the past.
Taking a page out of President Trump’s playbook, Musk also engaged in a fair amount of name calling. He described the local health official as unelected, unaccountable, and ignorant.
Reaction to his Twitter tirade has been mixed. In California some officials have said they would hate to see Tesla leave, while one member of the state legislature told him to f— off in a tweet. Congressman Dan Crenshaw of Texas Tweeted that Tesla would be a great addition to the Texas business community and praised the conservative principles of his state. In Florida, the Mayor of Jacksonville encouraged Musk to consider his city as a future home if he should really move.
While Musk hasn’t been the first to denounce these stay-at-home orders, his voice has become the loudest. In expressing the concerns and frustrations of a growing number of Americans, Elon Musk has become their unexpected champion.