California Gov. Gavin Newsom is learning the perils of being a blue state warrior.
The Democratic governor in recent weeks has been on the forefront of national political battles pitting California against red state rivals, going so far as to buy ad time in Florida to bash Republican policies in the Sunshine State.
But a recent family vacation to Montana, one of 22 states where California prohibits state-funded travel, has put Newsom on the hot seat, with Republicans and conservative pundits accusing the governor of hypocrisy and double standards.
The governor left town last week as state lawmakers scattered for a monthlong summer recess, but unlike previous trips, didn’t at first announce his whereabouts. News of the governor’s travels to Montana, first reported by CalMatters, immediately sparked backlash from his critics.
Newsom did not violate any law, even if he traveled with a security detail, according to a California Highway Patrol official, and a Newsom spokesperson said the governor paid for the trip to visit family and noted the ban doesn’t apply to personal travel. But the vacation presents unfortunate optics for a liberal firebrand.
The governor has plenty of reasons to travel to Montana: His in-laws live there, and it's where he and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom were married. The two went so far as to name their eldest daughter “Montana.”
At issue is a state law, signed in 2016 by former Gov. Jerry Brown, which prohibits state-funded travel to states with laws that California deems as discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender. Today that list includes 22 states with a combined population of around 135 million people. The California Department of Justice, not the governor’s office, determines the list.
Montana landed on it last year after enacting a pair of laws that barred transgender students from joining school teams matching their gender identities and allowed businesses to seek exemptions from some laws under the auspices of religious liberty, which LGBTQ advocates said could open the door to discrimination.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement at the time that the Montana measures were among “a recent, dangerous wave of discriminatory new bills signed into law in states across the country.”
Bonta added five states to the prohibited list that day. Florida was another.
A spokesperson for the governor’s office said Wednesday that the news reporting thus far shows a “lack of understanding toward state policy” and conflates Newsom’s personal vacation with prohibited state-funded travel.
“Connecting the two is irresponsible and implies there is something untoward,” said Erin Mellon, the governor’s communications director, said in an email.
“This is a personal trip to visit family who live outside the state. We are not in the business of regulating where people have family or where they spend their vacation. Nor will we persecute them for visiting their family. The press shouldn’t either.”
When asked if the governor had traveled with a state security detail, Mellon said she couldn’t comment due to security concerns. Governors in the past have generally traveled with California Highway Patrol officers acting as bodyguards.
The state’s travel ban would not apply to state-funded security officers, a CHP representative said, citing an exception in the law for “the protection of public health, welfare, or safety” and a separate code section allowing law enforcement to provide for the physical security of elected officials.