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Port: California governor visits red state, gets hoisted on the petard of his progressive pieties

California Gov. Gavin Newsom spent the July 4 holiday in Montana which, like North Dakota, is on California's travel ban for state employees due to certain laws that run afoul of progressive orthodoxy.

Emigrant Peak rises above the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley, Montana. LARRY MAYER / BILLINGS GAZETTE
Emigrant Peak rises above the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley, Montana. LARRY MAYER / BILLINGS GAZETTE

MINOT, N.D. โ€” "The world is full of bastards," Norman Maclean wrote, "the number increasing rapidly the farther one gets from Missoula, Montana.โ€

"A River Runs Through It" is a wonderful work of literature, and while I'm not sure I agree entirely with Maclean's notions (or, at least, his character's) about the geographical distribution of stupid people, I'll agree that Montana is a special place.

It shouldn't be controversial for the governor of California to visit Montana. Everyone should visit Montana at least once in their lives.

And yet, due to the often petty, thoroughly juvenile politics of the age, Newsom's July 4 vacation to the state has set off a scandal.

About half a decade ago, in reaction to laws passed in Republican-leaning states, California's political leaders began banning state-funded travel to those states.

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California has since banned travel to 20 states. That's 40% of the U.S. states. It's not possible to drive from California to the country's east coast without traveling through at least one of these states.

Ironically, these travel bans were put in place in the name of tolerance.

Perhaps the definition of that word has been banned from California's dictionaries.

North Dakota was added to the naughty list in June of last year, joining South Dakota and Montana. It's the Montana ban we're focused on today, because California Gov. Gavin Newsom spent the July 4 holiday vacationing in the Big Sky state.

In a better sort of world, Newsom, who clearly has White House aspirations , and would presumably need to campaign in some of the states on his state's no-no list, would respond to this controversy by denouncing the travel ban.

The sanctimonious piety of the law is undermined by its many loopholes . For instance, California's ban doesn't apply to travel for collegiate athletics, which means LGTBQ rights matter, I guess, except when UCLA needs to play in Texas.

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A spokesman for Burgum confirmed that the governor has plans for a major announcement in Fargo that day.

But Newsom isn't doing that. Instead, his office, which had initially announced his vacation out of state but not his destination, claims the travel ban doesn't apply to this situation. This was a personal trip, paid for with personal dollars, though Newsom's people are mum on the expenses for any staff or security that may have traveled with Newsom.

Perhaps Newsom is complying with the letter of California's travel ban, but certainly not its spirit. If the no-no states are so evil California's public employees and government leaders can't travel to them to attend conventions or meet with their counterparts, why is it OK for the governor to vacation there?

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Maybe the travel ban is just stupid?

Our society is so deeply and terribly divided, and part of the problem is that, increasingly, we aren't talking to people we disagree with.

Social media companies have built a business model on driving us into insular bubbles of information that gibes with how we want to see the world. We expect every company we do business with to adhere to our notions about how things ought to be. And, yes, a state like California refuses to allow its employees to step foot in a state where (as one example) policymakers might question the fairness of letting people who were born as men compete against women in athletic competitions.

The premise of California's travel ban is that we all have to agree with certain progressive orthodoxies, or else our most populous state will punish us. Or, at least, try to punish us. Outside of California, the travel ban is mostly a nonissue.

But this isn't how a free society works. Our system of government was set up so that the various states could take on the political questions of the day in many different ways. And, yes, that often produces infuriating results, but that should make us want to talk to one another more, so that we can persuade and cajole and compromise.

If it's making us try to cancel one another, we're doing it wrong.

(On a related note, if you need another recommendation from Norman Maclean's body of literary work, consider "Young Men and Fire," a nonfiction work about a terrible wildfire in Montana and the early days of the U.S. Forest Service's smoke jumpers.)

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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