By Emily Hoeven, Cal Matters
Gov. Gavin Newsom is on vacation in Montana visiting family, I was the first to report Tuesday evening.
It was information that the governor’s office appeared loath to disclose. Although the office said Friday the governor had left California to spend time with family, it did not until Tuesday answer questions about where he was or when specifically he would return, a noticeable difference from communication surrounding other recent out-of-state trips. (A spokesperson said Tuesday Newsom hasn’t yet booked his return trip, but that he will return to California over the weekend and be back in the office on Monday.)
The governor’s office didn’t respond to a question about why that information wasn’t initially shared. But one possible reason could be that Montana is among the 22 states to which California has banned state-funded and state-sponsored travel, citing policies it deems discriminatory to LGBTQ+ people.
Montana is also one of the states Newsom’s office has called out for restricting abortion access. His office said in a June 24 press release that Montana will likely ban the procedure following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, though local outlets say abortion is likely to remain legal there for the foreseeable future.
Anthony York, Newsom’s senior advisor for communications, told me: “We don’t legislate where people vacation. Never have. The travel ban applies to expending state funds. The Governor’s travel is not being paid for by the state.”
Asked if the state is paying for Newsom’s security while he is in Montana, York said: “We don’t comment or provide details on the governor’s security.”
The parents of Newsom’s wife, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, own a ranch in Montana and the couple was married there in 2008, according to the Associated Press.
The reluctance of Newsom’s office to share details about the vacation contrasts sharply with clearer communication surrounding other recent out-of-state trips. And it suggests the governor is aware of the politically perilous optics of vacationing in a red state while he attempts to position himself at the vanguard of the Democratic Party — a strategy praised by columnists in national outlets such as the Washington Post and the Atlantic — and he slams Republican-led states for COVID-19 policies and high crime rates, among other things.
For example, when Newsom and his family departed on vacation for spring break, the governor’s office disclosed that they would be in Central and South America from March 30 to April 12. And last year, when Newsom and his family took a trip for Thanksgiving, the governor’s office shared they would be in Mexico from Nov. 22-28.
Harmeet Dhillon, California’s Republican National Committeewoman, told me in a statement: “At a time when Californians are still living under a two years and counting state of emergency, our gas taxes were raised (again) July 1 to the highest levels in the nation … Gavin Newsom is running campaign ads in better-run states and refusing to tell the taxpayers where he is or when he will return to his overtaxed, under-served constituents. We’d love to know the gas prices and the COVID emergency status where the Governor is. Most Californians can’t afford to take their normal holidays this year, thanks to Gavin Newsom and his party’s lack of leadership of our state.”
Dhillon was referring to the ads that Newsom’s reelection campaign began airing Monday not in California, but in Florida — which is also on the travel ban list. On Tuesday, Newsom’s reelection campaign followed up with a fundraising email whose subject line read simply, “Florida.”
The email reads: “Ron DeSantis (the Republican governor of Florida) likes to talk a lot about ‘freedom.’ He signed a ‘Freedom First Budget.’ His hashtag is #KeepFloridaFree. His team even released a tortuous rock ballad about Florida’s freedom. But the truth is, Freedom is under attack in Florida.”
Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis is serving as acting governor in Newsom’s absence, but it’s unlikely that she will have to take action on any bills. The governor’s office said it isn’t aware of any bills that have a signing deadline this week; according to veteran Sacramento lobbyist Chris Micheli, 55 bills are currently awaiting action on the governor’s desk.
Kounalakis became the first woman to sign a bill into California law during Newsom’s family vacation in March. The bill she signed — which extended statewide pandemic eviction protections for residents waiting for payments from California’s rent relief program — expired on June 30.
Geoffrey Ross, a deputy director for the state Department of Housing and Community Development, told CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias that all eligible rent relief applications had been approved as of July 1. He said the department is still processing about 13,000 applications that are missing documentation or represent an appeal following a denial, and that the state expects to clear all of those pending applications by early August.