Gov. Gavin Newsom of California has increasingly been a national presence, flying to Washington to meet with President Biden, appearing on Sunday news shows and targeting conservative states with ads for reproductive rights.

This week, however, a more local concern abruptly drew his attention to Sacramento: allegations that the Democratic governor favored a campaign donor who owns two dozen Panera Bread franchises by pushing for a carve-out in a new minimum wage law.

The controversy, triggered by a report in Bloomberg, has unleashed a flurry of charges and countercharges. The State Legislature’s Republican leaders have written to the California attorney general, demanding an investigation. Editorial boards have weighed in. (“Californians knead answers,” the Los Angeles Times opinion page declared.) A spokesman for the governor’s office dismissed the accusation of favoritism as “absurd.”

Political analysts compared the furor to another restaurant-related pickle involving Mr. Newsom.

“It’s hard not to think of the French Laundry,” said Dan Schnur, who teaches political communications at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley, alluding to the 2020 haute cuisine dinner the governor had during pandemic lockdown that helped fuel an unsuccessful but still troublesome recall effort against Mr. Newsom.

“It’s déjà vu all over again, although this time Newsom seems to be trying to address it before a small problem turns into a big problem,” Mr. Schnur said. “Still, his office still hasn’t provided a credible explanation for why the bill was drafted the way it was.”

At issue is legislation signed by the governor in September that will increase the minimum wage for more than a half-million fast-food workers to $20 per hour starting next month.


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