Newsmakers with JR
Gov. Gavin Newsom's Covid Rules: Do as I Say, Not as I Do
Updated: Nov 19, 2020
Long before Gavin Newsom became California's 40th governor, political writers of a certain age bestowed him with a nickname: "Prince Gavin."
The royal moniker was testament, not only to his stature as political favorite son of San Francisco's ruling elite and to his strutting personal style, but also to his apparent belief that the rules don't apply to him.
That last human frailty, so common among the powerful, now has earned Prince Gavin a splendid newspaper scoop: Alexi Koseff of the San Francisco Chronicle reveals that Newsom - who routinely hectors and shames his vassals over state government's vast canon of encyclopedic and ever-changing Covid decrees about personal and economic conduct - himself feels unbound by such restrictions:
Gov. Gavin Newsom attended a birthday party for a political adviser last week that included people from several households, the type of gathering his administration has discouraged during the coronavirus pandemic.
The dinner the night of Nov. 6 at the famed French Laundry in Yountville in Napa County brought together at least 12 people to celebrate the 50th birthday of Jason Kinney, a longtime friend and adviser to Newsom who is also a partner at the lobbying firm Axiom Advisors. In addition to the governor, his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, was in attendance.
State guidelines limit gatherings, defined as “social situations that bring together people from different households at the same time in a single space or place,” to no more than three households. Representatives for Kinney and Newsom declined to specify how many households the diners represented, but did not dispute that it was more than three.
So many threads to pull on, so little time.
As a political matter... Koseff's story is a delicious, easily-digested soupcon of journalism that simultaneously summarizes, synthesizes and sticks a sharp needle into a politician's puffed-up pomposity, releasing noxious gases of rank hypocrisy and reeking self-regard.
Coming atop news that Newsom's own children have returned to classroom learning -- while public school parents throughout the state continue struggling with distance learning -- the tale of the governor indulging at one of the nation's most exclusive and expensive restaurants (average meal $325)-- while millions of Californians are scuffling amid the pandemic's economic fallout -- truly represents a real bad look -- even if he didn't happen to be bro-celebrating with one of Sacramento's most prominent influence peddlers (sorry, "public affairs consultants")
No surprise then, neither that French Laundry-gate soon was retweeted more than 15,000 times, nor that there has been a dearth of Twitter commenters applauding Newsom's sound judgment, common sense or sensitivity to what the peasants are going through.
"Rules for thee, but not for me," tweeted one.
"Hahaha this from the man telling us we can't have Thanksgiving," piled on another.
Perhaps the most significant political response came from Kevin Faulconer, the just-termed out mayor of San Diego, whom many Republicans long have viewed as the party's best chance of ever winning a statewide office again. Wrote Faulconer:
His kids can learn in person. But yours can’t. He can celebrate birthday parties. But you can’t. He can dine on a $350 meal at one California’s fanciest restaurants during the worst recession in generations. But you definitely can’t. Can you believe this? I can’t.
When first asked for comment, Newsom's government spokesman shrugged off the incident; after the Chron's story posted online, however, Gavin issued a second statement in his own name, one of those non-apology apology type things.
“While our family followed the restaurant’s health protocols and took safety precautions, we should have modeled better behavior and not joined the dinner” Prince Gavin said.
Translation: I didn't do anything wrong, and I'm really sorry I got caught at it.
Curiouser and curiouser. To students of what is called in Sacramento, "The Third House," the most interesting facet of l'affaire hypocrisie was the identity of the guest of honor - Jason Kinney.
The 50-year old Kinney, whose firm represents cannabis industry interests, is a longtime Capitol operative, one of those eye-on-the-ball type fixer guys who's carved out a lucrative career rotating between, (all rise) "public service," political campaigns and lobbying.
As it happens, one of his partners, and another high-ranking associate in the firm, played significant roles in Santa Barbara's pungent, local pot scandal, maintaining contacts with...wait for it...Das Williams, while he furtively wrote the county's law with fellow Supervisor Steve Lavagnino a few years ago.
Kinney's recent background provides an instructive lens for broadly viewing the cozy style of Sacramento politics which former state legislator Williams was practicing when he went all-in for the industry on the county's ordinance.
In a terrific investigative piece, Laurel Rosenhall in Calmatters detailed the web of connections between Kinney, Newsom and the pot industry, with cameo roles by several names that may be familiar to those who've closely followed the story of how Santa Barbara became a pot capital of California. Rosenhall reported:
In 2015, when Newsom was Lt. Governor, he led a "blue ribbon commission" to study marijuana legalization, at a time when Kinney served as his political adviser while also working as a lobbyist.
In 2016, Newsom became the first major public official to support Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in the state, after a campaign which Kinney served as Communications Director.
In 2017, through September 2018, California Strategies, the firm where Kinney then was a Partner, made more than $1 million from marijuana businesses; at the same time, Newsom was running for governor, with Kinney as a campaign advisor, and accepted nearly $200,000 in contributions from marijuana-related clients of California Strategies.
In November 2018, Newsom was elected governor and Kinney left California Strategies to work on the governor-elect's transition team.
The same month, two of Kinney's partners left California Strategies to found a new firm, called Axiom Advisers, which registered to lobby for marijuana clients. Soon after, the new firm and one of its pot clients co-sponsored a panel discussion about government regulation at a major cannabis convention in Las Vegas which featured Kinney -- who better?!? -- as one of the panelists.
After Newsom was inaugurated in January 2019, Kinney slid right into Axiom Advisors, the new firm.
One of Kinney's past and future partners at California Strategies and Axiom Advisors was Jared Ficker; as every school child knows, Ficker, along with Erin Weber, another California Strategies alum who's now with Axiom Advisors, during 2017 helped Das, ahem, collect his thoughts on regulating the new industry, among other things, "lobbying hard to let growers on the (county's disputed) registry to cultivate without limits" in Santa Barbara.
This, according to Joe Mozingo's foundational reporting in the by-God L.A. Times, which also noted that a public records search disclosed Das socializing with Ficker during that time.
There's always a local angle.
Update (Monday night): As he orders Santa Barbara and three dozen other counties back into the most restrictive Covid tier, now he's really sorry.
Images: Newsom sfchronicle.com via calbuzz.com; Kevin Faulconer tweet; (L-R) Prince Charles; wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Prince Gavin; ex-wife Kimberly Guilfoyle, in 2005, when Newsom was mayor of San Francisco (jennelawrence.com).