Airing Gov. Newsom’s French Laundry

Airing Gov. Newsom’s French Laundry

The French Laundry capers starring Governor Gavin Newsom and Mayor London Breed bear striking parallels to the allegory Animal Farm that are inescapable to the discerning “unwoke” and to stodgy objectivists. Perhaps Animal Farm should be required reading for anyone contemplating entering the inner sanctum of a voting booth.

Sweeping the French Laundry scandal under the welcome mat is a little difficult given that previously unbiased Bay Area newspapers are waving the dirty linen about. Even the most trusted paper has reported on Newsom attending that infamous birthday party.

Yet loyalists are effectively saying, “It was a birthday party for a dear friend, give the Gov a break for Pete’s sake.” The birthday boy was no ordinary friend; as Willie Brown described the fete, it was “a birthday party for his lobbyist friend …” To paraphrase Benjamin Disraeli, “Lobbyists don’t have friends; lobbyists have interests.”

The birthday boy, Jason Kinney, might actually believe he is more of a trusted friend than a lobbyist; Kinney was fined by state regulators in 2013 for lobbying without registering. Elsewhere in the press, Kinney is described as a poster boy for the type of shadow influence that pervades Sacramento. But then, this was no ordinary birthday: it was Kinney’s 50th birthday.

Fifty marks the transition from being a young, callow influence peddler — who might inadvertently set off the smoke alarm in a skittish bureaucrat. After 50, you are a refined, sagacious influence peddler of exquisite taste; able to instill reckless confidence in any mark; a con artist who points out the advantages of moral compromise while applying the balm of recompense to take the sting out of betraying a trusting public.

Should the Gov have turned down the invitation of Jason Kinney, a dear friend and well-heeled lobbyist? Kinney called the event an intimate dinner “with family and a few close friends.”

Kinney is a proud partner at the lobbying and consulting firm of Axiom Advisors. By coincidence, Axiom Advisors was formed following Newsom’s election in 2018. Was Axiom supposed to pull up a folding chair and passively watch the passing parade of golden opportunities?

Since its inception, Axiom has pulled in nearly $11 million from dozens of powerful clients who just want Sacramento to see the wisdom of making choices that appear to run contrary to the interests of Californians. Axiom represents two major oil-industry clients, including Aera Energy, a Bakersfield-based oil exploration company jointly owned by Shell and ExxonMobil. Is it then a coincidence that, this year alone, the director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, has tracked nearly 1,000 state permits issued to Aera Energy to drill new wells or rework existing ones?

Since California ended a nine-month pause on new fracking permits in April, Aera Energy has received 48 of the 68 approved permits: the luck of the draw maybe.

Should we wonder why environmental groups are frustrated by Newsom’s hesitation to curb oil drilling in the state, despite his rhetoric about a “climate damn emergency?” Newsom wants to ban the gas fired car, but what are his friends going to do with all the oil? You can feed the Governor many sumptuous over-priced dinners with oil revenues derived from 1,000 wells, and still have enough left over to buy the gauche wine to wash it all down with.

Revelers included Dustin Corcoran and Janus Norman, the chief executive officer, and the top lobbyist, respectively, for the California Medical Association. Were Dusty and Janus just hoping for some bread sticks and vino, or hoping to ramp up the cost of health care in California?

Forget that the total cost of the Yountville birthday party was more than a public-school teacher makes in a week. Newsom’s French Laundry dinner shows how lobbyists get access to power in Sacramento while public servants get access to pricey comestibles. The birthday soiree provided a stark look at the amorphous role of money and influence in politics.

As one political hack used to say to petitioners, “Show me the envelope.” Now it’s, “Show me the dinner menu and the wine list, s’il vous plait.”

Jeffrey R Smith, US Navy Retired teaches mathematics at Encinal High School.