Governor Newsom’s ‘Sleight of Hand’

September 1, 2021 Updated: September 3, 2021


“Abracadabra!” “Alakazam!” “Presto-chango!” These common refrains are employed by magicians to signal the climax of their seemingly supernatural trick. As a child, I was fascinated by masters of deception. Among other magician’s tricks, the “sleight of hand” was my obsession. Equally stunning and perplexing, I was left puzzled time and again by the clever illusion. Try as I might, I could not manage to figure it out.

With study, I discovered the mastery behind the sleight-of-hand ploy: deception. The phrase refers to a clever act designed for two purposes—entertainment and manipulation of the onlooker. Drawing the spectator in by an intimate and captivating movement of the hands, the spectator never captures the moment they are duped into thinking they were not tricked. The bottom line is that, if you do not closely observe the magician’s hands, you will be fooled into looking in the wrong direction. Ultimately, you will believe what the magician wants you to think—that magic made the trick happen.

Today, I am often reminded of the sleight of hand when I feel drawn into false narratives perpetuated by our state and nation’s elected officials. Among our nation’s leaders, Governor Gavin Newsom has claimed center stage in attempting to deceive California residents that the Sept. 14 Gubernatorial Recall Election is nothing more than a “Republican” brainchild.

You will note that every ballot mailed to California voters is accompanied by a voter’s guide that describes the recall as the result of machinations at the national level by the Republican Party and supporters of former President Donald Trump. More precisely, the guide includes a statement from Governor Newsom asserting that this election is happening because the Republican National Committee (RNC) is determined to seize power in California.

This kind of talk is nothing new. Back in March, Newsom was quoted as saying the push for the vote was a “Republican recall backed by the RNC, anti-mask and anti-vax extremists, and pro-Trump forces who want to overturn the last election and have opposed much of what we have done to fight the pandemic.”

Again, this was hardly an isolated incident. Newsom has consistently described the upcoming election in speeches, public statements, and social media posts as a “Republican-led recall.” He’s also made regular digs at the national Republican Party, linking his own political fortunes to developments in other parts of the country. On Aug. 16, for example, he wrote in a Twitter post: “Republicans want to drive CA off the same cliff as FL and TX.”

Under these circumstances, it’s no wonder that Orrin Heatlie and Mike Netter, the leading proponents of the recall campaign, took to the courts recently.

In early August, Heatlie and Netter sued Secretary of State Shirley Weber over the language of the voter’s guide. They argued in their initial petition that Newsom ought to be ordered to revise the text of his statement in the guide to remove claims that the recall election was being spearheaded on a national level by the Republican Party and by Trump supporters. They called those claims “at best misleading, at worst flat-out false, and in all events a hyperbolic outrage,” and they requested that the court instruct the governor to remove text that accuses Republicans of abusing California’s recall laws in a bid to grasp power in the state.

Instead of holding Newsom’s false narratives accountable, Presiding Judge Laurie Earl issued a tentative ruling approving of Newsom’s false propaganda. As a result of Judge Earl’s ruling, households across California are receiving false and deceptive information about the movement behind the recall election.

What those households will not read about is the fact that many of the 46 candidates named as possible alternatives to Newsom in the second section of the recall ballot are not Republicans.

They will not read about the fact that neither the RNC nor the California Republican Party has endorsed any candidate in the recall election.

They will not read about the fact that the Democratic Party has taken up Newsom’s cause on a national level, with top-level politicians such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) making public statements urging voters in California to support the governor.

They will not read about the small business owners who resent Newsom’s embrace of restrictive public health measures that leave them struggling to keep their doors open and keep their employees on the roster.

They will not read about the parents who are worried about their kids’ ability to make up for all the learning they missed while Newsom closed the doors to public schools, all the while sending his own children to private school.

They will not read about the many individual voters—Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and others—who have been willing to go on record urging that Newsom be recalled.

Of course, they will be able to read what proponents of the recall say in their own statement. (After all, the voter’s guide gives space to both sides.) But they will also be presented with Newsom’s narrow and distorted assertions about the nature of the recall campaign.

That’s a shame. The governor should not downplay the numerous and imminent reasons California voters of all stripes have found to vote him out of office.

We ought to remember that California residents elect its governor to invoke truth, promote accountability and transparency, regardless of where their party loyalties lie. The governor should not deceptively control narratives behind elections and ignore the obvious plight of so many in the Golden State. With an unprecedented homelessness crisis, rising unemployment, and a broken education system, Newsom is in no position to suggest that a recall election was conceived only by members of the Republican Party.

The bottom line is that, like the sleight-of-hand trick, Governor Newsom wants you to blindly buy into his “Republican power grab” recall narrative while distracting you from the truth many of us already know: Californians across the political spectrum are collectively calling for a change in leadership.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Jonathan Madison worked as professional policy staff for the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Financial Services. He regularly provides opinion on Fox Business Mornings With Maria and has appeared on the following networks and television shows: Saturday Night Live, KRON 4 News, NBC Bay Area News, and KTVU Channel 2 News. As chairman of the Alameda County Bar Association Real Estate Section, Jonathan leads a team of real estate attorneys in educating the County of Alameda in simple and complex legal matters. Beyond this, he leads a prison ministry at the San Francisco County Jail. He is lead attorney at The Madison Firm and can be reached via email at