- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Lawmakers from California, Texas and Washington state traveled to Hawaii this week for an annual political conference despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has grounded most global travel ahead of the holidays.

The Independent Voter Project, a nonprofit group that has hosted the four-day event every November for more than a decade, is holding the event a third of its typical size this week at the Fairmont Kea Lani on Maui’s southwest shore, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“Somebody has to be first to say, ‘OK, we’re going to do a group event safely,’” Dan Howle, chairman and executive director of the Independent Voter Project, told the paper.

The organization said it paid for the airfare and five-night stay at the Fairmont for all 120 guests, which includes nearly 20 legislators from California, Texas and Washington state, as well as their family members and lobbyists.

Mr. Howle wouldn’t name the lawmakers but told The Sacramento Bee that both Democrats and Republicans were participating in the event that started Monday.

Politico noted the event often draws moderate Democrats, with Democratic Assembly members Jim Cooper and Blanca Rubio attending last year. Their offices did not respond to Politico’s multiple queries about whether they attended this year.

Mr. Howle said he decided last month to go forward with the event after Hawaii instituted its Safe Travels Program, which allows visitors to avoid a 14-day mandatory quarantine if they provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of travel.

Guests must also download an app onto their phones to track their movements while in the state and they are required to wear masks anywhere outside their hotel rooms, the Chronicle reported.

“We’re bending over backwards to make sure there’s every conceivable safety protocol,” Mr. Howle said. “We’ve been really careful. We didn’t make the final decision to do this until the state had a program to reopen.”

Mr. Howle told Politico the event received special permission from Maui County to convene a group larger than 12 people.

Both California and Washington state recommend a 14-day quarantine for returning travelers. Texas currently doesn’t have any travel restrictions.

The Hawaii trip comes after California Gov. Gavin Newsom faced widespread backlash for attending a birthday party at an upscale Napa County restaurant, just days before he blamed private gatherings as the reason for the uptick in coronavirus cases in California.

The governor apologized Monday, calling it a “bad mistake.”

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