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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 Assembly Were Forced to Take Snap Judgment on Hundreds of Measures - In the Confusion Thus Created, Good Bills Were Defeated and Bad Ones Passed.

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 Assembly 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, pass 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 passage of good measures. Having crafty leaders in both Senate and Assembly, 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 passed 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 passed 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 Assembly were left in idleness during the first two months of the session. Such is by no means the case; Senators and Assemblymen 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 passing comparatively unimportant Senate bills, and the Assembly working as hard passing Assembly bills; but the Senate passed very few Assembly bills and the Assembly very few Senate bills. As a measure must pass 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 passed in one house or the other, but pitifully few passed 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 passed the Senate began to complain that they could not get the measures out of the Assembly committee; Assemblymen whose measures had passed the Assembly 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 Assembly: "If Senate committees will not act on Assembly bills, then the Assembly committees will not act on Senate bills." The Senate made the same threats as to Assembly bills. So, for about a week, Senate committees openly slighted Assembly bills, while Assembly 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 Assembly bills which had passed the Assembly were being held in Senate committees, while the Senate bills which had passed the Senate, were apparently anchored in Assembly committees, and that the machine controlled the committees. The reform members of each House had good cause for alarm. Every Senator and Assemblyman has his "pet" measures. The reform Senators and Assemblymen found that to get their bills out of committees they would have to treat with the machine. Such a Senator or Assemblyman, with his constituents clamoring for the passage 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 passing more than 100 bills a day. There was little pretense of reading the measures as required by the State Constitution. The clerk at the desk mumbled over their titles; they were voted upon and became laws. In the rush to get through, as will be shown by example in other chapters, Senators and Assemblymen 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 passed in such a situation, bills which the machine opposed could not be[17]. Machine-opposed measures were either held up in committees until their passage was out of the question, or they were denied consideration in Senate or Assembly, or their advocates worn out by the tactics of the machine leaders. Senate Bill 220, which removed the party circle from the election ballot, passed in the Senate after a bitter contest, was held up in the Assembly 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 passed the Senate, was held up in the Assembly until the day before adjournment, when it was denied passage. This bill was introduced in the Senate on January 12. So popular was it, such was the demand for its passage, 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 Assembly 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 passage 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 pass, 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 Assembly, that were the Ten Commandments to be adopted by the Assembly, the Senate would find some excuse for amending them.

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

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