Lead the Horse


This week, millions in California voted in support of Governor Gavin Newsom in a recall election. California is one of 19 states that grants power to voters to recall a sitting governor, a law which was passed in 1911 as part of a wider swath of Progressive-era reforms meant to bolster direct participation in government.

A 2013 article by Glen Gendzel examines the political context of California’s early 20th century reforms, finding that the laws led to unexpected results for progressive politicians.

From the article:

“In October 1911, California voters approved the initiative, referendum, and recall amendments by a three-to-one margin. They also approved women’s suffrage, railroad regulation, workmen’s compensation, and a raft of other progressive reforms in the same election. No less than twenty-two amendments to the state constitution passed all at once. Conservatives predicted that disaster would ensue from the passage of “freak legislation” in California. Business was expected to flee the state, investors to pull out their funds, and home-seekers to look elsewhere. In fact, however, the progressive revolution of 1911 ushered in two decades of rapid growth and prosperity such as the state had not seen since the Gold Rush.

Nonetheless, there were some early indications that direct democracy might not serve the ends that Governor Johnson and the progressives originally had in mind. For example, the first successful state recall elections in 1913 and 1914, using this tool of progressive politics, removed two progressive legislators from office. In 1915, the first statewide referendum, using another progressive electoral tool, repealed a key progressive law, backed by Governor Johnson, which would have made all state elections non-partisan. The progressive legislature then passed an open primary law, which would at least encourage non-partisanship, but state party leaders forced another referendum on this law in 1916, and the voters rejected it, too. These early uses of the recall and the referendum – to expel progressive legislators and to repeal progressive electoral reforms – did not bode well for progressive hopes for direct democracy.”

Link to the text.

  • “Historical accounts of California progressivism have failed to mention L. G. Robinson and his fellow black progressives in Los Angeles.” Douglas Flamming on the politics of race in the Progressive era. Link.
  • Nathan Persily argues that the expansion of direct democracy measures across the American West was a response to the rising power of railroads and other trusts. Link. Amy Bridges and Thad Kousser assert that progressive support for direct democracy measures was more fractured, instead resulting from a political calculus based on legislative success. Link.
  • “Liberals and Democrats have gone from being regular winners in the 1980s to disproportionate losers in the 1990s.” A 2001 study by Zoltan Hajnal and Hugh Louch looks at the probabilities of being on the “winning side” in California’s statewide initiative process. Link.


Administering the Bracero Program

Alberto García is Assistant Professor of History at San Jose State University. In a recent paper, he examines how state and municipal governments determined contracting for the Bracero program, which permitted Mexican men to work as seasonal farmworkers in the US between 1942 and 1964.

From the abstract:

“This article examines how federal, state, and municipal governments administered the migrant worker selection process in the states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Michoacán during the initial phase of the Bracero Program, a bilateral initiative that allowed Mexican men to work in the United States as seasonal contract farmworkers. It argues that multiple political factors—such as the activities of groups that opposed the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional, organized labor conflicts, and the need to respond to natural disasters—influenced how officials allocated contracts, which rural workers were deemed eligible or ineligible to migrate, and which individual rural workers ultimately received contracts. The article shows that federal authorities delegated increased administrative responsibilities to state and municipal governments as the Bracero Program progressed, which in turn allowed regional and local officials to exercise considerable influence during selection periods.”

Link to the article.

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  • “In the late 19th century, Chinese and Japanese economists drew inspiration from Hamiltonianism and German State Socialism to pursue social reformist aims while managing rebellions from below. Developmentalist ideas formulated in this era formed the foundation for later revolutionary programs… Accurately historicizing these models is crucial to understanding their role in contemporary East Asian politics.” New on PW, from Ernest Ming-Tak Leung. Link.
  • “Limiting the refundability of the Child Tax Credit would reduce the potential poverty impacts dramatically.” From a forthcoming brief on the poverty impacts of proposed changes to the CTC. Link.
  • “This study provides novel evidence that the globalization of production directly reduces collective labor practices in the global South and indirectly reduces these practices through hindering skill development in industrial labor.” By Anthony Roberts. Link.
  • Javier Rodríguez, Byengseon Bae, Arline T. Geronimus, and John Bound examine how changing partisan leadership in the US affected infant health from 1915 to 2017. Link.
  • Hielke Van Doorslaer and Mattias Vermeiren investigate why expansionary measures by central banks have seen little success in meeting inflation targets. Link.
  • “We conclude that the Home Owners Loan Corporation’s redlining maps had little effect on the geographic distribution of either the HOLC’s and the Federal Housing Administration’s mortgage market activity, and that the FHA crafted and implemented its own redlining methodology prior to the HOLC.” Price Fishback, Jonathan Rose, Kenneth Snowden and Thomas Storrs on redlining. Link.
  • Sarah Hughes, Andrew Dick, and Anna Kopec on municipal takeovers in Michigan. Link.
  • “Evidence from 18th-century marriage applications in Mexico City and Cadiz reveals that migration from Spain to the New World was primarily an extension of domestic movements from rural to urban areas, not the direct result of transatlantic networks. The migratory dynamism that pervaded Spanish society fueled Spain’s fledgling urbanization in the era of commercial capitalism, as peasants increasingly moved to towns and cities, especially to Cadiz. Many of these internal migrants subsequently used the social capital and other resources that they had accumulated in Cadiz and elsewhere on the Iberian Peninsula to facilitate migration to the New World.” By Hillel Eyal. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations: editorial@jainfamilyinstitute.org

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