California lawmakers are feeling the heat after critics blasted their choice to attend a bipartisan conference in Maui that seemed more like an excuse for a lavish vacation, then a necessary event, in light of the state’s recent escalation of public restrictions.
The four-day Hawaiian conference, which focused on re-opening the economy, was held at the lux Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel in Wailea, where rooms typically go for $500 a night.
Nearly twenty California lawmakers attended the Independent Voter Project conference, which draws scrutiny during a normal year, for connecting politicians with the corporate lobbyists who subsidize the exorbitant event.
The non-profit group charges corporations to send their representatives, then typically funds legislator’s attendance expenses, reportedly covering $3,500 per official last year.
Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court is appalled at the access given to lobbyists and the setting in which they encounter politicians. They “basically play rounds of golf and drink Mai Tais by the pool and claim they’re in an educational seminar,” Court commented. “It happens every year and it is appalling.”
During the pandemic, when millions are not allowed to work, unable to travel, and placed under curfew, “I think the whole thing is despicable and none of them should have gone,” remarked Harmeet Dhillon, whose law firm has sued Gov. Newsom for Covid restrictions. “Traveling to Hawaii for a junket is somehow necessary travel? It isn’t.”
The conference’s first day coincided with Gov. Newsom’s announcement that 28 counties were moving back into the state’s highly restrictive purple tier to curb virus transmission.
“It seems a little, ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ if you will,” said Hawaii Representative Tina Wildberger. “I’m not begrudging someone going on a conference to learn, but secretly going on a lobbyist-paid trip to Hawaii maybe doesn’t look good right now while your own state is on crisis-level lockdown.”
California Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo was quick to defend her attendance with a tweet, clarifying that her trip was “not funded through tax-payer dollars,” the event followed “the strictest” health and safety protocols, and that her “intent” was to “find solutions on how we can safely live through COVID-19.”
But followers didn’t accept her explanation or non-apology. One user wrote, “The people you want to put back to work are the people dying to serve your comfort and convenience. You’ve offered no solutions here. Only excuses.”