Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Primary Bill in the Senate

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


When the state senate convened in January, 1901, seventeen of the thirty-one republicans in that body were known to be administration men.1 Of the remaining ten republicans in that body there was not one who would have made a fight against a reasonable primary bill had one been proposed at the beginning and had the methods used to promote it been such as would command the respect of a legislator who does his own thinking.2

From this analysis it is clear that at the outset twenty-one members of the state senate were what may be called "progressives" and were inclined to favor and support a primary bill that would redeem the platform pledge to the fullest extent consistent with safety and sound judgement. For four years Senator Whitehead had led the fight for taxation reforms and aided in the enactment of other progressive legislation which will be mentioned at length under its appropriate headings. Senator Roehr had made a record on insurance and taxation legislation as well as in the perfection of the Milwaukee primary law. Both of these senators, together with Judge Orton and others in the assembly, had even been accused of radicalism, and some of their acts had been criticized as altogether too advanced and tending to approach the danger line.

Yet the conditions that developed during the first six weeks of the legislative session of 1901, already briefly outlined, made it impossible for them to cooperate with the administration that was driving the new red wagon of progress. They were willing to go forward, but they did not believe in trying to reach the end of the journey at one leap. They were willing to experiment with a primary law, but they wanted a law that would not wreck political parties and put a premium on personal politics and the organization of personal machines.

As has been explained, three of the original La Follette men were expelled from the ranks for insubordination and conduct unbecoming soldiers in the administration army--O'Neil, Kreutzer, and Riordan. The four progressives who were disposed at first to act with the administiation, Whitehead, Roehr, Gaveney, and Mosher, were early given to understand that independence of opinion would not be tolerated and they, too, were literally driven into the opposition camp. Senator Bissell was converted to opposition to the primary law by the arguments before the committee. The conservatives naturally fell in with the men who had been ejected from the administration faction and those who had been refused admittance because they could not present proper credentials, and the stalwart faction in the senate was thus made up. Eighteen stalwart votes, to which were added those of the two democrats in the senate, were counted against the primary bill when it came up in that body on April 11.

In order to establish a point of concentration for the opposition forces, Senators Hagemeister and Kreutzer each introduced a bill as a subsitute for the original primary bill No. 73S, introduced by Senator Miller. These measures were introduced on April 9, two days before the original primary bill came up for consideration, and were placed in the files as substitutes No. 1 and 2, respectively. Senator Hagemeister's bill provided for the nomination of candidates for county officers only, while the one introduced by Senator Kreutzer provided for the election of delegates to all conventions, as well as the nomination of county officers, at the primary election. The first was a crudely drawn, brief measure that could not have been made effective had it been enacted into law; the second was more carefully prepared, and, had it passed, would have given an opportunity to fairly test the primary election plan under conditions favorable to success. Senator Kreutzer had taken many of the best features from the Milwaukee caucus law and incorporated them into his bill. Other features that would have added to its strength were omitted, but, on the whole, it was a measure worthy of consideration.

When the vote was taken and the original primary bill was defeated, 20 to 13, offers on the part of the administration senators of compromise measures were made, one after another, in rapid succession, but they were rejected. The Hagemeister bill was put forward by the stalwarts and Senator Hatton offered an amendment providing for the nomination of candidates for county officers and for the legislature by direct vote. Senator Miller offered the original primary bill, with a referendum clause. Senator McGillivray offered an amendment in the form of a substitute which provided for placing the names of candidates on the primary ballot by caucuses and conventions. All were voted down without hesitation.

Senator Kreutzer then withdrew his proposed measure and offered an amendment to the Hagemeister bill in the form of a referendum clause submitting it to a vote of the people, which was carried. The Hagemeister bill was then passed by a vote of 20 to 13.

Where the administration made its mistake was in meeting all early suggestions of compromise with the statement that no material alteration or amendment to the original bill would be tolerated. That is, this was a mistake if the object sought was the enactment of a primary law at that session of the legislature. If it was the governor's purpose to play for position and secure an issue with which to go into the next campaign, the record is clear and no errors can be detected. It was the most astute political move that had ever been attempted in Wisconsin and it succeeded. The entire play was so carefully planned, so cleverly executed, and so cunningly used in the subsequent campaign that it cannot fail to excite the wondering admiration of the ordinary citizen who lacks genius in political manipulation but who approves of success at any cost and by any methods.

An excuse for rejecting the proposed amendments and modifications was found in the fact that they were not in absolute harmony with the platform pledge of the republican party. No measure less radical and revolutionary than the one proposed by the administration would redeem that pledge. But it must be remembered that the platform itself was the work of the same men--or man--who proposed to redeem it by the passage of the administration bill. Those who opposed the radical plank in the platform had not been given an opportunity to vote against it, but that did not count. The plank was in the platform and it stands today as the officially recorded expression of a republican state convention.

The stalwarts made a political mistake when they failed to pass an effective, workable substitute for the administration primary bill. The Hagemeister substitute was not such a measure. Experience in Milwaukee county and some of the larger cities of the state was entirely ignored when that bill was drawn and it was, therefore, a step backward in the evolution of the primary. Had they accepted the substitute offered by Senator Hatton when the Hagemeister bill was pending they would have "played politics" to some effect and in all probability saved the state from the experiences under the present primary law. But they were not in a frame of mind to compromise. The contest had been forced by the administration. Both sides were stripped and gloved for a finish fight; nothing short of a knockout would satisfy either.

Gov. La Follette was justified in vetoing the Hagenmeister bill. He was not justified in sending to the senate an insult in the form of a message. That message, now printed in the official journal of the senate as a permanent record, is a stump speech intended for use in political campaigns and was unworthy of a governor who was addressing representatives of the people. There had been a difference of opinion between the senate and the governor, between the legislative and executive departments, and that difference was upon a subject of legislation. The governor had a right to object to and veto a bill passed by the two houses; he had no right to scold like a fishwife because another bill, which he favored, was not enacted into law. It is not surprising, therefore, that the senate, in a resolution introduced by Senator Roehr, after quoting from the message some of the most violently abusive and demonstrably untruthful paragraphs, wrote into the official records the following protest against the outrage:3
This message, containing these statements, appears at large upon pages 1026 to 1035 of the journal of the senate. We therefore claim our privilege as senators to have it appear upon the record of our proceedings that we do not allow these statements of the governor to pass unchallenged, and that upon any view of his constitutional prerogative we deny that he is justified in thus addressing the legislature. We hold that "no sense of obligation" on the part of the governor can excuse such grave reflections upon the members of the legislature as are contained in the portions of the message above quoted.

We recognize the constitutional right of the governor freely to express his views upon the policy and validity of any legislation submitted to him for his approval but we hold that the use of such expressions as are above specifically referred to, transcend all bounds of official propriety and constitutional right.

We protest, therefore, most earnestly as members of the legislature against the aspersions cast upon our official acts, upon our personal motives, and upon our private characters by the governor in his message to the legislature.
That Gov. La Follette did not succeed in usurping the powers and constitutional prerogatives of the legislature was not his fault. The senate refused to permit him to dictate its action as a legislative body. The result was that, angered at the denial of despotic power which he craved, he wrote the message against which the senate placed upon record an official protest.

After the adjournment of the legislature the administration faction issued a "voters' handbook," in which it was charged that all offers to compromise had been rejected by the senate. This is true. It is also true that all previous offers to compromise had been rejectcd by the executive. The only difference was that the stalwarts, in their innocence and unskilled in shrewd political games of cunning and finesse, failed to put their offers of compromise on record by introducing bills.

It was at this point that the stalwarts were outgeneraled. They considered only the business before them and failed to make a record of their position to he used in their defense before the people in the campaign that followed. They were, most of them, experienced legislators, but they were not masters of the political game. Furthermore, they regarded Gov. La Follette as a republican and did not foresee the bitter fight within the party that was to follow. La Follette had the advantage as he no doubt had his course mapped out at that time.

The stalwarts proposed one amendment after another, but they did not make an official record of that fact. The administration men, on the other hand, when they found their bill was doomed and knowing that, in their present state of exasperation, the stalwarts would not consent to forego the advantage of superior numbers and permit the radicals to pass even a compromise bill, went after a record and they got it. They introduced amendment after amendment only to see them defeated--they were introduced for the purpose of having them defeated. They had no intention of passing them. They did not wish to pass them. Their record play was made in one evening after the close of the debate in which the only question discussed was the one of passing the original assembly bill.



1. They were: Senators Anson, Bissell, Burns, Fearne, Hatton, Knudson, Kreutzer, McGillivray, Martin, Miller, Mills, Munson, O'Niel, Riordan, Stebbins, Stout and Wolff. Senators Whitehead and Roehr already had made records as "progressives" that would have led any forecaster who judged by past performances--to use a sporting term--to place them in the same ranks. Senators Gaveney and Mosher, both new members, were progressives also and would, under normal conditions, have acted with the administration.

2. Their names were: Senators Green, Devoes, Eaton, Hagemeister, Harris, Jones, McDonough, Reynolds, Morse and Willy. Senators Jacobs and Weed were the democratic members of that house.

3. It was just such emergencies as this that President George Washington had in mind when he wrote the paragraph quoted below into his farewell address. At the close of his official career, after an experience of two terms in the office of chief executive of a nation of self governing people, the first president saw clearly to what length the lust of power would at times lead ambitious men, and he pointed out the necessity of keeping all public officers strictly within constitutional bounds. His words were not written to apply to a special case. They were a general statement of a principle of government that must be observed if this nation is to remain free and independent. He said:
It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those intrusted with the administration to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power and proneness to abuse it which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing it and distributing it into different depositories, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern, some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly over-balance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any the yield.