Where's Gavin? Governor's public hiatus sparks questions in California

SACRAMENTO — Where is Gavin Newsom? Californians would like to know.

The unusual public hiatus of the media savvy governor has set off a flurry of speculation and commentary about his whereabouts. It's unleashed fresh criticism from Republicans still reeling from their recall defeat and confused environmentalists who had been expecting him in Scotland.

Sources close to Newsom maintain there’s no bombshell to uncover, despite his abrupt withdrawal 10 days ago from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. They paint a picture of a husband and father of four who needs a break from the public eye after navigating a pandemic.

That excuse has left many Californians skeptical, and some environmentalists allied with Newsom have been put off by his vague messaging.

The last time Newsom appeared before cameras was Oct. 27, when he and other public officials got their booster shots and urged others to do the same. He has since taken a nearly two-week break from official appearances, but he did attend the San Francisco wedding of oil heiress Ivy Love Getty this weekend, a ceremony officiated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to Vogue.

When Newsom canceled his trip to Glasgow, citing "family obligations," his office said he would participate virtually in COP26, "focusing on California's landmark climate change policies." But he has yet to do so and was not yet listed Monday afternoon on a schedule released by the California Environmental Protection Agency. California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis took Newsom's place at the climate event, which runs through Friday.

The public pause is a rare blip for a governor known for his frequent press events and national television appearances, particularly since the start of the pandemic.

The ensuing press scrutiny and social media criticism did not appear to sit well with first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who clapped back Sunday night in a since-deleted tweet.

“It’s funny how certain folks can't handle the 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,” Siebel Newsom said. “Please stop hating and get a life.”

A spokesperson for the governor on Monday said Newsom is still working, albeit behind the scenes.

“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,” Press Secretary Daniel Lopez said in an email. “He will have public events this week related to the economy and vaccines.”

Hours later, Newsom's office announced the governor would have a "fireside chat" at an economic conference Tuesday in Monterey.

Republicans in Sacramento and beyond have seized on Newsom’s absence.

“Anyone seen Greasy Gavin Newsom lately?… … #crickets,” conservative pundit Tomi Lahren said on Twitter Sunday.

Assemblymember Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin), who ran against Newsom in the recall election, used the moment to criticize the governor's pandemic-era executive orders, which he views as an authoritative overreach.

“Governors work for the people, so an unexplained absence is always a matter of public concern,” Kiley wrote on his website. “… So one-man rule continues even though nobody knows where that one man is.”

On Monday, Newsom's office issued a statement to mark the anniversary of the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest in California history. Last week, it released a video of the governor wishing Californians a happy Diwali.

At a virtual news conference on Monday from Glasgow, California senators attending COP26 found themselves fielding questions about Newsom's absence. They sympathized with the governor and said the state has been well represented by Kounalakis and 15 state lawmakers.

"He cares deeply about this issue. And this is a big deal, and this is a world stage. It's important. But we're all human beings, man," Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) said. "… 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."

Newsom — who has spearheaded a "parent's agenda" and focused on issues like parental leave — is putting his policy into action by drawing a boundary, said Elizabeth Ashford, former spokesperson for governors Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“You’re not obligated to disclose details of what’s going on with your children," Ashford said, "and I think that’s something we should understand, especially if you’re a parent.”

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