A governor’s kids beg him to go trick-or-treating with them on Halloween. So, he abruptly cancels his plan to lead a state delegation to a global summit on climate change, his obsession.
Is that OK?
Moreover, nearly two weeks pass before the governor publicly explains why he didn’t attend the conference of world leaders. He’d initially cited only “family obligations.”
Was that all the public needed to know?
Yes. But canceling was strange.
No. His bosses — the voters — needed a fuller explanation.
Sure, a dad who takes his kids trick-or-treating deserves admiration. His children will probably never forget it. It’s inspiring and wholesome.
But a governor isn’t a normal father — or mother, if California ever elects one. A governor signs up for a public life with limited privacy when making the decision to run for the state’s highest elective office.
Canceling a major trip on Thanksgiving or Christmas? Of course. A kid’s graduation? He’d better. But Halloween?
All right, fine, if the governor truly had an unbearable “knot in the stomach,” as Gov. Gavin Newsom now describes his feeling.
But the public deserves to hear about it and didn’t for 12 days as the governor seemed to hibernate behind the so-called Bacteria Bear in front of his Capitol office.
Let’s briefly retrace the governor’s steps:
On Oct. 25, Newsom announced he’d be leading a huge California delegation to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
“California has become a working model for how to aggressively fight the climate crisis while bolstering the clean economy,” Newsom’s office announced. “The governor … will bring renewable and zero-emission solutions to the global stage.”
Four days later, Newsom’s office announced he’d skip that stage and stay home, citing only “family obligations.” And his staff clammed up.
Sorry, but I’ve heard way too many politicians over the years profess their desire for “more time with the family” to cover their real motives. The “family obligations” line immediately raised suspicions that soon became rumors spread all over social media.
Newsom’s wife, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom, vented Sunday night with a tweet asserting:
“It’s funny how certain folks can’t handle truth. When someone cancels something, maybe they’re just in the office working, maybe in their free time they’re at home with their family, at their kids’ sports matches, or dining out with their wife. Please stop hating and get a life.”
Well, those certain folks first need to be told the truth — about the governor working at the Capitol, attending the kids’ soccer tournament and even trick-or-treating.
The first partner’s tweet was soon deleted. But it created a peg for the first major news stories on the governor’s public absence.
Finally, on Tuesday at an economic summit in Monterey, Newsom informed the audience that his kids — ages 5 to 12 — had staged “kind of an intervention” at the family dinner table. They objected to Mom and Dad going to Scotland and missing Halloween. “For them, it’s worse than … missing Christmas.”
“I had no damn choice. I had to cancel that trip,” he said.
Really? How about Mom staying home with the kids on Halloween — not because she’s the mom, but because she’s not the governor who was elected by California voters to represent their interests.
Newsom elaborated Wednesday at a Los Angeles vaccine clinic.
“I wanted to spend time with the family … and had the privilege of doing something I would have missed … seeing my kids’ smiles.”
Yes, it’s a privilege not every dad gets. Many parents — moms and dads — undoubtedly were working Halloween night in hospitals, restaurants or warehouses.
Every other Halloween when my kids were trick-or-treating, I was most likely out covering some political candidate.
“That strikes me as different than going to a conference,” responded Jessica Levinson, director of Loyola Law School’s Public Service Institute. “Climate change is a big crisis, but I’m not sure Newsom’s being there was that vital.
“Is the state worse off because he didn’t go and the lieutenant governor (Eleni Kounalakis) did?”
No, probably not. Good point.
But the California governor has power and gravitas that no lieutenant governor ever will. Especially as the governor of the nation’s most populous state, which generates the world’s fifth-largest economy. That has the potential to help influence a decision or two.
Also, Newsom usually can’t seem to stop talking about climate change. He blames it for all of nature’s extremes: calamitous wildfire, drought, flooding and record heat.
Where Newsom stumbled was in not communicating adequately with the public.
“If he’d have played it differently — framed it as the parent of four young kids thinking it was important to be home with them — it would have been seen differently,” said Levinson, who called it “an unforced error.”
“People deserve an explanation. A little transparency goes a long way.”
Republican consultant Rob Stutzman, who was chief spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said:
“Any governor has a right to a private life without having to explain himself. But it really becomes a disservice to himself when he creates a vacuum of information that can be filled by opponents, gossips and conspiracy theorists.
“A statement should have been crafted that served the governor in private life, but also served the public interest.”
There was another, less talked about reason for the governor staying home: He was just plain tired.
Newsom finally acknowledged being weary from “the treadmill” of 20 months trying to control the pandemic and battling the recall attempt.
He needed some rest — and perhaps his kids as much as they needed their dad.
George Skelton is a Los Angeles Times columnist.