Two weeks ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would be leading a delegation to the U.N. climate change summit in Scotland. Four days later, his office abruptly announced he had changed his mind.
“Family obligations” was all his office would say, refusing to publicly elaborate in a decision that, times being what they are, unleashed a barrage of conspiracy theories. Was the governor having a bad reaction to the Covid-19 booster shot he had just gotten? Were any of his children — he has four ages 12 and under — infected again with the coronavirus? No and no, Capitol sources said.
Allies of the governor noted that most parents would understand why a couple with four small children might not want to take an extended trip to Glasgow over Halloween. California environmentalists also suggested that he might not be so wrong to skip the annual climate conference, which many of them view as a jet-fuel-wasting spectacle.
In theory, California conservatives should also have welcomed the decision. When it appeared the governor might be summit-bound, Kevin Kiley, a Republican assemblyman who challenged the governor in the September recall election, wrote in a blog post that “in the absence of our jet-setting governor,” he was requesting a special session on the port crisis, holding oversight hearings on pandemic unemployment fraud, holding town hall events on the governor’s vaccine mandate for schoolchildren and calling for hearings on mask mandates in elementary school classrooms.
“If we don’t fight for California,” Kiley said, “no one will.”
In any case, the governor — who was to have arrived at the summit on Nov. 1 and taken a Nov. 4 return flight — stayed home, working at his Capitol office, according to his spokeswoman, Erin Mellon. Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, the former U.S. ambassador to Hungary, led the California delegation instead. Newsom released pictures of his family (dressed as pirates) at Halloween, announced some appointments and sent out some election night encouragement to fellow Democrats.
Nevertheless, as days passed with no public appearances, chatter persisted.
“I don’t know where Gavin Newsom is and won’t speculate,” Kiley tweeted on Sunday. “But it’s pretty strange for the Governor to disappear for 11 days without explanation.”
“Where’s Gavin?” demanded Charlie Kirk, the head of the right-wing activist group Turning Point U.S.A.
“It’s funny how certain folks can’t handle truth,” Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the governor’s wife, shot back in a tweet that was subsequently deleted. “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.”
By Monday, “Gavin Newsom” was trending on Twitter. Unsubstantiated conjecture included Bell’s palsy, death and that he “and Kamala Harris are in an undisclosed secret location.” Meanwhile, Vogue posted a photo spread from the lavish San Francisco wedding on Saturday of the heiress Ivy Getty, a family friend of Newsom, officiated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Guests in the background of at least one photo included the governor.
During a call with reporters, California senators at the Glasgow climate summit became increasingly frustrated with questions about the governor’s absence — once, twice and then a third time. Robert Hertzberg, a Democratic senator from Van Nuys, said the delegation got a heads-up that “a family issue” would keep Newsom from joining them in Scotland. He added that he didn’t know which events the governor would tune into virtually this week.
“There is nobody in California who wanted to be at this conference more than Gavin Newsom,” Hertzberg said on Monday. “But we’re all human beings, man, we’re all human beings — something clearly — he’s with his family. I don’t think it’s appropriate to further dig into it. I take him at face value. Whatever it is, it is. And sometimes you need to stay home.”
By the end of the day, the governor’s office had issued a statement: “Last week Governor Newsom worked in the Capitol with staff on urgent issues including Covid-19 vaccines for kids, boosters, ports, the forthcoming state budget and California’s continued economic recovery. He will have public events this week related to the economy and vaccines.”
In an interview, Mellon said that the governor attended the Getty wedding ceremony but not the reception; that the wedding was not the family obligation that kept him in California; that he always had been scheduled to return before the weekend; that he had been in his office, alive and well, all day on Monday; and that she had spent an hour and a half with him.
No matter. As afternoon turned to evening in California, tweeters were still tweeting.
“Where is Gavin Newsom?” Kirk, the conservative activist, demanded — again.