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California lawmakers lambasted for planning Hawaii trip while urging people to stay home

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California politicians are getting ready to participate in a week-long policy conference in Hawaii even as they are urging their citizens to refrain from travel and indoor gatherings such as Thanksgiving. The Independent Voter Project (IVP), which is hosting the conference, declined to name the fewer than 20 lawmakers, who collectively came from California, Texas, and Washington, and are attending the get-together. In all, over 100 people attended.

Politico quipped: “The pandemic may have ‘canceled’ 2020, but it did not derail an annual gathering of lobbyists and lawmakers on the shores of Maui that brought people from across the country to a luxury resort this week.”

The conference will be at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Maui, where rooms reportedly run $600 and over per night. The politicos will discuss policy and schmooze with corporate sponsors. The event will be four days long and the stated purpose “is to provide a setting, away from the Capitol, for elected officials and a diverse group of industry experts to consider policy matters in a nonpartisan manner.”

The Independent Voter Project, founded in 2006, is a nonprofit that says it aims to empower nonpartisan voters and promote a less polarized approach to governing. It was behind the 2010 ballot initiative that instituted California’s top-two primary system.

The group is funded by corporate donors including AT&T, Eli Lilly and Co., Pepsico, Walmart, and the Western States Petroleum Association. It is best-known in Sacramento for spending tens of thousands of dollars each year to bring dozens of lawmakers to Maui.

The event was reported just days after the California Department of Public Health issued a travel advisory, urging residents to stay home and not to leave their “region.”

“Californians are encouraged to stay home or in their region and avoid non-essential travel to other states or countries,” reads the advisory from Friday. “Avoiding travel can reduce the risk of virus transmission and bringing the virus back to California.” It also recommends people returning to California to quarantine for 14 days after arrival.

The Independent Voter Project paid for everyone’s airfare at $550 per ticket. They also covered five nights at the Fairmont for each attendee and guests.

This is not the first year for this event. The Sacramento Bee reported on a conference in 2015, noting: “Ditching suits and ties for shorts and polos, attendees rotate through morning panels covering subjects such as drug buyback programs and the digital divide in poor households. Hawaiian shirts are in disappointingly short supply. During open afternoons, they are free to relax and explore the island, often with spouses and children who have tagged along for the week.”

Claremont McKenna professor Jack Pitney stated that at the time that “nobody thinks you’re going to Maui to learn things.”

Chairman and Executive Director of the IVP Dan Howle said the event was about a third of its usual size and that it was taking advantage of Hawaii’s “very detailed, safe travel program.”

He also defended the event by saying that IVP was “bending over backwards to make sure there’s every conceivable safety protocol.”

He added: “We’ve been really careful. We didn’t make the final decision to do this until the state had a program to reopen.” Attendees will reportedly have to download an app that traces their movements.

This trip is just the latest incident that questions how politicians spend their time while directing citizens to isolate themselves. For example, Gov. Gavin Newsom came under fire after attending a dinner party with his wife on Nov. 6. The gathering included at least a dozen people and took place at an upscale restaurant in Napa Valley. Later, Newsom would state it was poor judgment and a bad mistake to attend the event and apologized for it.

The Sacramento Bee slammed Newsom’s decision. “[T]his is a bad look for an elected official at any time, but especially during a pandemic that has claimed more than 18,000 lives in California and devastated the state’s economy.” It didn’t help that the dinner was in honor of a lobbyist.

Newsom and state and local health officials have regulated and mandated people to stay within their own households. If people must visit others, they should meet outside, include no more than three households, wear masks, stay socially distant, and limit their interaction to two hours. Many Californians see their actions as hypocritical and elitist.

“While our family followed the restaurant’s health protocols and took safety precautions, we should have modeled better behavior and not joined the dinner,” he said in a statement.

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