Gov. Gavin Newsom goes viral over a shoplifting at Target

California Gov. Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom says he got into an exchange with a clerk at a Target store in December after witnessing a theft.
(Associated Press)

Gov. Gavin Newsom has gone viral for shoplifting at Target. Well, sort of.

The governor didn’t actually steal anything. But as he tells it, he did witness someone blatantly walking out of a Sacramento-area store with an armload of stolen stuff, presumably right in front of his own intimidating-looking security detail. And when Newsom asked why no one was taking action, the clerk told him it was the governor’s fault.

Newsom has made it too easy to steal, he said the clerk told him — before realizing who he was and freaking out.

Newsom, who was Christmas shopping with one of his children at the time, said he was outraged. It’s just not true, he said he told the clerk. California has the tenth-toughest laws against retail theft in the nation, he lectured — in a way that must have seemed super weird until she deduced his identity.


“I said: ‘Why didn’t you stop him?’ ” Newsom said he asked the clerk.

“She goes, ’Oh, the governor’ ” — he broke off — “swear to God, true story, on my mom’s grave.” He added that the clerk had the temerity to tell him: “The governor lowered the threshold, there’s no accountability. … We don’t stop them because of the governor.”

Newsom told the story this week to a group of mayors from around the state who had gathered on Zoom for a news conference on his mental health initiative, Proposition 1. He and the mayors were chatting among themselves while waiting for San Francisco’s London Breed and San Diego’s Todd Gloria to log on. After relating the anecdote, the governor added that he hoped the two mayors weren’t the only ones not yet signed into the Zoom. “Hopefully, all the reporters weren’t on,” he said.

Too late. The exchange, posted on X (formerly known as Twitter) and then picked up by television and print outlets around the state, quickly went viral — catnip in the heated debate about retail theft and Proposition 47, which reduced some thefts and drug offenses to misdemeanors to reduce mass incarceration. Some critics have blamed Proposition 47 for the rise in thefts.

Newsom himself came out last month calling for legislation to crack down on “professional thieves” without amending Proposition 47, noting that one of the wine stores he owns in San Francisco was robbed at least three times in 2021. He pointed out that Texas’ threshold for felony theft is among those that is higher than California’s.

But those points did little to calm the viral story. The chairwoman of the state Republican Party, Jessica Millan Patterson, quickly jumped into the fray, writing on X: “Shout-out to this store clerk for saying to the governor’s face what every Californian has wanted to say: that he and his radical @CA_Dem buddies are to blame for CA’s surging crime. Sadly, Newsom still didn’t seem to take the hint.”

Newsom’s office declined to identify which Target the encounter occurred at, to keep the media from mobbing the store. They did say the encounter took place in the Sacramento area, around Christmastime, while the governor was shopping with one of his children.


The exchange, the governor said, ended with an attempt at a photo-op.

As the governor was explaining how strict California’s retail theft laws actually are, the clerk, he said, “looks at me, twice. She freaks out. She calls everyone over, wants to take photos.”

“I said, no, I’m not taking a photo,” Newsom said. “We’re having a conversation. Where’s your manager? How are you blaming the governor?”

He added: “Why am I spending $380? Everyone can walk the hell right out.”