I have three questions about California Gov. Gavin Newsom's hypocritical foray into Yountville, Calfornia.
Why did Newsom attend his friend's birthday party on Nov. 6 when he was telling his constituents to do one thing (dine in alone), while he and his wife did another (dined out with friends)?
How sincere was his subsequent apology following the very public spanking he received after the San Francisco Chronicle broke the news that he'd broken the rules?
And why does the governor hang out with a lobbyist who is trying to influence him on behalf of clients?
The birthday boy, Jason Kinney, 50, and the governor, 53, go way back. Kinney is a longtime political operative who bounces between government, political campaigns and lobbying. That's the way California's unsavory political revolving door works.
It's Kinney's role as a lobbyist that sounds alarms. For people in his job, it's important to show you've got the governor's ear. Doing so can help bring in business from companies eager to get the governor's attention.
"The buzz this weekend among lobbyists," wrote Politico, "was how Kinney couldn't have asked for better advertising of his close ties to Newsom."
So, for anyone keeping score, a governor violating pandemic restrictions to attend a birthday dinner for a lobbyist may be a terrible look for the governor, but it's a brilliant business move by the lobbyist. Now, about that virus and Newsom's evident hypocrisy.
The lobbyist's birthday party took place in a courtyard at the French Laundry, an iconic and spectacularly expensive restaurant that draws foodies to a tiny town in the northern Napa Valley. Twelve people attended, including the governor and his wife.
The gathering made for extremely bad optics. We have a governor who has been urging us to stay home and recently put out guidelines prohibiting gatherings, even outdoors, of more than three households. Were more than three households represented at the dinner? If there were six couples, then yes.
The governor, who has been among the state's most vocal advocates of playing by the pandemic rules that he created blew it. They say the food at the French Laundry is to die for. But is it?
Newsom understood right away how bad that dinner looked. He had just foolishly handed his opponents ammunition on a silver platter.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican toying with challenging Newsom in 2022, pounced: "He can celebrate birthday parties," tweeted Faulconer. "But you can't. He can dine on a $350 meal at one of California's fanciest restaurants during the worst recession in generations. But you definitely can't. Can you believe this? I can't."
On Monday we witnessed one of the most abject non-adultery-related apologies in recent political history.
"I made a bad mistake," Newsom said. "Instead of sitting down, I should have stood up and walked back, got in my car and drove back to my house. … The spirit of what I'm preaching all the time was contradicted, and I got to own that. And so I want to apologize to you. … We're all human, we all fall short sometimes. … When that happens, you got to pay the price. But you also own the mistake, and you don't ever make it again, and you have my word on that."
Newsom also made the point that he paid for his own dinner. That's a relief, because if he hadn't, he'd be in violation of the California law that says lobbyists can only cover $10 of a public official's meal.
At the French Laundry, I'm guessing a sawbuck wouldn't even cover the cost of one of the signature embossed clothespins that diners get to take home as a souvenir.