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Story of the Session of the California Legislature of 1909 Part 3

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Chapter IV.

The Machine in Control.

Deliberately Held Up Measures in Committees Until the Close of the Session, When Senate and a.s.sembly Were Forced to Take Snap Judgment on Hundreds of Measures - In the Confusion Thus Created, Good Bills Were Defeated and Bad Ones Pa.s.sed.

The Legislature organized, the machine and anti-machine forces settled down to the work of the session. The situation was unique. The anti-machine element had a comfortable majority in the a.s.sembly and at least a bare majority in the Senate. But the machine controlled the committees of both Houses, had selected the presiding officers, and had dictated the selection of the majority of the attaches. When, for example, it was suggested that in the event of a close vote in the Senate on the Anti-Racetrack Gambling bill, it might be found necessary to send the Sergeant-at-Arms after Senators who might attempt to dodge the vote, not a single attache of the Sergeant-at-Arms' office could be named who was in sympathy with the movement against the gamblers.

Incidentally, however, it was discovered that the clerk of the important Senate Enrolling and Engrossing Committee had been an employee at Frank Daroux's notorious Sausalito poolrooms. These were disquieting discoveries for the reform element.

Although the machine controlled the strategic positions of the organization of the Legislature, it was still in the minority in each House. This meant that the machine could not, in open fight, pa.s.s a vicious or undesirable measure, or put through any of its schemes. The machine's course soon became apparent. If the machine could not put laws on the statute books to its liking, it could block the pa.s.sage of good measures. Having crafty leaders in both Senate and a.s.sembly, and, above all, controlling the committees, the machine was admirably prepared to do this. By employing delaying tactics which would have done credit to a specialist in criminal defense, the machine devoted the first two months of the session to the blocking of legislation.

The methods employed were very simple. As soon as a bill was introduced it was referred to a committee of the House in which it originated. The committee would hold the measure until the reform element gave indications of protesting[15]. The bill would then be returned. If possible it would be further delayed by amendment on second or third reading. If finally pa.s.sed by the House of its origin, it would be sent to the other House, where it would be referred to a committee. In the majority of cases the committee could hold it indefinitely. In such cases as the committees were forced to report on measures that had pa.s.sed the other House, the measure would be amended, which necessitated its being reprinted, and again acted upon by the House of its origin[16], all of which made for delay.

But it must not be thought that the Senate and a.s.sembly were left in idleness during the first two months of the session. Such is by no means the case; Senators and a.s.semblymen never worked harder. The machine leaders during the first month of the session craftily kept the members wrangling in committees. During the second month the Senate was kept working day and night pa.s.sing comparatively unimportant Senate bills, and the a.s.sembly working as hard pa.s.sing a.s.sembly bills; but the Senate pa.s.sed very few a.s.sembly bills and the a.s.sembly very few Senate bills.

As a measure must pa.s.s both Houses to become a law, few bills were sent to the Governor for his approval. Thus during the first two months of the session many bills pa.s.sed in one house or the other, but pitifully few pa.s.sed the Legislature.

The reform element, working sixteen hours a day not unlike so many mice in a wheel, were apparently in complete ignorance of the situation which they were creating. Senators whose bills had pa.s.sed the Senate began to complain that they could not get the measures out of the a.s.sembly committee; a.s.semblymen whose measures had pa.s.sed the a.s.sembly were as loud in their charges that their bills were being held up in Senate committees. The machine actually turned this early dissatisfaction to its advantage. Soon it was being announced on the floor of the a.s.sembly: "If Senate committees will not act on a.s.sembly bills, then the a.s.sembly committees will not act on Senate bills." The Senate made the same threats as to a.s.sembly bills. So, for about a week, Senate committees openly slighted a.s.sembly bills, while a.s.sembly committees in retaliation slighted Senate bills. The situation was very amusing; it was, too, highly satisfactory to the machine.

About the first week in March - the Legislature adjourned March 24 - the anti-machine members awoke to the fact that in spite of their day and night sessions, little had been accomplished. The further disquieting discovery was made that the bulk of the a.s.sembly bills which had pa.s.sed the a.s.sembly were being held in Senate committees, while the Senate bills which had pa.s.sed the Senate, were apparently anch.o.r.ed in a.s.sembly committees, and that the machine controlled the committees. The reform members of each House had good cause for alarm. Every Senator and a.s.semblyman has his "pet" measures. The reform Senators and a.s.semblymen found that to get their bills out of committees they would have to treat with the machine. Such a Senator or a.s.semblyman, with his const.i.tuents clamoring for the pa.s.sage of a bill held up in a machine-controlled committee, had some claim to pardon if he turned suddenly attentive to the machine olive branch. And the machine, by the way, always has the olive branch out. Stand in with us, is their constant advance, and we will see you through.

As a result of these delaying tactics, literally hundreds of bills which had needlessly been held up in committees were forced upon the consideration of the Senate during the last three weeks of the session.

Each House made records of pa.s.sing more than 100 bills a day. There was little pretense of reading the measures as required by the State Const.i.tution. The clerk at the desk mumbled over their t.i.tles; they were voted upon and became laws. In the rush to get through, as will be shown by example in other chapters, Senators and a.s.semblymen voted for measures to which they were openly opposed. The machine minority was merely reaping the benefits of a situation which the cleverness of its leaders had created.

Although machine-advocated and unimportant measures could be pa.s.sed in such a situation, bills which the machine opposed could not be[17].

Machine-opposed measures were either held up in committees until their pa.s.sage was out of the question, or they were denied consideration in Senate or a.s.sembly, or their advocates worn out by the tactics of the machine leaders. Senate Bill 220, which removed the party circle from the election ballot, pa.s.sed in the Senate after a bitter contest, was held up in the a.s.sembly until five days before adjournment, and then denied a second reading. Boynton's Senate Bill 249, providing for the arrangement of judicial candidates on the ballot without designation of party affiliations, intended to take the Judiciary out of politics, which after a long contest pa.s.sed the Senate, was held up in the a.s.sembly until the day before adjournment, when it was denied pa.s.sage.

This bill was introduced in the Senate on January 12. So popular was it, such was the demand for its pa.s.sage, that it was not openly opposed. It was finally defeated on March 23, the day before adjournment. Thus two months and eleven days were required to wear out its advocates.

About March 1, the machine began to crowd the anti-machine element for early adjournment. At that time not far from 2000 bills were recorded in the Senate and a.s.sembly histories. The action had the effect of a good stiff push to a man sliding down hill; the anti-machine forces had the votes to prevent adjournment but the machine's adjournment plans added considerably to anti-machine discomfiture. Senator Wolfe actually gave notice that on Friday, March 5, he would move that the Legislature adjourn on March 13. This would have given a fortnight for consideration of nearly 2000 bills. At the time of Wolfe's motion, there were pending the Direct Primary bill, the Railroad Regulation bills, the Commonwealth Club bills, the Islais Creek Harbor bills, and scores of other important measures, the pa.s.sage of which had unnecessarily - albeit most cleverly - been delayed.

As a result of clever manipulation, dating from the first day of the session, the machine was thus in the closing days, in spite of the majority against it, able to pa.s.s, amend or defeat measures, pretty much as its leaders desired. The anti-machine forces, Republican and Democratic, were during those last days, merely reaping the harvest which they had sown when they permitted the Democratic-Republican machine to take the organization of the Legislature out of their hands.

[15] The Senate Committee on Election Laws, for example, held the Direct Primary bill for thirty-eight days, and finally reported it back so amended that it had to be rewritten. See chapters VI and VII on efforts of the machine to hold the Anti-Racetrack Gambling bill in committee.

[16] It was stated on the floor of the a.s.sembly, that were the Ten Commandments to be adopted by the a.s.sembly, the Senate would find some excuse for amending them.

[17] The most astonishing example of this was furnished by the pa.s.sage of the Change of Venue bill in the Senate. See chapter XVI.

Chapter V.

Election of United States Senator.

Opposition to Perkins Overcome by the Dead Weight of the Machine - Movement Against His Re-election Failed for Want of Leadership - Proceedings Without Warmth or Enthusiasm.

No funeral was ever attended by greater somberness than was the re-election of George C. Perkins to the United States Senate, January 12-13, 1909. The nominating speeches were made without enthusiasm; not a cheer greeted Senator or a.s.semblyman charged with the task of putting the aged Senator in nomination. Pulcifer of Alameda, who made the nominating speech in the a.s.sembly, was received with icy calmness. Even when the Alamedan referred to the veteran Senator as "one whose hair has grown white and whose eyes have grown dim in the service of his country," not so much as a ripple of applause stirred the chamber. When the speaker concluded his review of the Senator's life and political career, the incipient murmur of approval which somebody started died away for want of vitality.

In the Senate, the task of nominating Perkins fell to Stetson of Alameda. But Stetson's nominating speech was received with no more enthusiasm than was that of the shifty Pulcifer. The "system," the "organization," the "machine," have it as you will, returned George C.

Perkins to the United States Senate. The people of California had no voice in it, nor, for that matter, the Legislature, although the majority of the Legislature was opposed to the machine. In carrying out the ign.o.ble part prepared for them - prepared for them by the "machine"

which a majority of them opposed - the members of Senate and a.s.sembly went through the forms prescribed without a hand clap and without a cheer.

But it must not be thought that the re-election of Senator Perkins was without opposition. Indeed, it met with the same sort of honest but ineffective resistance that attended the election of Stanton to the Speakership of the Lower House. And like the campaign against Stanton the opposition to Perkins got nowhere because of the lack of leadership, organization and plan of action on the part of the resisting legislators.

The machine had been preparing for Perkins' re-election for months; but the opposition to Perkins made no move until after the November elections.

The first outward sign of opposition came from a.s.semblyman E. J. Callan of the Thirty-ninth District, the fighting reform district of San Francisco. Callan, three or four weeks before the Legislature convened, fell into a trap which the wily Alameda County politician had set some time previous. Perkins had long before invited criticism of his "record," which meant his votes on issues that had been pa.s.sed upon by the United States Senate. As a matter of fact, such votes mean little, for the misplaced "courtesy of the Senate," under which schemers betray the people, makes it possible for even recognized "reformers" to be forced to vote against most desirable measures. The other fellows of the Perkins stripe when brought to book on their "record" can always give in defense: 'Why, your reformer, Senator So and So, did the same thing.' To be sure, a La Follette does kick over the traces once in a while, in which event he usually votes alone, while the solemn victims of "courtesy" vote against him according to Senatorial custom, not to use the more expressive word, stupidity.

Thus, when Perkins craftily invited his opponents to attack him on his record, they dodged the trap gingerly, all save Callan. Callan didn't walk, he rushed into it, sending a scathing letter to Perkins on that gentleman's Senatorial record. Perkins' reply and explanation came as a counter blow. The fire was tempered out of Callan's letter. Callan had permitted Perkins to select the fighting ground, and Perkins had exhibited admirable judgment.

The attack on Perkins had better been made on his att.i.tude toward the shipping interests of California - the development of the isthmian route to New York, for example; on his att.i.tude toward the machine, whose strangle-hold upon the State is locked with federal patronage; on his att.i.tude toward the so-called "Roosevelt policies"; on his att.i.tude toward the Roosevelt administration, upon which he hung with the dead weight of crafty, persistent obstruction. There were plenty of vulnerable points in the Perkins armor, but naturally in selecting the point of attack, Perkins carefully avoided them. So Callan's bolt rebounded harmlessly, to the astonishment of the various well-meaning reformers, and the intense satisfaction of the machine, whose somewhat anxious leaders recognized full well that Callan's discomfiture would discourage attacks from other possibly effective sources.

The next move against Perkins came the week before the Legislature convened. A number of anti-machine Republicans met at San Francisco to canva.s.s the situation, and formulate a plan to defeat Perkins if possible. It was found that on joint Senate and a.s.sembly ballot, the Democrats would have twenty-nine votes and the Republicans ninety-one.

Sixty-one votes are required for the election of a Senator. The Republicans at the meeting considered these twenty-nine votes as with them in the selection of an anti-machine Republican for Perkins' place.

The anti-machine Republicans thus in revolt against the machine, themselves numbered twenty Senators and a.s.semblymen, which made forty-nine votes against Perkins. In addition, an even dozen Republican Senators and a.s.semblymen were counted upon as willing to vote against Perkins if his defeat could be shown to be certain. This would have given the anti-Perkins element sixty-one votes, just enough to elect.

For one of their number to fail, meant a deadlock; for two, if Republicans, to fail meant Perkins' election. It was a slender chance, but the possibility of success kept the movement alive until the hour of the Senatorial caucus.

Those who were promoting the movement were not at the time aware that six of the Democratic a.s.semblymen and one of the Democratic Senators were governed by such high conceptions of their duties as citizens and responsibilities as legislators, that they were to cast their votes in the Senatorial election for a San Francisco saloon keeper, on the ground that he is a "good fellow" and had "spent money liberally for the party." This of itself made the defeat of Perkins impossible.

The anti-Perkins forces were also handicapped by the fact that they had no candidate. The machine had been craftily booming Perkins for years; the reformers had boomed n.o.body[19]. They were, then, without material for a positive fight; all they could do was negative, which is always confession of weakness. In addition, aside from the Bulletin, there was no San Francisco publication that could be counted upon to back their movement. The Call was openly supporting Perkins. The movement against Perkins, while it admittedly represented the att.i.tude of the majority of the electors of the State, and the feeling of a safe majority of both Houses of the Legislature, was without one element of real strength[20].

Under the United States Revised Statutes, the Legislature was called upon, to proceed on the second Tuesday after organization, to elect Senator Perkins' successor. As the Legislature had organized on January 4, the second Tuesday fell on January 12. The call for the Republican caucus to go through the form of selecting a candidate for the Senate, was circulated the third and fourth days of the session. The Republican Senators all signed it, not a few of them with the non-resistance of a wretch in the hands of a hangman.

More opposition developed in the a.s.sembly. Callan and three or four others kept up their resistance to the last, but when the caucus a.s.sembled on Friday evening, January 8, all the Republican Senators and a.s.semblymen who could do so were in attendance[21].

The caucus was of course hopelessly programmed for Perkins.

Nevertheless, the better element of the party endeavored to secure some expression from Senator Perkins as to his att.i.tude toward the Western transportation problem. This led to a heated debate which kept the caucus in session until a late hour. The debate turned on the celebrated Bristow letter.

For years, the Southern Pacific Railroad Company has been able to prevent effective water compet.i.tion by way of the Isthmus of Panama. The Government has a line of steamers running from New York to the Isthmus, and a railroad line across the Isthmus. With an additional line of steamers running from San Francisco to Panama, the Government would have a through line from San Francisco to New York. This would give genuine compet.i.tion with the Southern Pacific system, and free the State from the grasp of the transportation monopoly.

In August, 1907, Hon. J. L. Bristow, now United States Senator from Kansas, was appointed a Special Panama Railroad Commissioner, to investigate the necessity and feasibility of putting on the Pacific line. Mr. Bristow, in a report that fairly sizzled with criticism of Southern Pacific and Pacific Mail Steamship Company methods, recommended that the government line be established. When Pacific freight rates were arbitrarily raised just before the Legislature convened, shippers of the State appealed, not to Senator Perkins or to Senator Flint, but to Senator Bristow from interior Kansas, asking that he concern himself with having government steamers put on the San Francisco-Panama route.

Bristow replied that he would do what he could, that he was receiving many letters from Western shippers who favored the plan, but that the chief difficulty in the way was the opposition of the California delegation in the Senate.

This Bristow letter caused all the trouble at the Perkins caucus. The suggestion was made that Perkins owed it to the State to explain the charges brought against him by the Senator from Kansas. A resolution was accordingly introduced providing that a telegram be sent Senator Perkins calling upon him to state whether the charge made by Senator Bristow were true.

Immediately the pro-Perkins people a.s.sumed the dignified position that such a telegram would be an insult to the venerable Senator from California. n.o.body seems to have taken the trouble to state that the Bristow charges were untrue, but that the requesting of the Senator to answer them would be an insult to that dignitary was made subject of the warmest oratory. So warm was it, that the opposition to Perkins melted away like wax - or putty, if putty melts - until but five members of the caucus had the courage to vote to ask Perkins to declare himself on the transportation problem. Callan of San Francisco voted for it, so did Drew of Fresno, so did Young of Berkeley and two others. But 77 members of the caucus voted against the resolution. Senator Perkins was permitted to maintain a dignified silence on the Bristow charges. After the vote on the resolution, a.s.semblyman Callan left the caucus.

But even with the Republican caucus nomination, Perkins did not receive the entire Republican vote. In the a.s.sembly, Callan voted for Chester Rowell of Fresno, and Sackett for Thomas R. Bard of Ventura. Fifty-six of the a.s.sembly votes, however, were cast for Perkins.

In the Senate, Perkins received thirty-two votes. The thirty regular Republicans voted for him, as did Senator Bell, the Independent-Republican, and Senator Caminetti, Democrat. Senator Caminetti voted for Perkins because Caminetti regarded Perkins, as nearly as could be determined, the choice of the electors to whom Caminetti owed his election. Caminetti believes that the United States Senator should be selected by the people of the State. The nearest he could get to this was to ascertain the wishes of the people of his district. He was convinced that the people of his district wished to see Perkins re-elected. So, regardless of partisan considerations, Caminetti the Democrat voted for Perkins the Republican. Caminetti's explanation of his vote is worthy of the most careful consideration[22].

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