The governor left town last week when state lawmakers dispersed for a month-long summer vacation, but unlike previous trips, he first announced where he was. News of the governor’s travels to Montana, first reported by CalMatters, immediately sparked backlash from his critics.
Newsom violated no law even though he traveled with a security detail, according to a California Highway Patrol official, and a spokesman for Newsom said the governor paid for the trip to visit family, noting that the ban does not apply to personal travel. But the holiday offers unfortunate optics for a liberal fiery soul.
The governor has plenty of reasons to travel to Montana: His in-laws live there, and this is where he and first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom got married. The two went so far as to name their eldest daughter “Montana”.
It is a state law, signed in 2016 by former Gov. Jerry Brown, that bans state-funded travel to states with laws that California considers to be discriminatory based on sexual orientation or gender. Today, the list includes 22 states with a total population of about 135 million people. The California Department of Justice, not the governor’s office, decides the list.
Montana landed last year after passing a few laws that prevented transgender students from joining school teams that matched their gender identities, allowing companies to seek exemptions from some laws under the auspices of religious freedom, 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 banned list that day. Florida was another.
A spokesman for the governor’s office said on Wednesday that the news coverage so far shows a “lack of understanding of state policy” and mixes Newsom’s personal holiday with banned state-funded travel.
“Connecting the two is irresponsible and suggests something is unfortunate,” Erin Mellon, the governor’s communications director, said in an email.
“This is a personal trip to visit family living outside the state. We are not in the process of regulating where people have family or where they spend their holidays. Nor will we pursue them to visit their family. Neither should the press. ”
When asked if the governor had traveled with a state security detail, Mellon said she could not comment due to security issues. Governors in the past have generally traveled with California Highway Patrol officers acting as bodyguards.
The state entry ban would not apply to state-funded security officers, a CHP representative said, citing an exception in the law on “protection of public health, welfare or security” and a separate code section allowing law enforcement to ensure the physical security of elected officials.