Centennial of Initiative, Referendum, Recall, and Suffrage

Today (October 10th) marks the centennial of California’s Initiative, Referendum, Recall, and Suffrage. In a special election on this day in 1911, voters approved several ballot measures that forever changed California.

Assemblyman William C. Clark

A name that you’ve probably never heard before is that of William C. Clark. Clark served only two terms in the Assembly (1911 and 1913) but left his mark through a series of important bills.

SCA 22 (joint authored with Senator Lee C. Gates) which gave California voters the right of initiative and referendum.

SCA 23 (joint authored with Senator Lee C. Gates) which gave California voters the ability to recall statewide and legislative elected officials.


Another notable legislator was Senator Charles W. Bell, author of SCA 8, which gave women the right to vote in California nearly a decade ahead of those in the rest of the United States. In 1918, Californians would elect the first four women to the legislature.

Finally, Senator Albert Eugene Boynton and Assemblyman C. C. Young authored a bill that abolished the “party circle” and “party line” ballots and gave Californians the right to vote for the candidates of their choice on uniform secret ballots. The following session, Young became Assembly Speaker (1913-1919) which he held until he was elected Lieutenant Governor.


One last interesting historical note is that it’s easy to forget that the major changes created by these bills were not universally supported;
SCA 8 (Women’s Suffrage) was opposed by 5 Senators and 12 Assemblymembers.
SCA 23 (Recall) was opposed by 4 Senators and 10 Assemblymembers.
SCA 22 (Initiative and Referendum) was opposed by a single Senator.

Record Setting Legislative Turnover

Based on the current numbers, it appears that California may have more new legislators in 2013 than it has seen in nearly a century. There are 120 inumbent state legislators, of whom 29 will be terming out this year;

7 State Senators; Alquist, Calderon, Dutton, Harman, Kehoe, Lowenthal, Simitian

22 Assemblymembers; Beall, Calderon, Cedillo, Cook, Davis, Eng, Feuer, Fuentes, Garrick, Huffman, Jeffries, Mendoza, Brownley, Portantino, Carter, Galgiani, Hayashi, Ma, Silva, Smyth, Solorio, Swanson

Additionally, a large number are running for other offices;

Congress; At least three Senators (Blakeslee, Negrete McLeod, and Vargas) and three Assemblymembers (Hall, Hernandez, and Miller), possibly also Assemblymembers Torres and Valadao. [Source]

State Senate (Block, Fong, Monning, Perez (V.M.), Harkey, Lowenthal, Williams)

Mayor; Senator Yee (San Francisco), Assemblyman Fletcher (San Diego)

Redistricting. Finally, redistricting has impacted several seats, either changing them to favor the other party (Huber, Gorell) or placing multiple incumbents in the same district (Dickinson vs. Pan, Strickland vs. Pavley)

This brings the total number of new legislators to somewhere in the range of 40 to 50. The election of 43 new legislators would set the record for turnover going back to 1935, while reaching a total of 50 would tie for the most since 1917.

The Missing Lieutenant Governor

As anyone who visits Wikipedia can tell you, Gavin Newsom is the 49th Lieutenant Governor of California. What few people know is that the count of Lt. Governors is off by one, and that Newsom is actually Lt. Governor #50.

As we reviewed in a recent article, there have been five different ways to assume the office of Lieutenant Governor (including three which are still available today).

Arthur H. Breed, Sr.was the longest-serving President pro Tem of the California State Senate, serving 17 years from January 8, 1917 to September 15, 1934. One interesting note is that he authored the bill the created the DMV and required the licensing of automobile drivers.

During his 17 years as President pro Tem, the office of Lt. Governor became vacant on two occasions; March 15, 1917 to January 7, 1919 and June 7, 1934 to January 8, 1935. It’s important to note that Breed was not acting Lieutenant Governor for those whole periods. Because Breed was Lieutenant Governor by virtue of his being an officer of the Senate, he only served as President pro Tem during the time that the legislature was in session. This means that his total tenure as Lieutenant Governor (54 days) was broken into three short terms;

March 15 – April 27, 1917 [45 days] (between the resignation of William D. Stephens and the end of the 42nd Legislature.

January 6 – 7, 1919 [1 day] (between the start of session for the 43rd Legislature and the inauguration of C. C. Young (following his election in November 1918).

September 12 – 15, 1934 [4 days] (for the duration of the 1st Extraordinary Session of the 50th Legislature. Lt. Governor Frank F. Merriam had become Governor in January, 1934).

Together, Breed served as acting Lieutenant Governor for a total of 50 days. His service was not the only to last less than a year (seven other Lt. Governors served terms of less than 300 days) and was also not the shortest. In 1860, John G. Downey served for only 5 days before resigning to become Governor.

Interestingly, Breed has been left off the official list of Lt. Governors for nearly 90 years. Research by the JoinCalifornia.com team is continuing, and we hope to either find out why Breed was excluded or correct this omission if no reason is found.


Updated: August 27, 2011
Research uncovered a 1916 Los Angeles Times article that notes that “State Senator Arthur H. Breed… admitted to friends in this city today that he would be made president of the Senate when the forty-second session organized early next January… Senator Breed, if elected to the position he seeks, will rank as Lieutenat Governor.”

Source: “May Select Breed Head of Senate” by Direct Wire Exclusive Dispatch, Los Angeles Times (November 24, 1916), p. I4