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 email@example.com.