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Introducing Hiram Johnson

Folks, please understand one thing: The politicians, special interests, the big money boys, and the namby-pamby-fake-liberal media all fervently believe you are stupid. These elites, all with deeply entrenched vested interests in government continuing as is, maintain their stranglehold on the levers of power by manipulating, twisting, and perverting the governing process, Their worst nightmare is that common citizens will wise up, rise up, kick them in the slats, and throw them out of government.

The corrupt elites know their history and fear that it will repeat itself as when Hiram Johnson and the Progressives kicked the Southern Pacific Railroad out of state government after a 30-year reign of owning and corrupting the courts, state legislature and governor's office.

Hiram Johnson was a Republican who led the Progressive movement in early 20th century California. He served as California's governor from 1911 to 1917, ran as vice-president with Teddy Roosevelt on the Bull Moose ticket in 1912, and was U.S. Senator for 30 years. Prior to the recall hub-bub, aside from my long-time readers, there were maybe seven people in this state who knew who Hiram Johnson was. But back in the mid-90s, when the entire state legislature, down to the very last Republican and Democrat, was bought off by the electrical utility monopoly, began talking to you about Hiram Johnson and the California Progressives. They were the ones who figured out a hundred years ago there were certain sectors of our economy, such as the railroads and electrical utilities, that must be regulated in order to avert monopolistic control of the marketplace. Notwithstanding the fact that California's regulation of the electrical utilities was a system that worked nearly flawlessly for a century, our corrupt state legislature unanimously voted to deregulate the electrical utilities in 1996. California and its economy went over the cliff in large part because of the push by deregulation.

Hiram Johnson was the founding father of California's referendum, initiative and recall. He knew that big corporations and special interests had the lion's share of power in government because of their cash-and-carry influence over elected officials. Because the politicians literally were in the pockets of the influence peddlers, the people who were being gouged and ripped off by the railroads, electrical utilities, and other monopolies were defenseless in what was a rigged system. Johnson's referendum, initiative and recall process reformed government and empowered the people.

Unfair or just plain bad laws could be repealed, vetoed if you will, by the referendum. As its name implies, the initiative entitled citizens to initiate their own laws if the politicians were reluctant or refused to do so. And the recall means exactly what it says: It allows folks to “recall” an elected official from office.

I consider Johnson's reforms the Holy Trinity of direct, popular democracy. They are the fulcrum upon which citizens leverage government, tipping it over to serve the public's interests as opposed to the special interests. In the past five years, politicians, special interests, and especially the media elite have foamed at the mouth clamoring for “reforming” the reforms of the referendum and the initiative. They say it's democracy gone haywire; it's a process that “usurps” elected officials authority; and they sanctimoniously sneer that most people just aren't sophisticated enough to figure out “complex” ballot propositions. 

What they really mean to say is these democratic reforms are just too damn democratic. Now the same privileged interests are calling for reforming the recall out of existence. Everybody from Dianne Feinstein to so-called political pundits, who three weeks ago couldn't have told you who Hiram Johnson was if they're lives depended on it, now speak authoritatively on the recall. They say it was never intended to be used in a situation such as the one with Gray Davis, although Davis is without question, the most corrupt governor in California history. They deride the recall as an “insane circus.” Some commentators and politicians who know nothing about California's political history, are so arrogant and presumptive as to speak for Hiram Johnson himself. In measured, stentorian tones they assert if Johnson were alive today, he, the father of the recall, would oppose it. Oh, really.

Well, I pulled out Johnson’s 1911 inaugural speech to the state legislature. It is over 5,000 words long. I culled out his remarks on the initiative, referendum and recall. I’m not going to embellish or interpret them for you because you are smart enough to understand his words without any assistance. You'll find that Johnson is a man who says what he means — and means what he says. It is one of the most eloquent affirmations of the right of the people to govern themselves that I have ever come across.

Hiram Johnson's Inaugural, January 3, 1911

When, with your assistance, California's government shall be composed only of those who recognize one sovereign and master, the people, then is presented to us the question of, How best can we arm the people to protect themselves hereafter? If we can give to the people the means by which they may accomplish such other reforms as they desire, the means as well by which they may prevent the misuse of the power temporarily centralized in the Legislature, and an admonitory and precautionary measure which will ever be present before weak officials, and the existence of which will prevent the necessity for its use, then all that lies in our power will have been done in the direction of safeguarding the future and for the perpetuation of the theory upon which we ourselves shall conduct this government. This means for accomplishing other reforms has been designated the “initiative and the referendum,” and the precautionary measure by which a recalcitrant official can be removed is designated the “Recall.” And while I do not by any means believe the initiative, the referendum, and the recall are the panacea for all our political ills, yet they do give to the electorate the power of action when desired, and they do place in the hands of the people the means by which they may protect themselves. I recommend to you, therefore, and I most strongly urge, that the first step in our design to preserve and perpetuate popular government shall be the adoption of the initiative, the referendum, and the recall. I recognize that this must be accomplished, so far as the State is concerned, by constitutional amendment. But I hope that at the earliest possible date the amendments may be submitted to the people, and that you take the steps necessary for that purpose. I will not here go into detail as to the proposed measures. I have collected what I know many of your members have — the various constitutional amendments now in force in different states — and at a future time, if desired, the detail to be applied in this State may be taken up.

Suffice it to say, so far as the recall is concerned, did the solution of the matter rest with me, I would apply it to every official. I commend to you the proposition that, after all, the initiative and the referendum depend on our confidence in the people and in their ability to govern. The opponents of direct legislation and the recall, however they may phrase their opposition, in reality believe the people can not be trusted. On the other hand, those of us who espouse these measures do so because of our deep-rooted belief in popular government, and not only in the right of the people to govern, but in their ability to govern; and this leads us logically to the belief that if the people have the right, the ability, and the intelligence to elect, they have as well the right, ability, and intelligence to reject or to recall; and this applies with equal force to an administrative or a judicial officer. I suggest, therefore, that if you believe in the recall, and if in your wisdom you desire its adoption by the people, you make no exception in its application. It has been suggested that by immediate legislation you can make the recall applicable to counties without the necessity of constitutional amendment. If this be so, and if you believe in the adoption of this particular measure, there is no reason why the Legislature should not at once give to the counties of the State the right which we expect to accord to the whole State by virtue of constitutional amendment.

Were we to do nothing else during our terms of office than to require and compel an undivided allegiance to the State from all its servants, and then to place in the hands of the people the means by which they could continue that allegiance, with the power to legislate for themselves when they desired, we would have thus accomplished perhaps the greatest service that could be rendered our State. With public servants whose sole thought is the good of the State the prosperity of the State is assured, exaction and extortion from the people will be at an end, in every material aspect advancement will be ours, development and progress will follow as a matter of course, and popular government will be perpetuated.

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