Jonathan Madison

When elected to serve as California’s 40th governor in 2019, Gavin Newsom was acclaimed as one of the most popular governors in our state’s history. Today, more than 1 million people have petitioned for him to be recalled, with just shy of 700,000 signatures verified. With 1.5 million signatures needed to recall the governor, it is likely only a matter of time before Newsom is recalled. How did we get here?

No one doubts that the effects of COVID-19 are real. To date, about 2.5 million people worldwide have died due to the novel coronavirus. More than 111 million have contracted it. These unprecedented and perilous times have caused our government leaders to implement policies targeted at curbing the spread of the virus. Adopting the playbook of classical utilitarians, public officials like Newsom have implemented policies that purportedly curb the virus much at the expense of infringing on the rights, liberties and sovereignties of millions of American citizens.

Classic utilitarianism espouses the belief that the best policies are “acts that result in the greatest good for the greatest number.” In short, utilitarianism focuses on the consequences of our actions, rather than the intent behind the actions. The results must justify the means. The caveat is that, the greatest good for the greatest number means that leaders within the system can arbitrarily determine the greatest good for the greatest number. Put simply, one can pick winners and losers in the system to ensure the majority benefit from the policy.

Adopting the utilitarian approach to the pandemic, Newsom has launched some very controversial Executive Orders purportedly for the purpose of curbing the spread of the pandemic. However, many suggest the consequences of the Executive Orders do not justify the means. Many have increasingly questioned the data, legality and hypocrisy of Newsom’s Orders.

Utilitarianism holds a value system for ranking and evaluating which is most important or essential. Newsom has done the same by classifying certain people, professions, businesses, employees and employers as essential, while deeming others nonessential. This system enables the governor to pick and choose winners and losers based on a very subjective system. Among others, the winners are doctors, grocery stores, convenience stores and clothing stores. The losers are small business owners, churchgoers and pastors, nail salons, barbershops, restaurants, entrepreneurs, bars, shops and many others.

Unfortunately, being a “loser” under Newsom’s nonessential category comes with more than a bad label. In many cases, it comes with unemployment, depression, poverty, anxiety, uncertainty and a deprivation of individual rights.

Don’t take my word for it. Courts have agreed. Several of Newsom’s orders have been challenged. The more recent order banning indoor church services as part of the state lockdown was handily struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 vote. The Supreme Court held that such a policy violated our Constitution’s First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion.

Many have questioned the data, science and logic behind the COVID-19 lockdown. To date, the governor continues to keep secret key virus data from the public. This has caused private companies to track their own data on the spread of the virus. Refusing to disclose this data makes it difficult to justify a state lockdown, particularly on certain industries and businesses with a low rate of transmission. Take restaurants for example. ABC 7 reported that restaurants have one of the lowest risks of COVID-19 transmission: 4%. Nonetheless, the governor all but completely shut down the restaurant industry for a time. This has resulted in thousands of restaurants closing their doors permanently.

If that were not enough, Newsom personally indulged in activity that was prohibited by his own law — indoor dining with others without a mask. After preventing millions of Californians from engaging in certain activities — some of which were protected by our nation’s Constitution — the governor partook in indoor dining at the French Laundry. “Lead by example” is a popular axiom, and one that the governor or any leader in public office would do well to implement. If leaders cannot follow their own rules, it is quite unfair to the constituencies that placed them in leadership.

Only two governors have ever been successfully recalled. In 1921, Gov. Lynn Frazier of North Dakota was recalled over a dispute regarding state-owned industries. In 2003, Gov. Gray Davis of California was also recalled over a number of issues including the state budget.

I do not suggest we should disregard the COVID-19 precautions established by our government. However, our leaders ought to be held accountable for the results of those policies. One thing is certain: The government should not be in the business of picking and choosing winners and losers, no matter how justifiable the motivations. The results of mass unemployment, depression, anxiety, displacement and even suicide, may far outweigh the problems intended to be addressed by the policies.

A native of Pacifica, Jonathan Madison worked as professional policy staff for the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Financial Services. Jonathan is an attorney and can be reached via email at

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(19) comments

Mike Caggiano

Well I absolutely love the plot line of what ever movie you folks are talking about. Super interesting. However it's pretty simple on the pandemic in spite of Newsom's stupidity with the 'Laundry'. He is indeed tasked with doing the most good for the most people. I have difficulty with Friar Jonathan's take though. As with most folks, we all want 'boutique' constitutions and custom made justice geared to our individual situations. Only natural but also wrong.

Same as the folks who scream 'mu representative needs to do what I want'. Duhh, the other side is screaming the very same thing. Sorry that's how democracies work. Your representative does what they see as the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens. simple enough. Naturally corruption is ever lurking but that's for the next chapter.


I was asking Mr. Madison.

How can you or anyone else respond for him?

Dirk van Ulden

While we are at it, can anyone explain why the signature verification rejection rate in California during the last election was .04% but the rejection rate for the gathered signatures is 16%? Does anyone find this suspicious? It appears that the election rigging believers may have a point.


Absolutely not suspicious. Signatures for people in the last election were from people that take voting seriously, wanted to vote and registered to vote. Guessing that by gathered signatures you mean for the recall of Newsom, the signatures are from anyone walking in or out of a local store, street corner etc. Some people want to sign and recall, others don't care and sign for the heck of it. Many do not match the way they registered even if they are actually registered. If they sign Jim Doe, (brother of John) rather than James Q Doe, Jr. it is rejected. Sorry Dirk, no rigging, no conspiracies, no point.

Ray Fowler

Uh... Tafhdyd... I'm not so sure Dirk's point can be so easily swept aside. While I'm not jumping on the conspiracy bandwagon... what agency or office has verified the types of signature discrepancies mentioned in your response? With such a disparity in the rejection rate, what assurance do we have that the review is being conducted properly?


More of the the same blame game.

What are your thoughts on the fiasco in GOP run Texas these days?

>And the 500,000 COVID deaths in our country??

Ray Fowler

Hello, JME

I don't know who you are asking about the situation in Texas and whether you are waiting for someone to fix blame for the Lone Star crisis. I don't know enough about the Texas power situation, but if energy companies can get by on the cheap, they will do so. There are some similarities to California's situation last year re: power blackouts and what we have seen in Texas the past two weeks. At the end of the day, PG&E is accountable for problems caused by them in California, and Texas companies should be held accountable, too. What's interesting is that both Texas and California's woes could have been lessened if not avoided. Over the past two decades, power outages have increased 67% nationwide. Given that trend, you would think power companies in Texas, California and elsewhere would try to prevent catastrophes wrought by severe weather... but they didn't.

With respect to COVID... the deluge of numbers is mind boggling. However, one statistic... if it signals a trend... is very encouraging. The seven day average of deaths in the US just fell by nearly 40% in one week. Maybe we have turned the corner.

While it sounds like you feel Mr. Madison's article is "more of the same blame game," I disagree with that assessment. He does make a strong case for accountability, but that is not the same thing. So, who do you believe should be held accountable for 500,000 COVID deaths in the US... and what, in your estimation, makes that person or persons accountable for those deaths?


"Abbott, Texas' Republican governor, is quickly becoming the embodiment of the risks of the Lone Star State's laissez-faire, anti-regulation ethos as he struggles to explain why the state's power grid was not prepared for the winter storm that led some Texans to burn furniture and fences to stay warm as another 13 million remain under boil water notices. He aggravated his own problems by foolishly rushing on Fox News Tuesday night to blame green energy sources like wind and solar for the massive failure. But the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages Texas' independent grid, later clarified that problems with the natural gas supply were largely responsible."

Ray Fowler


So I guess you're going to answer your own question re: GOP leadership in Texas. At least the Lone Star governor didn't send persons without heat to nursing homes...

Dirk van Ulden

JME - Texas made the decision years ago to separate its transmission grid from the neighboring states. That had nothing to do with a political motive as they did not want to be dragged down should the transmission systems of others affect the one in Texas. We have CAISO in California and they have ERCOT. Our system went down as well last Summer but that was caused by increased reliance on green (but intermittent) energy. That energy is not reliable and utilities have been reluctant to pay for fossil-fueled standby generation under pressure from the AOCs of the world and our ever increasing electricity rates. The SF Chronicle of 2/23 has an excellent article about our pending disaster in terms of cost and reliability, all due to social engineering and dismissing economics. Oh, I forgot, isn't our State run by Democratic "leadership" for decades?

Ray Fowler

Hey, Dirk

Beautifully said... and 'nuff said.


My question was for Mr. Madison.

How can others answer on his behalf?

Ray Fowler

Well, JME...

It was not clear that your query was intended for Mr. Madison. As you know, typically, columnists do not respond in the comments section. While a general question is likely to draw a response or two from other readers, no one is pretending to answer on Mr. Madison's behalf.

Terence Y

Unfortunately, California elected Newsom, so it’s only fair they suffer the consequences of King Newsom. At least until he’s overthrown. If it wasn’t for the French Laundry fiasco, there would have been another act of hypocrisy. Let’s just hope that Newsom doesn’t fail up, like others in CA.

Cindy Cornell

How interesting that Madison"s column, online, is interrupted three times by NRA ads showing a huge gun. As to the content, I sincerely doubt the writer would have ever been impartial about Governor Newsom's pandemic policies. The Supreme Court decision was not a blanket permission for churches to resume services at full capacity, but to limit them to 25 percent. As for myself, I am very much appreciative of Governor Newsom's attempts to save the maximum number of lives during an unexpected pandemic.

Dirk van Ulden

Yes Cindy, he may saved your life but what about the others and side effects of his random executive orders? Did you fully read and understand what Jonathan is trying to convey? You prove again that the Left is blind when even a hint of criticism is directed at them. Or, are you still waiting for Newsom's invitation for lunch at the French Laundry?

Ray Fowler

Hello, Dirk

I agree. It appears Cindy did not understand Jonathan's comments. Her response reminded me of a 1957 Tyrone Power movie, "Abandon Ship!"

If it comes on late some night, it's worth a look-see. So, the captain of a ship that strikes a mine and sinks tells his second in command, "Save as many as you can." There are 27 people inside and hanging onto to gunwales of a boat built to accommodate 9 persons. A severe storm is coming and Tyrone (the second in command) must decide who goes over the side. It's intense. Tyrone decides who will be saved, and of course, those who are saved fully support Tyrone. Until the survivors are rescued near the end of the story. Most of them turn on Tyrone when he is faced with answering for his decisions.

What about Gavin answering for his decisions? I don't know what will happen with the recall. It may or may not happen, and if it does, our governor may or may not remain in office. In the movie, Tyrone's character had to answer for his actions. Will Gavin? Even if the lock down inspired recall fails, what will happen when there is full disclosure of information concerning the implementation of the lock down? Will we see those saved by Gavin turn on him? Will they abandon ship?

We sure live in interesting times...


In the movie the people tossed overboard are rescued by another ship. Those in the lifeboat look up and see them lining the railing.. As I recall, no one is waving a greeting.

Ray Fowler

wlydecker... funny

Are you sure you're not confusing Abandon Ship with either Captain Ron or Overboard?

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