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Story of the Session of the California Legislature of 1909 Part 19

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Chapter XIX.

Defeat of the Initiative Amendment.

As in the Case of Other Reform Measures It Was Held Back Until Near the Close of the Session - Principle Adopted by Many California Munic.i.p.alities - Machine Thoroughly Aroused to Its Importance.

A most estimable old lady once tried with indifferent success to hold back the incoming tide of the Atlantic with a broom. As one watches the efforts of the machine, through such agents as Gus Hartman, Eddie Wolfe and Frank Leavitt, to stem the reform movement which is sweeping the country, he is strongly reminded of the old lady's endeavor.

To be sure, the machine, at the legislative session of 1909, by trick and clever manipulation succeeded in preventing any very effective reform legislation going on the Statute books. But nevertheless the machine was compelled in response to the popular demand to permit the pa.s.sage of a direct primary law, however inadequate and disappointing it may prove to be, and a railroad regulation law, however ineffective.

The machine's success was not on the whole so much in its permanent defeat of good measures as in delaying their adoption. The machine, except in the case of the race-track gamblers, could and did put off the day of the people's reckoning with machine-protected interests, but on desperately small margins at times, and under conditions which point plainly to the machine's ultimate undoing.

A bull once attempted to stop a freight train with his head. The train was brought to a standstill and the animal driven off the track. A short time later the bull tried the same experiment with an express train. The train did not stop, nor was it seriously delayed.

The aim of the reform movement is to place the government of Nation, State and city back into the hands of the people. To this end States and munic.i.p.alities throughout the country are trying the direct primary system of nominating candidates for office, extending the principle of local option, establishing the Initiative, the Referendum and the Recall, and experimenting, often with admirable success, sometimes with discouraging failure, with other "wicked innovations," as a.s.semblyman Grove L. Johnson would call them.

Without the machine fully appreciating what has been going on, California has for a decade or more been pushing rapidly to the fore in the promotion of these reforms. In this State the reform policies have found their best expression in recently adopted munic.i.p.al charters.

These charters must be ratified by the Legislature, but up to the session just closed their ratification - "wicked innovations and all"

- has met with no particular opposition.

Thus we find most of the modern charters of California munic.i.p.alities containing provisions for really effective primary nominations by the people[83], for the initiation of laws, for the referendum, even for the recall from office of corrupt officials, which have placed in the hands of the people of the cities a club over the machine which has proved most effective.

But the machine is now fully alive to what such provisions as the initiative and the recall mean. When, for example, the machine in control of the City Council attempted to deny the Western Pacific right of way through the City of Sacramento, the people resorted to the charter provision granting them the Initiative, and by their direct vote awarded the right of way.

Even while the Legislature was in session, one of the machine's most effective workers, Walter Parker, could not be present at his post at Sacramento, because he was required at Los Angeles, where, because of the "recall," the machine was in a peck of trouble.

The people of that city were employing the recall provision of their charter against the machine Mayor trapped in corruption. Although the then Mayor is a "Democrat" and Parker a "Republican," Parker's presence was required at Los Angeles to back the machine's efforts to hold the Mayor in his job.

So Parker could not be at Sacramento, where the machine really needed him. The machine leaders did not think it possible that a real Mayor - especially a machine Mayor - could be dismissed from office through such a "fool innovation" as the recall. But that's what, in spite of machine efforts, happened at Los Angeles.

These experiences and others like them, forced it upon the understanding of machine leaders that the initiative, recall and similar "innovations," have a business end; that they put altogether too much power into the hands of the people for the machine's safety.

Up to the session of 1909 there had been practically no opposition to the ratification of charters adopted by the several munic.i.p.alities. But this year the machine leader in the Senate, Wolfe, let it be known that he would henceforth oppose "freak charters," "freak charters" to Senator Wolfe being those of the initiative-referendum-recall order.

Several munic.i.p.alities - Berkeley, San Diego, Palo Alto, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, Richmond, Los Angeles, Pasadena and Oakland - had either sent new charters or important amendments to existing charters to the Legislature for ratification. Many of the charters and amendments came decidedly under Wolfe's ideas of "freak." But there are some extremes to which the machine dare not go, and it did not dare to go on record as against popular munic.i.p.al government. Wolfe and his a.s.sociates could and did grumble, but they did not dare refuse the several charters and charter amendments ratification.

So they let the charters and charter amendments go by them and braced themselves against granting Statewide initiative.

That issue came up in the form of a proposed amendment to the State Const.i.tution introduced by Senator Black, which gave the people of the State the power enjoyed by the people of Oregon and of the more advanced California munic.i.p.alities, the power to initiate laws.

Black's amendment provided that on pet.i.tion of eight per cent of the electors of the State proposing a law or Const.i.tutional amendment, such law or amendment must be submitted to a vote of the people at the next general election, precisely as Const.i.tutional amendments are now submitted. If the proposed law or amendment received a majority vote it was to become a law of the State, independent of Legislative action. In a word, the people of California, had the amendment carried, would have been able to initiate the laws which govern them.

Naturally, the machine, always on thin ice at best, thoroughly aroused to what the initiative means, opposed any such "wicked innovation."

In its opposition, the machine was backed by that extreme conservatism, which, while sincere enough, forever hangs on the coattails of progress; the conservatism which even in New England as late as 1860 drew back its respectable skirts from abolition; the conservatism which, dragged protesting over a crisis, never fails to a.s.sume for itself all the credit for what has been accomplished. Thus the machine had some very respectable a.s.sistance in its efforts against the Initiative Amendment, the measure which more than any other before the Legislature was calculated to take the government of California out of machine hands[84].

On the other hand, the amendment had strong backing. It had been drawn up at the instance of the Direct Legislation League, which numbers among its members many of the foremost bankers, capitalists, educators and public men of the State - Rudolph Spreckels, Francis J. Heney, James D.

Phelan, of San Francisco, and Dr. John R. Haynes of Los Angeles, and others fully as prominent being among the League's most active supporters.

In addition, the amendment had the endors.e.m.e.nt of the State Grange, of, the Labor Unions, of the State, county and munic.i.p.al Democratic conventions, and of many of the munic.i.p.al and county Republican conventions.

But there were plenty of reasons given why the amendment should not be submitted to the people. Perhaps the most amusing came from Senator Wright, of Direct Primary and Railroad Regulation notoriety. Senator Wright held that inasmuch as the Direct Primary will result in the election of high-cla.s.s legislators, the initiative will not be necessary.

But the two princ.i.p.al objections raised to the initiative were that:

1. It would lead to a flood of bills being submitted to the people.

2. That the people would not take sufficient interest in the proposed laws to consider them carefully.

Both these objections were readily answered by the proponents of the amendment, who gave the experience of States in which the initiative has been tried.

Oregon, for example, adopted the initiative in 1902. In 1904 but two proposed laws were introduced under it; in 1906, five; and in 1908, nineteen. Inasmuch as in 1908 California voted upon twenty-one const.i.tutional amendments and statutes which had been submitted by the Legislature of 1907, it will be seen that Oregon was not particularly submerged by a flood of elector-initiated legislation.

In Canton Berne, Switzerland, where for half a century all the laws have been adopted by the initiative system, the average of laws proposed has been only two and a half a year.

As to the second objection, it was easily shown that in Oregon the keenest interest is taken in the measures proposed through the initiative. Some were shown to have been adopted by enormous majorities; others to have been rejected by majorities as large.

Thus the objections to the amendment were easily disposed of.

Their arguments answered, the opponents of the amendment schemed to prevent its consideration until the closing days of the session or prevent consideration entirely.

In the a.s.sembly, the amendment had been introduced by Drew of Fresno. It was referred to the Committee on Const.i.tutional Amendments, where it was smothered to death. Although referred to the committee on January 11, the committee took no action upon it. Coghlan of San Francisco was chairman of the committee; a.s.sociated with him were Legislators of the types of Johnson of Sacramento, McClelland and Baxter. In vain those advocating the adoption of the amendment urged the committee to act.

Meetings were indeed arranged, at which the proponents of the reform would be present, but the committeemen would fail to attend.

A less exasperating, but no less effective fight was carried on in the Senate.

On the Senate side, the amendment introduced by Black went to the Judiciary Committee. This committee was made up of the nineteen lawyers in the Senate, every lawyer going on the committee. But Warren Porter named the order of their rank, and the chairman and the four ranking members of the committee voted eternally with the Wolfe-Leavitt faction.

On a straight vote the majority of the committee was against the machine, as was shown in the fight for an effective railroad regulation bill. But when it came to getting results in the Senate Judiciary Committee, craft and leadership, as has been shown in previous chapters, not infrequently overcame numbers.

On February 16, the reform element of the committee insisted that action be taken on the amendment. Chairman Willis was reluctant to put the question. Few machine members of the committee were in attendance. The anti-machine members were insistent. Willis was finally forced to put the question, and the amendment, after the percentage of voters required to sign a pet.i.tion for the initiation of a law had been raised from eight to twelve per cent, was favorably reported back to the Senate.

But Senator Willis was able to do on the floor of the Senate what he had been unable to do in the committee, namely, secure further delay. He protested to the Senate at the "snap judgment" of his committee, with the result that it was re-referred to that body. The committee, however, for the second time sent it back to the Senate with the recommendation that it be adopted.

Then followed a series of delays in the Senate, so that the measure was not brought to vote until March 11th.

For the adoption of a Const.i.tutional amendment, a two-thirds vote - twenty-seven - is required in the Senate. The proponents of the amendment had good reason to believe that that number of Senators would vote for its adoption. The Senators counted upon to vote for the amendment were: Anthony, Bell, Birdsall, Black, Boynton, Caminetti, Campbell, Cutten, Estudillo, Hare, Kennedy, McCartney, Reily, Roseberry, Rush, Sanford, Stetson, Thompson, Walker, Welch - 20, who actually voted for the amendment; Finn, Strobridge, Cartwright and Holohan, who were absent when the vote was taken, but who were pledged to the reform; Lewis, Bills, Curtin and Miller, who were counted on the side of the amendment until it came to a vote. This made twenty-eight votes, one more than enough for adoption.

Kennedy, Reily, Welch, Finn and Hare, usually against reform legislation, were counted for the Initiative because of convention obligations which could not well be ignored. Lewis, McCartney and Bills were counted for it because of their alleged promise of its support; Curtin and Miller because the Democratic State Convention had endorsed the Initiative, and for the further reason that Curtin and Miller were ordinarily for reform legislation.

But on the vote, the unfortunate Hare, Kennedy, Reily, McCartney and Welch remained true to their obligations, while Curtin and Miller disappointed those who had expected their support. The negative vote of Bills and Lewis did not cause much disappointment, for little else was to have been expected, and anyway, the negative votes of Curtin and Miller were enough to defeat the amendment.

Curtin and Miller, in spite of their party's endors.e.m.e.nt of the policy, expressed themselves as "scandalized" at such an idea as the Initiative.

But as good men as Miller and Curtin were scandalized at the idea of abolition in 1860, only to become the most earnest supporters of the Emanc.i.p.ation Proclamation three years later.

Reform waves, like the Atlantic Ocean, are not kept back with brooms - or Gus Hartmans.

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