On December 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom came under fire for taking a personal trip out of state during the height of devastating storms ravaging the state. Newsom had flown to Hawaii for what his office described as a “family birthday party,” leaving California in the midst of an emergency situation. Critics were quick to jump on his seemingly tone-deaf decision, questioning whether Newsom’s priorities were aligned with the needs of Californians in crisis.
Many residents were already struggling during this time, as heavy rain and high winds had battered the state, causing widespread flooding and mudslides. Homes had been destroyed, roads were closed off, and thousands were left without power. Newsom’s decision to leave during this time was seen as a betrayal to those who were struggling to cope with the aftermath of the storm.
Furthermore, this was not the first time that Newsom had found himself in hot water over COVID-19 regulations. In November 2020, Newsom was caught attending a birthday dinner at French Laundry, an exclusive Napa Valley restaurant, with a group of lobbyists and medical industry leaders. At the time, California was urging residents to avoid nonessential travel and to keep social gatherings to a minimum to slow the spread of COVID-19. Newsom’s attendance at the dinner, which was held indoors without masks, was seen as hypocritical and a disregard for the public health measures that his administration had imposed.
The public’s anger at Newsom’s decision was evident, with many taking to social media to express their frustration. Some questioned the appropriateness of the trip given the dire situation at home, while others accused the Governor of being callous and insensitive. Others still saw the deeper issue, of systemic inequality and lack of preparedness for the consequences of climate change. They saw Newsom’s actions as symptomatic of a larger problem in California, where powerful politicians often have a different set of rules than those they purport to be serving.
The Governor’s response was swift but unsatisfactory. Newsom acknowledged that he had made a mistake and apologized, noting that he “messed up.” However, his apology did little to quell the public’s anger. Some saw it as disingenuous, wondering how he could fail to anticipate the potential fall-out from his decision. Others criticized him for only apologizing after he was caught, suggesting that his remorse was purely performative.
For many Californians, Newsom’s actions highlighted a broader issue about climate change and the state’s ability to handle natural disasters. As more frequent and devastating natural disasters affect the state because of climate change, many argue that California is not doing enough to prepare for these events. The state is currently dealing with a severe water shortage, with reservoirs running dangerously low. Many residents are worried about the future, as the increasing frequency of extreme weather events make the likelihood of future catastrophic events all the more likely.
The responses to Newsom’s actions are driven by deep-seated frustrations among Californians towards a political system that seems to have become more elitist, anti–working-class, and focused on serving special interests over the needs and wants of ordinary citizens. Newsom’s apology, while certainly welcome, may not be enough to repair the damage caused by his departure to Hawaii during a critical time in the state’s history.
In conclusion, Newsom’s trip to Hawaii is far more than a simple mistake or a momentary lapse in judgment. Rather, it highlights the growing divide between California’s political elite and ordinary Californians. After months of managing the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Newsom’s decision to travel during this period of crisis shows how out of touch some of the state’s most powerful politicians have become. Unless urgent action is taken to address the underlying issues fueling Californians’ frustration and anger, it’s hard to predict how deep and lasting the repercussions of events like this may be on the state’s political landscape.