LOS ANGELES (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing new criticism for shedding his face mask, rekindling a politically sensitive issue that has shadowed the Democratic governor since he was caught without a face covering at a private 2020 party that defied his own pandemic safety orders.
The latest scrutiny came after basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson tweeted a photo of himself with the governor at NFC championship game Sunday at SoFi Stadium near Los Angeles — both beaming smiles without masks.
Earlier this month, California health officials extended the state’s indoor mask mandate through Feb. 15, as omicron cases surged. Stadium regulations allow people to remove masks only when they are eating and drinking.
Newsom told reporters Monday in Los Angeles that he removed his mask only briefly for the photo with Johnson and was otherwise “very judicious” about keeping it in place. He indicated he also removed it occasionally to sip water.
“The rest of the time, I wore it as we all should,” he said. “I encourage everybody else to do so.”
Republicans saw the photograph as another example of hypocrisy, recalling the months of public shaming Newsom endured after he was caught mask-free at the 2020 birthday party at a luxury restaurant in Northern California. The event helped spur a recall effort that he defeated in September.
The latest image of Newsom without a mask at a public place was criticized by Republican National Committee spokeswoman Hallie Balch, who said “the utter lack of respect that Democrats have for California citizens is appalling.”
She added: “California Democrats are hypocrites. When it comes to their own enjoyment, they violate state mandates as well as stadium mandates, which shows that they firmly believe their own rules don’t apply to them.”