California Democratic Leader Proposed Lifting Red State Travel Ban a Day Before Newsom Announced Red State Tour

Gavin Newsom (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
March 31, 2023

A top California Democrat this week proposed lifting the state’s longtime ban on taxpayer-funded travel to Republican-led states—one day before Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) announced a $10 million red state campaign.

State Senate leader Toni Atkins (D.) on Wednesday introduced a measure to repeal a 2016 law barring California lawmakers from traveling to states that "discriminate" against gay and transgender people. The following day, Newsom announced that he will travel to Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi—three states covered by the ban—to promote his just-launched political action committee, the Campaign For Democracy.

Newsom spokesman Anthony York told the Washington Free Beacon that the governor had nothing to do with Atkins’s legislation and that "no state paid staff will be on his trip." But the timing of the two announcements highlights California Democrats’ shifting approach towards Republican-led states. Newsom, along with Senate-hopeful Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) have campaigned in and around red states to fill their war chests. Newsom, who is widely expected to run for president, recently signed a law that encourages LGBT kids in red states to flee to California.

California’s travel boycott was intended to put economic pressure on states that banned transgender bathrooms or instituted other policies seen as anti-LGBT. But the law largely backfired, as red states stood by their policies and the list of banned states grew from 4 states in 2017 to 23 today.

Atkins acknowledged the law’s failure in a press release, which noted that the travel ban only served to complicate things like college sports travel to public university research collaborations. It also landed Newsom in hot water when he visited his in-laws’ ranch in Montana.

A San Francisco lawmaker in February moved to repeal the city’s red-state boycott, after a report showed it is pummeling the city economically without changing any minds.

By repealing the ban, Atkins says she hopes "to create inclusive messaging, discourage discrimination, and help members of the LGBTQ+ community feel less isolated." Her office describes the proposal as a "new approach" that California needs in order to have a "positive impact" and will help the state be a "national leader of inclusivity."

Newsom’s Campaign for Democracy PAC strikes a less conciliatory tone on its website, labeling Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R.), House majority leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R.) as "existential threats."

On the PAC's website, Newsom slams DeSantis as a "cowardly bully" and accuses Republican leaders of "fear-mongering tactics to maintain control and foment division." The governor claims these tactics are jeopardizing democracy and pledges to organize an "aggressive, coordinated and sustained state-by-state" campaign through 2024 to beat Republicans.

Californians overwhelmingly say they do not want Newsom to run for president. The state has seen a mass exodus over the last few years, as more than half a million people fled Newsom’s strict lockdowns and school closures as well as high costs of living.