Sunday, March 7, 2010

Opposition to the Primary Bill Develops

Chapter VIII of Part One of Political Reform in Wisconsin (1910) by Emanuel L. Philipp (see Introduction and Contents)


The administration primary election bill was introduced in the assembly by E. Ray Stevens and in the senate by George F. Miller, on Jan. 28. These men were members of the committee on privileges and elections in their respective houses and a majority of each committee was in favor of the bill as introduced. At that time there did not appear to be any doubt about the passage of the bill substantially in the form as introduced. Whatever dissent there may have been in the minds of individual legislators was merely passive; there was no organized opposition. Even the most conservative members of the two houses declined to commit themselves in a public statement, explaining that they had not been able to give the measure the consideration it required in order to inform themselves with respect to its merits or demerits. Col. Starkey reported to the Evening Wisconsin that the bill would surely pass and become a law.

The first hearing on the measure was held before a joint meeting of the committees of the two houses on Feb. 12, at which the H. C. Adams, Gov. La Follette’s dairy and food commissioner, and H. C. Taylor, Orfordville, appeared for the bill, and James G. Monahan, collector of revenue for the western Wisconsin district, appeared in opposition.

It was charged later that Mr. Monahan, a federal office holder, was the spokesman of an organized movement acting under instructions from persons "higher up." As proof of the truth of this indictment it was shown that, on Feb. 4, a circular letter had been sent out from Darlingion, Mr. Monahan’s home city, signed by George F. West and addressed to republicans who had attended the republican county convention for Lafayette county as delegates the previous year. This letter was a protest against the passage of the primary bill by Mr. West, who had been a delegate to the republican state convention in August, 1900. He explained that, as such delegate, he had not voted for a measure like the one introduced in the legislature when the platform was adopted and did not believe the republicans of Wisconsin were in favor of such a law. He asked those to whom the circular was addressed to sign a protest, for which a form was inclosed, to be sent to members of the legislature.

On February 11 The Sentinel printed a news dispatch from Madison in which reference was made to the West circular letter and it was asserted that "federal officeholders in the state are making a campaign to defeat the primary election bill." Mr. Monahan, United States District Attorney W. G. Wheeler, and Edwin D. Coe, United States pension agent, were all mentioned by name.

Mr. Wheeler’s offense was in having been seen about the corridors of the capitol building and Mr. Coe was charged with having written newspaper articles and letters in which the primary election proposition was criticised. It was intimated that "some influence was working against the bill," the inference being that United States Senators Spooner and Quarles had taken a hand in the matter and were acting through the federal officeholders.

When the hearing was held before the committees meeting in joint session, Mr. Monahan prefaced his address with a personal statement to the effect that he had not counseled with either of the senators on the primary bill. He denied that he had ever talked with Senator Quarles on the subject and had not seen or heard from that gentleman in months except once, when he received a letter from him relating to a pension matter. He had never talked with Senator Spooner on the subject but once, and that was "a few moments, months ago." He denied that there was any combination of officeholders to defeat the bill and claimed for himself the right to express his personal opinions on this or any other matter pending before the legislature.

In the face of this definite denial, the original article in which the charge was made was mailed the following day from the office of Gov. La Follette in packages containing the governor’s Ann Arbor address, H. C. Adams’ address and the speech made by Mr. Taylor of Orfordville. These packages were sent to 50,000 Wisconsin voters. Even at that early day it was an offense to mail a protest to a few delegates in Lafayette county, while it was permitted to sow circulars broadcast throughout the state accompanied by a statement the truth of which already had been challenged by a man who knew the facts, provided the circulars were designed to aid the administration. Gov. La Follette reiterated the charge against the federal officers when he wrote his Hagemeister bill veto message.

Mr. Adams’ address was the keynote speech in support of the primary bill. Mr. Adams held an appointive position under the governor, but no objection was ever filed against his activity in the campaign for the primary law. He had served as chairman of the republican state convention the previous August, and, in putting the motion to adopt the platform he had failed to call for the negative vote, declaring the motion carried unanimously after the affirmative vote had been taken. Mr. Adams also had participated in the labors of the framers of the bill and it was understood that he contributed materially to the work of unraveling some of the most perplexing tangles that confronted them. He was thoroughly familiar with the subject and was, by natural ability and careful preparation, the best man that could have been selected for the task of opening the debate.

There is probably nowhere in the literature on the subject an abler defense of the primary election theory in general and the Stevens bill in particular than the address delivered by Mr. Adams on that occasion. It was a masterly argument, consummately artful, clear, concise, forceful, and convincing. The reasons given for favoring the measure were identical with those advanced by Gov. La Follette in his published addresses and his message to the legislature--a desire to give every voter an opportunity to express his choice of candidates by a direct vote under the Australian ballot system and to take from the political machine, the political boss, the power to manipulate conventions and thereby defeat the will of the voters. Mr. Adams went over the primary bill and explained its provisions, showing how it was expected to accomplish the objects sought, and closed with an eloquent appeal to the committee--and incidentally to the members of the legislature who thronged the chamber where the hearing was held--to support the measure and write it into the statute books of the state.

Mr. Monahan attacked the bill in general and in detail. In his opinion its tendency was populistic, and not republican. Specifically he enumernated the following objections to the bill as it was framed, but he did not ask that it be changed, expressing a belief that it could not be improved, being wrong in principle:
First--The method provided for getting names upon the primary ticket would be burdensome, expensive, and calculated to retire from politics modest men who would not seek office, to "increase the activity of the boodler and professional politician, lengthen the arm of the boss, and increase the strength of every machine in the state."

Second--It would give the cities practical control of the nomination of candidates.

Third--The bill would impose a tax of approximately $150,000 upon the people of the state. "Unnecessary taxation is unjust taxation."

Fourth--Under the provisions of this bill we would abandon the system that the majority shall rule for one that minorities may govern.

Fifth--This bill takes away from the people the right to make platforms and gives the power to candidates for office.

Sixth--The provisions of the bill make it impossible to consider location or nationality in the nomination of candidates.

Seventh--The bill in principle is a long step toward the abandonment of representative government, bequeathed to us by the founders of this government, for the vagaries of populism.

Subsequent meetings were held at which speeches were made for and against the proposed law. Those appearing for the measure were James A. Frear, Hudson; L. H. Bancroft, Richland Center; F. M. Miner, Eau Claire; W. G. Corrigan, Plainfield; John Strange, Oshkosh. The speakers who opposed It were M. G. Jeffris, Janesville; Henry Fink, Milwaukee; H. H. Hayden, Eau Claire. H. W. Chynoweth of Madison closed the debate by appearing and summing up for the supporters of the bill on Feb. 26.

From the the the first opposition was manifested until Mr. Chynoweth’s address was delivered as the last word on the subject from one who personally represented the governor there had been talk of a compromise measure. It had been suggested that candidates for county offices and for the legislature be nominated at the primary and all other candidates nominated and platforms made at conventions. Another suggested measure provided for the nomination of candidates for county offices only at the primary. Still another proposal was that the primary be confined for the time being to a particular section of the state where it could be tried out, to be extended to the entire state if found to work satisfactorily. The day following Mr. Chynoweth’s address, however, the following paragraph appeared in Col. Starkey’s dispatch to the Evening Wisconsin, announcing that a damper had been put upon all compromise efforts:
All hope of a compromise is now at an end. Mr. Chynoweth boldly declared last night that Gov. La Follette was behind the bill demanding its passage as the reward of victory, and the governor is determined not to yield an iota so far as the main features of the bill are concerned.

Still another incident illustrates how an end was put to the compromise talk. The Sentinel had formally changed hands on Feb. 19, but no mention was made of the primary election bill for several days, or until Mr. Warren, the new editor, could visit Madison and talk with the governor. That visit was made on Feb. 26, the day Mr. Chynoweth appeared before the committee, and Mr. Warren called at the executive chamber and had a conference with Gov. La Follette.

Mr. Warren later related to friends the story of that meeting, but, although Gov. La Follette never deigned to deny in person the accuracy of Mr. Warren’s narrative, his friends did make such denial. Mr. Warren’s subsequent acts, however, are enough to indicate the tenor of the conversation and the outcome of the conference.

Mr. Warren went to Madison on a peaceful mission. So much is known definitely by many. He hoped to come to an understanding by which The Sentinel could support La Follette and his administration. He made no secret of his purposes. Among other things he proposed to suggest certain amendments, or modifications, of the primary election bill. The interests of the republican party as a political organization were at stake, and he hoped, as the editor of the leading republican paper of the state, to secure a respectful hearing for his views and to arrive at an understanding by which a division in the party could be avoided and the harmony that had resulted from Gov. La Follette’s nomination, but which was threatened by the exasperating circumstances attending the incubation and final hatching of the primary bill, might be saved from total wreck.

On his return to Milwaukee, Mr. Warren wrote, in a railway coach, an editorial which, although the meeting with Gov. La Follette is not mentioned, speaks plainly as to the result of that attempt on his part to arrive at an understanding. He said:
In its present form the Stevens primary election bill can not become a law because Wisconsin is a loyal republican state.

The objections to the bill, as drawn, are specifically too varied and self-evident to call for enumeration. In general terms, it may be fairly characterized as radical to a populistic degree and revolutionary in the worse sense of the word.

The obliteration of all caucusses and conventions means the temporary destruction of all party organization in Wisconsin, and that is the chief end and aim of the experimental measure.

The only logical argument in favor of the bill is that its salient features were indorsed by the republican state convention. It is an interesting coincidence that this proposed legislation should have derived its chief excuse for existence from one of the ‘corrupting conventions’ which it was designed to wipe off the face of the earth. It is not at all certain that this same convention did not extend its powers when it passed the platform which contained the pith of the Stevens bill in one of its planks. The legitimate function of a committee on resolutions is to enumerate principles and not to make laws. According to the republican platform adopted in Milwaukee on Aug. 8, 1900, by the republicans of Wisconsin in convention assembled, some such legislative enactment as the primary election bill was undoubtedly outlined and demanded. That convention, however, had not the authority to draft any specific bills or to insist on any particular scheme of individual action on legislative measures.

Conditions today must guide the legislators at Madison when they vote for or against the Stevens bill. The friends of the measure will not submit to any amendment or alteration in its provisions, nor will they consent to restrict its operations for two years to a few counties to test its efficacy.

Every senator and every assemblyman must gracefully swallow the Stevens bolus or have it forced down his throat. This is the dictum of the political iconoclasts who must rule or ruin.

These are some of the many reasons why the conservative, self-respecting republicans of Wisconsin will not dare to stain the statute books with the Stevens primary election bill.

This was the first editorial to appear in The Sentinel in which definite, unequivocal objection to the program of the governor was made. In point of fact, it may be said that this was the first editorial to appear in any paper in the state in which Gov. La Follette or his administration measure were criticised severely. As has already been said, the Daily News was supporting him loyally and advocating the passage of the primary election bill; the Evening Wisconsin was friendly to him; the Journal was not disposed to support the primary bill, but it had not printed any editorial criticisms that the governor could take exceptions to; The Sentinel had been his personal organ, doing his bidding as completely as it would were he in control of a majority of the stock of the company that owned it. And he had then been in office forty-six days. Surely this does not indicate that there was a conspiracy against Gov. La Follette on the part of the conservatives when he was inaugurated.