After seven years of agonies, sleepless nights, probably millions of dollars in legal fees and thousands of man-hours, the BridgeGate caper came to a close last week.
Federal lawyers opened up a can of prosecutorial whoop ass on two of then-Governor Chris Christie’s key allies for closing down two lanes of traffic from the New Jersey city of Fort Lee that led onto the George Washington Bridge into New York City in 2013.
The coned-off, two-lane closure, which started with no warning on the first day of school, went on for four days. Three lanes of traffic funneled into one and caused hours-long traffic back ups of school buses, commuters and emergency vehicles.
Prosecutors said Christie’s team was getting back at the Democratic Fort Lee mayor for not supporting his re-election campaign. They claimed the moves by the friends of the Republican governor rose to the level of federal fraud and corruption.
The proximity of the incident to the center of national media elevated BridgeGate to a cause celebre.
The two aides were convicted and faced federal prison time. Their lives were ruined.
Under a cloud of corruption, BridgeGate caused Chris Christie’s 2016 presidential campaign aspirations to utterly evaporate.
What wreckage. The prospect of prison. Presidential races sidelined. Reputations blown up. Credit cards maxed out. Savings accounts filled with nothing but dust-bunnies and moths.
A wicked political stunt was elevated to a federal crime.
But as the BridgeGate story was winding down, on the Left coast, California Governor Gavin Newsom was carrying out his own petty BridgeGate like conspiracy.
Newsom’s COVID-19 State of Emergency declaration gave him broad police powers to force people to do his bidding based on, as he incessantly reminded daily viewers of his coronavirus update, fact, science and data.
In late April each of California’s 58 counties began to reassess their COVID-19 case curves to see if they were appropriately “flattened” and whether their tight lockdown rules could be loosened. LA’s Democratic mayor kept its beaches closed, San Diego’s Republican mayor opened the beaches and several cities in more conservative Orange County opened up with social distancing.
Things were fine until some photographer snapped a photo of the Newport Beach coastline with a long telephoto lens making it look as if the beachgoers, along a long stretch of beach nearly a mile long according to one estimate, were compacted into a small area. Boo Birds on Twitter screamed. Newsom assumed the worst of Orange County and heeded the herd of “Karens.”
The next thing he did was drag Orange County residents about allegedly crowding at the beaches as an example of what not to do.
Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill provided official photos of the beaches and asked Newsom why he didn’t bother to call him or the police chief or lifeguards.
Without speaking to a single local official in Newport Beach, Governor Newsom has put politics over data, and substituted his will for our judgment from 428 miles away in Sacramento. Los Angeles County closed their beaches over a month ago and data now shows (1/3) pic.twitter.com/3uvKb6KdAL
— Mayor Will O'Neill (@ONeill4Newport) April 30, 2020
But it didn’t matter. Remember facts, science and data? Pffft!
On April 29, Newsom sent word to County Supervisors, police chiefs and other leaders in coastal cities giving them a heads up that the following day he would announce the closure of all California beaches on Friday, May 1.
Newsom’s office must have been hit hard with complaints from all over the state which included one from San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who complained that they’d been doing everything right and why was the governor making them pay for OC’s perceived screw-up?
The following day at his daily coronavirus presser, Newsom announced he’d only close Orange County beaches saying, “We just want to focus on where there’s a problem … in a smart, strategic way. We don’t want to be heavy-handed about these things.” Cue the laugh track.
When asked why he sent out a missive announcing all California beaches but closed only OC beaches, Mr. Facts Science and Data went the coy route, “That memo never got to me.”
Newsom threatened Orange County and then made good on his threat, shutting down 42 miles of beaches because he wanted to exact political retribution against the Reagan Country knuckle-draggers. He never got the facts, data and science. He didn’t bother to ask for any. Worse, he called it “smart.”
It’s easy to hate Orange County if you’re a Democrat 400 miles away in Sacramento. Newsom expects blind obeisance from all of his subjects. But the serfs who surf gave him nothing but lawsuits, protests and complaints for his idiocy. Protesters were dismissed as selfish racists who didn’t care about killing grandma.
After lawsuits were filed, including a federal lawsuit, an Orange County judge allowed the beaches to temporarily stay closed, but at least one ordered Governor Science to come cough up some data backing up his closure of 42 miles of sand and surf used by millions of people.
One of those involved, David Bahnsen, told PJ Media that Newsom shut down the beaches due to “political apathy.”
There is no question it was done because of political apathy—he had nothing to lose. He thumbed his nose at OC because he could. I don’t think it was as politically retaliatory as BridgeGate, but I believe he thought Huntington Beach had been a pain his ass since day one (sanctuary cities, housing zoning issues), and that this was a way to show them who is boss.
It’s true. Huntington Beach has been “a pain in his ass” for years, suing Newsom over time for political overreach on issues such as declaring the state a “sanctuary” for illegal aliens and for dictating housing quotas. They made it known that Surf City was not Serf City.
Orange County Supervisors Chair Michelle Steel told Politico that Newsom had no science, facts and data to support closing the beaches.
“His actions are arbitrary and capricious and it is an act of retribution against Orange County,” said county Supervisor Michelle Steel, a Republican who is challenging Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda to reclaim the seat Rouda flipped in 2018.
Steel argued that most Orange County residents have respected social distancing requirements and faulted Newsom for acting based on a “few misleading pictures” that “were taken at a particular angle that made it look as if beachgoers were crowding.”
The sheriff, mayors, police chiefs and life guards backed up her version of the events.
The lawsuits required Newsom to show his work in court. He so much as admitted he didn’t have science, data and facts by re-opening the beaches. But it was worse than that, according to Bahnsen.
He not only did not articulate the science of this closure—he overtly contradicted it.
LA County beaches were closed and COVID cases went higher. OC beaches were open and COVID cases were at record-setting levels of LOW (relative to nationwide averages of per capita infections). He said the data needed beaches closed but he didn’t close in San Diego. He said the beaches were dangerous until we had COVID under control but re-opened three days later. He ran this process with his finger in the wind, and it did not go well for him.
Newport Beach Mayor O’Neill also did Newsom’s homework for him on Twitter. His series of tweets shows that LA County with closed beaches had higher rates of COVID-19 than did Orange County with closed beaches.
“Any restriction that invokes health and safety to shut down freedom of movement needs to be grounded in data to show that such activities are direct threats to health and safety. That showing was not made today. OC’s forty-two miles of beaches can and should be safely opened. [T]hat every single Los Angeles County beach community has a higher per capita COVID infection rate than Orange County’s open beach communities.”
Any restriction that invokes health and safety to shut down freedom of movement needs to be grounded in data to show that such activities are direct threats to health and safety. That showing was not made today. OC’s forty-two miles of beaches can and should be safely opened. https://t.co/LWSuymm87r
— Mayor Will O'Neill (@ONeill4Newport) April 30, 2020
Oh, Newsom’s closures were based on science all right—political science.
I argue that the impact of inexplicably closing 42 miles of recreational area sought by people desperate to get out and get fresh air during a pandemic to exact easy, unthinking, “apathetic” retribution is worse – far worse – than BridgeGate.
It’s not only the Newport Beach swells who use Newport Beach. People come from far inland, where it can be as hot as hades, to gets some cooler air and a splash of salt water with their kids.
While courts to play tennis, basketball and pickleball were closed, while school tracks were closed, while there were rules against playing catch, kids who wanted to use the beaches to swim, surf and paddleboard to get PE hours while their schools were closed couldn’t do that.
I’m sure there are plenty of other externalities suffered by OC residents to Newsom’s vindictive and vapid action.
Newsom shut it all down based on no science, fake news and a bad attitude. Who helped him do that? Will there be any federal prosecutions from this?
Last week the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that BridgeGate was corrupt and petty but it didn’t rise to the level of federal fraud.
The OC lawsuits aren’t over. We’ll see where this goes. But there appears to be more evidence that Newsom was carrying out political pettiness under the color of authority than there was against Chris Christie. Newsom has 2024 presidential aspirations. Will BeachGate sink his chances like they did Christie’s in 2016?
Will people consider BeachGate a bridge too far?