Original Document
Original Document
James Maurer, "Rubber Stamp Legislators," 1938.


When I first went to the legislature I really thought that each assemblyman stood on his own feet and was independent enough to use his own mind. Of course I knew there were certain party measures which good party men were expected to support, but I was so naive as to suppose that when the Republican whip cracked the Democrats lined up solidly on the other side. I quickly learned that a few men in each house, with the governor, ran the legislative machine, and that the rest, with a handful of notable exceptions, were merely figureheads.

As a rule the machine ran smoothly, but like every machine it sometimes slipped a cog, broke down, or ran wild, and then no one could tell what might happen. On such rare occasions senators would dash over from the other chamber to bring the unruly assemblymen from their districts into line if possible; the governor's lieutenants would get busy; recesses were taken and confusion prevailed until the machine was repaired. Sometimes, however, the damage done while it was running wild was beyond repair.

It didn't take me long to learn that it was a waste of time to attempt to persuade individual members to vote for your bill. To get it passed you first had to see the governor and line him up for it; then you went after the big boss in each house; if you got them too your bill would pass, otherwise it died in committee or was slaughtered an the floor.

There was another way to get results, but it was a long shot. That was to sabotage the machine, make trouble, bust the works wide open. In the excitement that followed your bill might slip through. To bust the machine, however, is not a simple matter. It takes days or weeks of planning, and yet it sometimes just happens. On one occasion in 1915 we had the machine so badly damaged that it took thirteen hours to repair it, and then it was repaired on our terms.

A man or woman aspiring to public office must run the gauntlet of many temptations. Bribery is one, and while honest persons can resist direct bribery, few can resist cajolery, flattery, good dinners, social honors, promises of highly-paid political jabs, and the like. Force may be resorted to if other means fail, nor are threats to have relatives discharged from their positions overlooked. I have known of men holding good railroad jobs coming to the capital and begging assemblymen to whom they were related to vote for what the railroad lobby wanted, because they had been threatened with discharge if the lobby was defeated.

Several cases of a well-meaning assemblyman being tricked into joining "a little party" came to my notice. Wine, women, and the next day proof of a photograph of the member with a woman in his arms-that explained why he afterward stood without hitching.

On the other hand, I knew assemblymen who boasted that they hadn't read a single bill during the entire session, yet they voted on many of them; they might have been voting a rope around their necks for all they knew. Others watched their party floor leader and voted as he did; a phonograph would have done as well and would have been a lot cheaper. Very few of the legislators were good speakers, particularly the senators.


My initial experience as a lawmaker was a disillusionment to me. What hurt most was the disrespect of my fellow lawmakers for the law. There were 207 in the assembly, a majority of wham, 104, were required by the constitution to pass a bill. Yet I saw bills which the Penrose organization favored passed during the closing days of the session when there were only 87 members present, the clerk blandly announcing that 111 had voted aye and 48 nay. One bill affecting Pittsburgh and vicinity, which we understood was apposed by the people of Allegheny County, was "passed, 158 to. 15," when a count by three of us showed only 79 members present. Men were recorded as voting for such bills when in fact they were at home hundreds of miles away.

Bills were defeated in the same way. A resolution by Representative Baldwin of Beaver County, in favor of electing United States Senators by direct vote, was denied a roll call and an a rising vote was declared defeated by the speaker, although we counted a safe margin for it. This outrage caused a riot on the floor and while no. blood was shed, things looked threatening for a time. Representative Clyde Kelley's resolution for a constitutional amendment providing for the initiative, referendum, and recall met the same fate.

Some assemblymen who were lawyers were "retained" by railroad corporations and other industrial and financial interests. That may not be bribery, but the effect is the same.

The last night, May 24, we were in session until nearly five in the morning. To same it may have seemed a night of frolic, but to me it was a nightmare. The madhouse began when the legislators started throwing paper balls at each other, the balls being made from the legislative calendars; when the paper from them was used up the heavy covers were flung about. Other members threw rubber cuspidor mats, books, and anything else that came to hand. Some of the real cut-ups filled rubber balls with water and squirted it over each other. One representative emptied a cuspidor down another's back. Several received slight wounds and the chief clerk nearly lost an eye. Whiskey was plentiful and by midnight a number of the members were reeling about, some in silly clothes.

This disgraceful conduct wasn't indulged in by all the members; more than half looked on with the same feeling that I did. Most of these had left by one o'clock and then bills began to be "passed" with less than a quorum present. Some of the Solons had to be roused out of a drunken slumber to mumble an "Aye!"

In 1914 I was again elected to the legislature and was active along similar lines. During my time as a lawmaker I introduced and fought for a great number of bills and resolutions, among the most important of which were the following:
To provide compensation to victims of industrial accidents; to provide pensions for widows, deserted wives, and orphans; for the aged; and for the blind.

To require physicians to report cases of certain occupational diseases; to guard the health of workers in bituminous coal mines; the same for caisson and tunnel workers; to increase the number of state factory inspectors;
To assure one day's rest in seven for employees in certain occupations;

To make it definitely lawful for men and women to organize and carry out collective action for any purpose which would not be unlawful if undertaken by an individual;
To repeal the trespass law as applied to coal fields;

To provide for a study on the question of legal minimum wages for women and minors;
To repeal the gunners' license law; to legalize fishing on Sunday;
To grant home rule to third-class cities;
To propose constitutional amendments providing for the initiative and referendum and for recall of public officials;
To petition Congress to prohibit the selling of foodstuffs or the granting of loans or credits to warring nations.

Of course I gave whole-hearted support to numerous social and labor measures introduced by other members, and often cooperated with others in passing, defeating, or amending bills reported out for final passage.

Credit: James Maurer, It Can Be Done: The Autobiography of James Hudson Maurer (New York: Rand School, 1938), 155-59.
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