His name in vain

About the first thing one sees when entering the north entrance of the Capitol building is the withering gaze of Hiram Johnson, former governor and kick-ass progressive reformer. Wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a conservative dark suit, he looks more preacher than Bull Moose Party firebrand.

He grew up in the shadow of a corrupt politician: his father. Johnson’s father was caught adding names of nonexistent people to the voter list. But Johnson took the high road and helped prosecute political corruption, and he was elected governor in 1910. Once in, he carried out his promise to put an end to the influence of the railroads. He also instituted eight-hour workdays for women and strong guidelines for child labor.

Looking at his pale image in the painting, I’d imagine he would flush and fluster if he knew he was being promoted now for political reasons. Johnson undoubtedly would look alarmed if he knew he was being summoned up today by a faux reformer. You see, the man who kicked the corrupt influence of the railroad robber barons out of state government is now having his good name sullied by the present governor, who is calling himself a similar reformer but acting completely differently.

Schwarzenegger claimed to support political reform like Johnson did, and he used the broom prop to symbolize sweeping big-money interests out of Sacramento, but he actually has taken in millions of dollars from big business and special interests (see “I coulda been a reformer!”) while establishing numerous committees to move huge sums of money around. Hardly what Johnson would do.

Johnson went on to partner up with Teddy Roosevelt as his vice-presidential candidate in the Progressive, or Bull Moose, Party. Perhaps what we need now to quash the obscene amount of money filtering into the governor’s office is someone with a big stick.