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Chapter I.

Breaking Ground.

Although the Reform Element had a Majority in Both Senate and Assembly, Good Bills Were Defeated, and Vicious Measures Passed - Three Reasons for This: (1) Reform Element Was Without Plan of Action, (2) Was Without Organization; (3) The Machine Was Permitted to Organize Both Senate and Assembly.

The personnel of the California Legislature of 1909, was, all things considered, better than that of any other Legislature that has assembled in California in a decade or more. There were, to be sure, in both Senate and Assembly men who were constantly on the wrong side of every question affecting the moral, political or industrial well-being of the State, but a majority of each House labored for the passage of good laws, laws which would not only silence and satisfy constituents, but prove effective and accomplish the purpose for which they had been drawn. Just as earnestly as they worked for the passage of good laws, a majority of the members of the Senate as well as a majority of the members of the Assembly opposed the passage of vicious measures, and of measures ostensibly introduced to work needed reform but drawn in such a manner as to be, from a practical standpoint, ineffective.

And yet, regardless of the purpose of this majority, the so-called "Change of Venue" [1] bill was passed, and the "Judicial Column" bill, intended to take the Judiciary out of politics, was denied passage. The infamous "Wheelan bills," aimed at the complication of the Grand jury system, went through both Houses, while the Commonwealth Club bills, drawn to simplify the methods of criminal procedure, were held up and eventually defeated. The ineffective Wright Railroad Regulation bill became a law, while the Stetson Railroad measure effective as finally amended - was rejected. The provision in the Direct Primary bill for the selection of United States Senators by State-wide vote was stricken out, and the meaningless advisory, district vote plan substituted.

Certainly, the accomplishment of the Legislature does not line with the purpose of a majority of its members. The voter is naturally asking why the majority in both Houses standing for good legislation and opposing bad, accomplished so little; how it was that a minority, at practically every turn, defeated a majority.

There were three principal reasons for this outcome.

(1) The machine, as its name indicates, is a definite organization, with recognized leaders. The anti-machine element was without organization or recognized leaders.

(2) The reform-advocating majority, except in the anti-racetrack gambling fight, was without definite plan of action. The majority was, for example, for the passage of a direct primary law that would, first, take the control of politics out of the hands of political bosses big and little, and, second, give the people of California the privilege of naming their United States Senators, a privilege already enjoyed by the people of the more progressive States of the Union. But the reform element knew little or nothing of the details of direct primary legislation.

They were equally unprepared on other reform issues. They recognized the necessity of passing an effective railroad regulation law, for example, but had little or no conception of what the provisions of the measure should be. They recognized that the criminal laws cannot be impartially enforced against rich and poor alike until the methods of criminal procedure be simplified, put on a common sense basis. But even here they had no definite policy and when told by machine claquers that the proposed reforms were revolutionary, even the most insistent of the reform element were content to let the simplifying amendments to the codes die in committees or on the files.

On the other hand, the machine element, even before a member had reached Sacramento, had their work for the session carefully outlined. This session the bulk of the machine's work was negative; that is to say, with a majority in both houses opposed to machine policies, the machine recognized the difficulties of passing bad laws except by trick - and spent the session in amending good measures into ineffectiveness, or, where they could, in preventing their passage. Down to a comma the machine leaders knew what they wanted for a direct primary law, for an anti-racetrack gambling law, for a railroad regulation law. From the hour the Legislature opened until the gavels fell at the moment of adjournment the machine element labored intelligently and constantly, and as an organized working unit, to carry its ends. There were no false plays; no waste of time or energy; every move was calculated. By persistent hammering the organized machine minority was able to wear its unorganized opponents out.[2]

(3) The third reason for the failure of the reform majority is found in the fact that the minority was permitted to organize both Senate and Assembly. In the Assembly the machine element named the Speaker without serious opposition. The Speaker named the Assembly committees. It developed at the test that the important committees of the Assembly were, generally speaking, controlled by the machine.

The Lieutenant-Governor is, under the State Constitution, presiding officer of the Senate, under the title of President of the Senate. But the Senators elect the President pro tem., who, in the absence of the President, has the same power as the President. The reform element, although in the majority, permitted the election of Senator Edward I. Wolfe as President pro tem. Wolfe was admittedly leader of the machine element in the Senate. At critical times during the session, the fact that both the President and President pro tem. of the Senate were friendly to machine interests gave the machine great advantage over its anti-machine opponents.[3]

The reform majority in the Senate made the further mistake of leaving the appointment of the Senate committees in the hands of Lieutenant-Governor Warren Porter. Governor Porter flaunts his machine affiliations; is evidently proud of his political connections; indeed, in an address delivered before the students of the University of California, Porter advised his hearers to be "performers" in politics rather than "reformers." It was not at all surprising, then, that the Senate committees were appointed, not in the interest of the reform element, but of the machine. And yet, the reform element, being in the majority, could have taken the appointment of the committees out of Porter's hands. In the concluding chapter it will be shown there is ample precedent for such a course. But the reform element let the opportunity pass, and Warren Porter named the committees. Thus in both Senate and Assembly the strategic committee positions were permitted to fall into machine hands.

The importance of this on legislation can scarcely be over-estimated. Under the system in vogue in California, the real work of a legislative session is done in committee. When a bill is introduced in either House, it is at once referred to a committee. Until the committee reports on the measure no further action can be taken. Thus a committee can prevent the passage of a bill by deliberately neglecting to report it back to the main body.

When a measure passes either Senate or Assembly, it goes to the other House, and is once again referred to a committee. Again does the fate of the bill hang on committee action. Thus, every measure before it can pass the Legislature must, in the ordinary course of legislation, pass the scrutiny of two legislative committees, either one of which may delay its passage or even deny Senate or Assembly, or both, opportunity to act upon it.

To be sure, one of the rules of the Assembly of 1909 required that all bills referred to committees should be reported back within ten days, while the Senate rules provided that committees must act on bills referred to them as soon as "practicable," with the further provision that a majority vote of the Senate could compel a report on a bill at any time. But these rules were employed to little advantage. In the Assembly, for example, the Commonwealth Club bills, referred to the Judiciary Committee on January 15, were not acted upon by the committee at all. These bills, in spite of the ten days' rule, remained in the committee sixty-seven days. The Direct primary bill was held up in the Senate Committee on Election Laws from January 8 until February 16, and at that late day came out of the committee with practically unfavorable recommendation. It was noticeable that few, if any, important reform measures were given favorable recommendation by a Senate committee. Thus the Anti-Racetrack Gambling bill, the Direct Primary bill, the Local Option bill, received the stamp of Senate committee disapproval. They were returned to the Senate with the recommendation that they do not pass. The same is largely true of the action of the Assembly Committees.[4]

If machine-controlled committees could delay action on reform measures, they could at the same time expedite the passage of bills which the machine element favored, or which had been amended to the machine's liking. Thus the Change of Venue bill, which reached the Senate on March 15, was returned from the Senate Judiciary Committee the day following, March 16, with the recommendation that it "do pass." The Wheelan bills reached the Senate on March 17, and were at once referred to the Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee that very day reported them back with favorable recommendation. Had they been delayed in the committee even 48 hours, their final passage would have been improbable.

Curiously enough, the Judiciary Committee was the one Senate committee whose members President Porter did not name. Following a time-honored custom, every attorney at law in the Senate was made a member of the committee. It so happened that ten of the nineteen lawyers in the Senate were on the side of reform as against machine policies, eight generally voted with the machine, while the nineteenth gave evidence of being in a state of chronic doubt. This gave the reform element a majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But President Porter had the naming of the chairman of the committee, and the order of the rank of its members. The Lieutenant-Governor's fine discrimination is shown by the fact that the Chairman of the Committee and the four ranking members were counted on the side of the machine.

The Assembly committees acted quite as expeditiously on measures which had passed the Senate in a form satisfactory to machine interests. Thus, the Wright Railroad Regulation bill, which reached the Assembly on March 12, was reported back to the Assembly by the Assembly Committee on Common Carriers the day following, March 13.

It will be seen that the reform majority unquestionably weakened its position by permitting the machine minority to organize the Legislature. This phase of the problem which confronts the State will be dealt with in the concluding chapter.

[1] One of the best witnesses to the viciousness of this measure is Governor Gillett, surely an unprejudiced observer. In giving his reasons for vetoing the bill, Governor Gillett said:

"I have several reasons for saying that I will veto the bill. One reason is that I have always been opposed to it. When I was in the Senate in 1897 I was against it and again in 1899 I fought it in the Judiciary Committee. Two years ago I ignored another such measure that had passed through the Legislature, so that I would not be living up to my policy of the past if I should sign this bill."

"But even if I had never had the opportunity to record my opposition on these different occasions, I should have vetoed the bill anyway, because it is a vicious bill. The bill is not a change of venue bill in the strict sense of the word. It simply gives the man on trial the right to disqualify the Judge on the ground of bias on the slightest pretext."

"The worst feature about the bill is that it grants this right to the accused after the jury has been secured. Why, if the defendant didn't like the adverse rulings of the Judge he could easily claim bias and the law would upheld his demand for another Judge. Think of how that would operate in the Calhoun trial in San Francisco. Such a law would cost the State thousands of dollars. It's vicious and I will not sign it."

[2] Most suggestively shown in the amendment of the Direct Primary bill.

[3] The seriousness of the mistake made by the reform element in acquiescing in Wolfe's election, was emphasized at the time of the deadlock in the Senate over the Direct Primary bill. The President of the Senate, Lieutenant-Governor Porter - and in his absence the President pro tem., Wolfe, - was charged with the duty of calling the Senate to order. Inasmuch as it did not suit the machine's interests that the Senate should be called to order, the Senators were obliged to sit in idleness for hours at a time, while the machine leaders and lobbyists were working openly on the floor of the Senate to force certain of the pro-primary Senators to join the machine forces. Had the President pro tem. been one of the group of Senators who were opposing the machine he would have called the Senate to order, thus permitting the regular work of the session to proceed. See Chapter 10, "Fight on Assembly Amendments."

[4] The action of the Assembly Committee on Public Morals on the Anti-Racetrack Gambling bill was a notable exception to this. See chapters 6 and 7.

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