There were many who believed that, by giving the people the right to vote directly for their candidates at a primary election the personnel of the ofticeholding class would be improved--that the state would secure better officers, men of more ability and influence. This was urged as one of the reasons why the bill should pass and become a law.
The results do not bear out this prediction. In 1903 Wisconsin held a high place in the councils of the nation, In both houses of congress Wisconsin men were found on the most important committees and no less than six chairmanships were held by members of the lower house from this state. Representative Cooper was chairman of the house committee on insular affairs; Babcock was chairman of the District of Columbia committee; Jenkins was chairman of the judiciary committee; Brown was chairman of the committee on mines and mining; Davidson of the committee on railways and canals: Minor was chairman of the committee on expenditures of the interior department.
In the upper house, Senator Spooner was chairman of the committee on rules and a member of the committee on Cuban relations, the committee on finance, and the committees on foreign relations and public health and quarantine. Senator Quarles was chairman of the census committee and a member of the committees on agriculture and fisheries, commerce, military affairs, public buildings and grounds, and the special committee on transportation and sale of meat products.
The fact that Wisconsin, one of the smaller states, standing thirteenth in population and ninth in manufactures, should be accorded six chairmanships in the lower house was a source of pride to Wisconsin republicans. With but eleven members in the house and six holding chairmanships of committees it was felt that the standing of the state at the national capital was being well cared for. And the committees headed by Wisconsin representatives were not unimportant. The judiciary, insular affairs, and District of Columbia committees were three of the most sought after positions in the house. The chairman of the judiciary committee, John J. Jenkins, stood next to the speaker of the house in power and prestige. The three remaining committee chairmanships held by Wisconsin men, railways and canals, mines and mining, and expenditures of the interior department, were none of them insignificant.
In the senate the committee on rules, then held by Senator Spooner, is the most important committee assignment that can, be given to a member of either house, and all of the other assignments held by Senator Spooner were of a high grade. Senator Quarles was the junior senator but his committee appointments were eminently satisfactory considering the time he had spent in the upper house.
Today Wisconsin holds but one chairmanship in the house. Representative James H. Davidson is chairman of the committee on railways and canals. The successor to Representative Jenkins, the late head of the judiciary committee, is Irvine L. Lenroot, who holds fourth place on the committee on ventilation and acoustics, a booby committee to which Wisconsin men have not heretofore been assigned with one or two exceptions. Mr. Cooper has lost his place on the insular affairs committee. Mr. Babcock's successor, Arthur W. Kopp, is fourth on the committee on expenditures in the state department, sixth on the committee on elections No. 1, and tenth on committee on pensions. Representative Esch, an old member, continues to hold fairly good places on the committee on interstate and foreign commerce and the committee on expenditures on public buildings, and Davidson is on the committee on rivers and harbors in addition to holding the solitary chairmanship already mentioned.
In the senate the senior senator, La Follette, holds practically the same committee appointments held by the junior senator in 1903.1
In the lower house the comparison is still more unfavorable to the state. While the present senators hold more committee assignments than did their predecessors, their labors will not be of a character to overtax their strength, as meetings of most of the committees are rarely held. in the house the number of committee assignments as well as the character of the committees to which appointments are made, indicate a loss of prestige.2
This record tells the story of Wisconsin's fall from a leading position at the national capital to one of little influence and less honor. There has been an attempt at an explanation of this unfortunate development. It is said that "Uncle Joe" Cannon "has it in" for the Wisconsin members because they chose to act independently, and refused to do his bidding.
Such an explanation is sheer nonsense. The Wisconsin members were ignored because they have ceased to represent a party. There is no political party in Wisconsin today. Each member represents an independent effort at the primary and the polls, and he goes to Washington as an individual who has been elected on a platform made by himself and presented to his constituents on the stump or in the form of private campaign literature. The names "republican" and "democrat" have no real meaning in Wisconsin today. Even the members of congress make their own platforms and stand on them, there being no conventions of party representatives to perform that duty. Each member of congress is a party by himself, and he runs for office on his own individual merits and the issues he may feel disposed to present to the people and talk about.
Is it any wonder that, when these men arrive in Washington, they are not given the best places on the committees of the two houses? Were they republicans in a republican house of representatives they could demand recognition and secure it, through party influence, against the opposition of the speaker. He would not dare to ignore ten republicans who came from a republican state, elected on the republican ticket, running on a republican platform. But he can well ignore ten individuals who made their own platforms, coming from a state where political parties have been abolished and candidates for office, instead of appealing to the voter on party principles, follow the line of least resistance and adopt the "anything to win" method of securing votes.
1. The committee assignments of the senators in 1903 and 1909 may be compared as follows:
1903--Senator Spooner, Senior senator, chairman committee on rules, member committees on Cuban relations, finance, foreign relations, public health and national quarantine (special).
1908--Senator La Follette, senior senator, chairman committee on census, and member committees on civil service and retrenchment, corporations organized in the District of Columbia, expenditures in the department of state, immigration, Indian affairs, and pensions.
1903--Senator Quarles, junior senator, chairman committee on census, and member committees on agriculture and forestry, commerce, military affairs, public buildings and grounds, transportation and sale of meat products (special).
1908--Senator Stephenson, junior senator, chairman of the committee on expenditures in the department of agriculture, and member of the committees on claims, enrolled bills, Indian depredations. industrial expositions, Pacific railroads, and public buildings and grounds.
2. Following are the assignments in 1903 and 1908, by districts:
First district, 1903--H. A. Cooper, chairman of the committee on insular affairs; 1908--H. A. Cooper, member committee on elections No. 3. and of the committee on foreign affairs.
Second district, 1903--H. C. Adams, member of committees on agriculture and expenditures in interior department; 1908--John M. Nelson, member of committees on elections No. 3, Pacific railroads, and industrial arts and expositions.
Third district, 1903--Joseph W. Babcock, chairman of committee on District of Columbia and member of committee on ways and means; 1908--Arthur W. Kopp, member of committee on expenses in state department, committee on elections No. 1, and on pensions.
Fourth district, 1903--Theobald Otjen, member of committees on foreign affairs, war claims, and Pacific railroads; 1908--William J. Cary. member committee on District of Columbia and on expenditures in navy department.
Fifth district, 1903--William H. Stafford, member committee on postoffices and postroads; 1905--William H. Stafford, member of committee on interstate and foreign commerce and committee on postoffices and postroads.
Sixth district, 1903--Charles H. Weisse (democrat), member of committees on private land claims and manufactures; 1908--Charles H. Weisse, member of committee on private land claims and invalid pensions.
Seventh district. 1903--John J. Esch, member of committee on military affairs and interstate and foreign commerce; 1908--John J. Esch, member of committees on interstate and foreign commerce and expenditures on public buildings.
Eighth district, 1903--James H. Davidson, chairman committee on railways and canals and member committee on rivers and harbors; 1908--James H. Davidson, chairman committee on railways and canals and member of committee on rivers and harbors.
Ninth district, 1903--E. S. Minor, chairman committee on expenditures in interior department, and member of committees on merchant marine and fisheries and public buildings and grounds; 1908--Gustav Kuestermann, member of committees on liquor traffic, patents, and immigration and naturalization.
Tenth district, 1903--Webster E. Brown, chairman committee on mines amid mining, and member of committee on Indian affairs; 1908--Elmer A. Morse, member of committees on war claims, manufactures, and private land claims.
Eleventh district, 1903--John J. Jenkins, chairman judiciary committee; 1908--Irvine L. Lenroot, member of committees on patents and on ventilation and acoustics.