Fury as California lawmakers ignore warning to fly to Hawaii for Covid conference after Newsom broke rules for dinner

EIGHT California lawmakers are facing a furious backlash after flying to Hawaii for a conference despite health officials warning against out-of-state travel amid a spike in coronavirus cases.

The row has erupted as Governor Gavin Newsom continues to receive criticism for attending a birthday dinner at a fancy Michelin-starred French restaurant in Napa Valley.


Critics have blasted the decision by the politicians – who include at least seven California assembly members and one state senator – to fly to the luxury beachfront Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel resort in Maui for the meeting.

The four-day conference comes amid a sharp rise in coronavirus cases across the US, and kicked off the same day that 94% of California’s population were put under the state's most restrictive purple COVID-19 tier.

“This is ‘do as I say, not as I do’,” Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn, told the LA Times.

“This is one of the reasons there is a complete disconnect between ordinary citizens in California and the political leadership.”

Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, also gave the conference short shrift, calling it an “abuse of office”. 

“In normal times it is an abuse of office to have oil, utility and other big companies that lobby in the Capitol paying for an Hawaiian getaway replete with golf, hula show and mai tais,” Mr Court told the LA Times.

The eight politicians accused of hypocrisy for attending the conference at the $500-a-night Wailea resort include assembly members Frank Bigelow; Wendy Carrillo; Jordan Cunningham; Heath Flora; and Chad Mayes.

Assembly members Jose Medina and Blanca Rubio, as well as State Senator Andreas Borgeas, have also been identified as among the 75 attendees at the conference – hosted by the Independent Voter Project (IVP).

“In COVID times, it is an abomination that legislators would break quarantine to play in the sun at a resort,” added Consumer Watchdog president Mr Court.

“You can have a discussion about opening safely on Zoom if you don't care about the golf, the beach and the [cocktails].

“This has and will always be a world-class junket. This year it's also a lethal one that shows disrespect for the quarantine and those hunkering down to do the right thing.”

It comes after Governor Gavin Newsom attracted criticism for attending a birthday dinner with at least 10 people at The French Laundry, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Napa Valley, on November 6.

Fox 11 obtained pictures of the California Governor sitting in close quarters with no face mask on, during a 50th birthday bash for one of his advisers.



Critics have pointed out the IVP conference began on Monday – the same day that Governor Newsom announced 41 of California's 58 counties would be moving into the state's most restrictive purple COVID-19 reopening risk tier, up from 13 counties last week.

Governor Newsom had urged residents not to travel out of state just three days earlier, and imposed a 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving in the state.  

The harsh criticism levelled at the lawmakers and conference organizers has been rebutted with claims the meeting includes seminars on planning the Covid response, and that strict safety measures are in place including masks and social distancing at all events.

IVP President Dan Howle told the LA Times that all of the 75 attendees – which reportedly included about a dozen lawmakers from Washington and Texas – were required to prove a negative coronavirus test.

He added that the California lawmakers are 'committed to honoring' the state's 14-day quarantine when they return home.

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Frank Bigelow defended his attendance because the conference includes a discussion of how to safely reopen California’s economy amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The blanket response to Covid-19 does not work for small businesses, schools, and working families in rural California,” Bigelow said.

“I am paying for myself to be here, following the strictest Covid-19 safety protocols, and tested negative to Covid-19 just prior to my arrival.”

Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham also defended his decision to attend, arguing: “This event promotes intelligent public policy in our state. We paid for my family's tickets and COVID tests with personal money — no state funds were used.”

The opportunity to debate the best ways to tackle Covid-19, rather than adopting a “blanket solution”, was essential for lawmakers, argued Assembly Member Heath Flora.

“Participants are discussing how to safely re-open larger sectors of the economy and the discussion suddenly became more urgent with Newsom's announcement on Monday,” he said.

“Simply shutting down 95 percent of the state might've made sense back in April or May, but we understand so much more now than we did then. We're way past blanket solutions.”

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