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The Optics of CA Politicians Violating Their Own State’s Mandates is Not Good

I was recently interviewed for my views on the ethics of California legislators attending a conference in Maui about The Independent Voter Project. The trip was for the annual conference and fundraiser for the non-profit. According to its website, The Independent Voter Project’s mission is to defend the public’s right to vote.” This is, undoubtedly, a worthwhile endeavor but not one that should be allowed to skirt the coronavirus rules for attending conferences. It should have conducted its meetings online, just as have many other professional and academic conferences, not to mention schools that have been partly or fully closed since last spring.

It’s ironic that CA legislators attended an out-of-town conference where social distancing was a problem while, at the same time, the state is shutting down small businesses and schools in light of the recent spark in cases on COVID-19 infections.

It’s even more problematic for the state because its Governor, Gavin Newsom, was caught having dinner with a group of friends at The French Laundry – not a cleaning service – but a popular, upscale Napa Valley restaurant. “Disgraceful,” was the reaction from Napa Chamber of Commerce board member and world-renowned truffle chef Ken Frank. “Extremely disappointed,” Bettina Rouas, owner of riverfront bistro Angele, added. “We’ve all been doing whatever we can to follow suit — and then to have our governor eat indoors, with a party of twelve, with no masks, and it’s not even family members. It was disappointing and disheartening.”

Governor Newsom apologized for visiting the Napa Valley restaurant with people from other households, saying his behavior contradicted the spirit of the safety guidelines and precautions he has asked Californians to adhere to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I want to apologize to you because I need to preach and practice, not just preach and not practice, and I've done my best to do that," Newsom said. "We're all human. We all fall short sometimes."

Newsom acknowledged that the faux pas may result in a loss of his moral authority on the coronavirus as California experiences a major surge in cases. The governor discussed his own behavior on the same day that he announced a reversal of his reopening plans and ordered 28 counties to return to the purple tier — 94% of Californians will be under the state's most restrictive guidelines as of Tuesday.

The fact is the only thing Newsom is sorry about is getting caught. Like most politicians and others who get caught red-handed, they only consider the consequences of their behavior after the fact, not before making terrible decisions. Newsom

These hypocritical actions bring into question the ethics of the CA politicians. It’s not just them. Last week, it was reported that many Republican lawmakers in states where coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have surged are not only rejecting statewide mask mandates. They’re also resisting rules requiring them in their own capitols.

“We’re supposed to be modeling for our constituents and for our residents in our state,” said Arkansas state Sen. Stephanie Flowers, a Democrat in the majority-Republican Legislature who proposed a rule requiring senators to wear a mask or risk losing their per diem payments. “You’ve got the governor asking everyone to wear a mask and socially distance. It’s not like I’m asking for something nobody has heard of

The ethical question is whether there should be a separate set of rules for lawmakers and other politicians, who seem to believe they are above following their own mandates, than the rest of the public? Better stated: Why do politicians think they should be held to a different set of standards?

The mantra of all too many politicians seems to be: "Do as I say, not as I do.”

Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 23, 2020. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: Follow him on Facebook at: and on Twitter at: