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Chapter III.

Organization of the Assembly.

Independent Movement to Resist the Machine's Program Failed - Reform Element Rallied and Rejected Rules Prepared by Committee Appointed by Stanton, Which Would Have Placed Majority at Mercy of the Machine-Controlled Minority.

The machine-free members of the Lower House at least did better than the reformers in the Senate; they made an attempt to organize the Assembly independent of the machine. The effort was, however, as uncertain as that of a nestling taking its first lesson in flying. Nothing came of the venture; but it indicates what may be done in future.

The organization of the Assembly hinges on the election of the Speaker. The machine ordinarily picks the Speaker before the November elections, so his election need not stir up any particular enthusiasm. But there is always something of a contest started - for the sake of appearances, probably.

This year the machine had picked Phil Stanton, of Los Angeles, for the job, but Bob Beardslee, of Stockton, was permitted to give Stanton "a run."

The San Francisco newspapers along in November and December recorded the political ripple of the contest, but the fight was a dead affair, and nobody enthused. The play came to a tame ending when Beardslee nominated Stanton for the Speaker's job and got the Chairmanship of the important Committee on Ways and Means for being good, or taking program, however one may view it.

But at one time a real fight for the Speakership threatened. Assemblyman Drew, of Fresno, and other stanch anti-machine men, conceived the radical notion that it was idiotic for them to sit around like lambs waiting to have their throats cut, while the machine organized the House. They accordingly decided to take a hand in the organization of the Assembly themselves by refusing to vote for any man for Speaker who was known to be under the influence of the machine.

Forty-one votes are required to elect the Speaker. The reformers figured on the nineteen Democratic members as with them. The Lincoln-Roosevelt League had elected Assemblymen from several counties, including Alameda. These were naturally counted on. Other reputable Republican members were expected to join the movement in numbers sufficient to secure the necessary forty-one votes.

The purpose of the leaders of this departure from the regular rules of the political game should have commended itself to every good citizen. Their idea was to organize the Assembly, not for self-advancement, or the promotion of special privileges as the machine leaders do year after year, but that good bills might be passed and bad bills defeated; that the waste of the public funds might be stopped; that worthy citizenship might be placed above predatory partisanship. And yet, they were compelled to proceed with the utmost caution; were discouraged at every turn, and abused like pickpockets, even by those upon whom they depended for support. Gradually it dawned upon them that not a few of the Democratic members were not in sympathy with reform legislation. But more discouraging still was the fact that certain Republicans elected to the Assembly by the Lincoln-Roosevelt faction of the party were as little to be depended upon. By consulting the tables "B" and "C" of Assembly votes in the appendix, it will be seen that Democrats like Baxter, Collum, Hopkins, O'Neil and Wheelan, and Lincoln-Roosevelt Republicans like Mott, Pulcifer and Feeley, as a general thing voted with the machine Republicans. There were, to be sure, Democrats like Gillis, Johnson of Placer, Juilliard, Maher, Mendenhall, Polsley, Preston, Wilson, Odom and Stuckenbruck, who were against the machine on every issue, but the record shows the utter foolishness of regarding either party free of machine influences. Without being able to understand just how it was, Mr. Drew and his associates failed to secure the encouragement for their independent movement which they expected. The stealthy move upon the Speaker's chair was found in some unaccountable way to be blocked. Then some cautious soul suggested that if they should fail the machine would hold up the appropriation bills of those identified with the movement. That settled it. The attempt to elect as Speaker some member free of machine influence ended right there. The reformers skurried for cover.

The part which the appropriation bills play in the enactment of bad laws is one of the least understood of a legislative session. Each session money must be appropriated by legislative enactment for the maintenance and enlargement, where necessary, of the various State institutions, such as hospitals for the insane, reform schools, normal schools, and the like. These institutions are not local at all, but State. But the Senators and Assemblymen from the counties in which they are situated are, by custom, charged with the responsibility of securing the appropriations necessary for their support. The San Jose Normal School, for example, and the Agnew Asylum for the Insane, are situated in Santa Clara County. They are no more Santa Clara County institutions than they are Del Norte or San Diego institutions, but the Senators and Assemblymen from Santa Clara County are held responsible for the passage of the appropriation bills affecting them. Too often, the ability of the Assemblyman or Senator is measured, not by his real work in the Legislature, but by the size of the appropriations which he manages to secure for his district. Under the present system by which the machine organizes the Legislature, it is in a position to defeat or materially reduce practically any appropriation bill. The member of the Legislature who would oppose the machine thus finds himself between the constituents at home, who demand that he secure generous appropriations for his district, and the machine, which he understands very well requires support of its policies as one of the prices of the constituent-demanded appropriations. Thus those who would have opposed the machine in the organization of the Assembly realized that failure would probably mean a hammering of their appropriation bills, which would result in their political undoing at home. So the independent movement to organize the Assembly came to a sorry ending.

Stanton was elected Speaker without opposition. The "defeated" Beardslee placed him in nomination. Complete harmony prevailed. Stanton started proceedings by appointing the Committee on Rules. This committee was charged with drafting rules for the government of the Assembly during the session. It was made up of Assemblymen Johnston of Contra Costa, Transue, Johnson of Sacramento, Beardslee and Stanton.

Without the people knowing much about what is going on, the rules governing legislative bodies are being amended from time to time, so that the power of influencing legislation is being taken out of the hands of the duly elected representatives of the people and placed with presiding officers and important committees. The "system," or the machine, call it what you may, finds it easier to control presiding officers and committees appointed by presiding officers, than to control Legislatures. This stealthy advance upon the liberties of the people, seems to have reached its climax at Washington, where the independent members of both parties are in open revolt against "Cannonism." But "Cannonism" is not confined to the National Congress alone; in a small way it has its hold on the California Legislature. The rules prepared by Speaker Stanton's committee were well calculated to give "Cannonism" a stronger hold in California, which would have influenced not only the session of 1909 but, as a precedent, many sessions to come.[11] The proposed rules in saddling "Cannonism" upon the Assembly were well calculated to strengthen the machine's grip upon the Legislature.

The departure from the rules of 1907 was most radical. Under the rules that governed the Assembly in 1907, committees were required to report on each bill referred to them within ten days after the measure had been submitted.

The rules proposed by the committee provided that the report should be made as soon as "practicable."

The rules of 1907 provided that a mere majority could recall a bill from committee.

Under the proposed rules a two-thirds vote would have been necessary.

Under the rules of 1907 a measure could be advanced on the files at the request of its author.

Under the committee's rules unanimous consent of the Assembly was made necessary for such advancement.

The proposed rules would have enabled the machine forces to smother in committee any measure the machine wished to defeat. A two-thirds vote would have been necessary to suspend the rules to have a bill recalled from committee, that is to say, the votes of fifty-four Assemblymen. Twenty-seven Assemblymen could then have held the measure in committee until the session closed.

Had the committee-prepared rules been adopted, the probabilities are that the battleground of the session would have been transferred from the Senate Chamber to the Assembly.

But the proposed rules were not adopted. A fight against adopting the committee's report was started by Drew of Fresno. Mr. Drew introduced a resolution rejecting the rules submitted by the committee, and substituting the rules of 1907, to govern the session of 1909. Johnson of Sacramento led the defense that rallied to the committee's report. But Johnson's wit failed against the argument which Drew, Callan, Preston, Young and Cattell offered. The gentlemen denounced the rules which the committee had offered as "vicious, despotic and gagging." Drew's resolution was adopted by a vote of 41 to 32, the committee's report rejected and the rules of 1907 accepted for the session of 1909[12]. It was a decided victory for the anti-machine forces, and brought gloom to the scheming machine leaders. But it developed later that not a few who had voted for the Drew resolution were safely machine; while many who had voted against it were anti-machine, but had voted against the resolution under misapprehension of just what it stood for[13].

Although the reform majority in the Assembly could prevent the adoption of the "gag rules," it could not, after it had failed to elect the Speaker, govern the appointment of the committees. By and large, the Assembly committees were controlled as were the Senate committees by machine standbys. The Election Laws Committee, which was to pass upon the Direct Primary bill, was safely in machine hands. Grove L. Johnson, as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, herded the young lawyers thereon like so many sheep. Johnson was in effect the committee.

The Committee on Corporations and the Committee on Common Carriers, before which railroad regulation bills might come, were safely in majority for the machine.

One apparent exception to the rule was the Committee on Public Morals, which gave the Anti-Gambling bill its start toward passage. But this committee, which did so much to secure the passage of the Anti-Gambling bill, held up the Local Option bill at Speaker Stanton's request, until the last week of the session, thus making its passage in the Assembly impossible.

A curious mistake was made by the machine, when Telfer of San Jose was made Chairman of the Committee on Contingent Expenses. Telfer is not only anti-machine, but possessed of a non-political honesty which proved very distressing to the machine before the session was over.

Telfer as Chairman of the committee refused to "O. K." extravagant charges for the materials furnished the Assembly. As a result, bills for hire of typewriters had to be reduced, pencils counted and other astonishing reductions made.

Telfer saved the State several hundred dollars, but caused many a heartache. Telfer's appointment to a committee which he made important, shows that the machine element as well as the anti-machine sometimes makes mistakes. But in spite of its minor mistakes, in spite of the anti-machine majority, so admirably did the machine organize the Assembly for its purposes, that in the closing days of the session not only were vicious measures passed without much difficulty, but the Assembly was made the graveyard of good bills[14].

[11] If ever the People of California secure control of the State Legislature through machine-free representatives with the courage to dare and the ability to do, one of the most important pieces of work will be to sweep aside the mass of precedent which the machine has for years been gradually embodying into the rules of Senate and Assembly. What is needed is a set of rules that shall promote the expression of the wishes of the majority. The curse of technicality does not hamper the Judiciary alone; it hampers the legislative branch of government as well. Note Wolfe's ability to deadlock the Senate after the Assembly Amendments to the Direct Primary bill had been rejected. Chapter XI.

[12] The vote by which this was done was as follows:

For the Drew resolution and against the committee rules: Assemblymen Black, Bohnett, Callan, Cattell, Cogswell, Collum, Costar, Cronin, Drew, Flint, Gibbons, Hammon, Hanlon, Hayes, Hewitt, Hinkle, Hopkins, Irwin, Johnson of Placer, Juilliard, Lightner, Maher, Melrose, Mendenhall, Odom, Otis, O'Neil, Polsley, Preston, Rech, Rutherford, Sackett, Silver, Stuckenbruck, Telfer, Wagner, Webber, Wheelan, Whitney, Wilson and Young. - 41.

Against the Drew resolution and for the committee rules: Assemblymen Barndollar, Beardslee, Beban, Coghlan, Collier, Cullen, Dean, Feeley, Flavelle, Fleisher, Gerdes, Greer, Griffiths, Hans, Hawk, Holmquist, Johnson of Sacramento, Johnson of San Diego, Johnston, Leeds, Macauley, McClelland, McManus, Moore, Mott, Nelson, Perine, Pugh, Pulcifer, Schmitt, Stanton, Transue - 32.

[13] A gentleman who for a number of years has been identified with the reform element in the Assembly, writes of this feature of the machine's hold on the Legislature as follows: "One of the principal difficulties with the Legislature as it is now constituted and has been for many years past, is that the machine or organization always endeavors to secure the election of young men who haven't very fixed opinions and who are easily influenced; not knowing the machine tactics and the real object behind the legislation they do not seem to see the necessity for standing firm and for that reason are often led into voting for or against measures which they would not were they more familiar with the tricks of the machine men. A new grist of legislators is what the organization is always looking for. They want a certain number of old "stand-bys" who will do their dirty work for a mere pittance or some paltry reward, real or anticipated, and with these men to influence and control the younger members their purpose is easily, accomplished."

[14] See Passage of Wheelan Bills, chapter XVII; Passage of Change of Venue bill, chapter XVI. Examples of good bills defeated in the Assembly in the closing days of the session were the Judicial Column bill, and the Holohan measure removing the party circle from the election ballot.

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