California lawmakers are still in hot water after some chose to attend a lavish bipartisan conference in Hawaii, while the state’s residents face job losses, travel restrictions and curfews as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rise.
The four-day conference in Maui focused on reopening the U.S. economy at a time when millions of Americans are out of work – with potentially more job losses or layoffs on the way depending on the trajectory of the ongoing outbreak and local guidelines.
However, many were quick to criticize the optics of lawmakers’ decisions to attend – as California, in particular, implements stricter coronavirus-related guidelines in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus.
“I think the whole thing is despicable and none of them should have gone,” Harmeet Dhillon, founding partner at Dhillon Law Group, told Fox News. “Traveling to Hawaii for a junket is somehow necessary travel? It isn’t.”
More than a dozen California lawmakers made up the roughly 50 people in attendance, The Los Angeles Times reported, which is fewer than the annual get-together typically draws.
In October, California’s unemployment rate was 9.3%, which counted about 1.7 million people.
And as confirmed cases in the Golden State climb, many residents are subject to curfews and have been told not to travel to see family members for the upcoming holiday.
Dhillon, whose law firm has sued California Gov. Gavin Newsom over some of the restrictions his office has put in place, noted that this was just another reminder for Californians that the “elite live differently,” adding it was “very poor judgement” for any lawmaker to participate.
The conference has been characterized as a luxury getaway, where rooms at the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel in Wailea run for $500 per night.
In 2019, lawmakers reported receiving about $3,500 each from the event organizers for expenses to attend, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Independent Voter Project (IVP) Chairman and Executive Director Dan Howle confirmed in an emailed statement to Fox News on Monday that “no public funds are received or spent in connection with” the conference.
Numerous lawmakers have also made this point clear, as they have defended their decision to participate.
California Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, for example, put out a statement ensuring that the trip was “not funded through tax-payer dollars.”
Dhillon said politicians may have used their campaign accounts for some of the expenses.
Carrillo's post, however, was met with angry responses from many who are unable to travel to see loved ones as she attended the event.
Howle, who previously told Fox News strict safety guidance was adhered to, also noted that Hawaii’s tourism industry has suffered due to the pandemic and saw the conference as a boost to the local economy.
Meanwhile, Newsom has taken criticism for attending an indoor dinner where attendees did not appear to be wearing masks – which would have been a violation of his own regulations. The governor and his family are now under quarantine after potentially being exposed to the virus, which was not related to his dinner outing.