During the early 1900s, the state of Wisconsin had a governor named Robert La Follette became the nation’s first progressive governor. La Follette got a lot done while he was governor including helping destroy a political machine which took control away from lumber and railroad trusts. He ended up regulating public utilities by instituting public utilities commissions that created legislation for worker’s safety, railroads, and regulations for public utilities.
Additionally, La Follette pressured the legislature to institute an election that is open to all voters in the party. This was the part of the beginning of the implementation of the direct primary. Also in terms of electoral reforms in his state, he introduced the initiative, referendum, and the recall. The initiative would allow citizens to directly introduce a bill to be passed into law. A referendum allowed voters to cast ballots for or against proposed laws. A recall gave citizens the right to remove elected officials from office. Lastly when it comes to notable electoral reforms in Wisconsin, the enactment of the direct election of senators. This was a top priority of progressives of the time and was enacted to counter the senate’s corruption and control by big trusts. It allowed for citizens directly elect their senators in the state legislature. A similar measure was ratified into the national constitution as the 17th amendment later in 1913.
Other notable reforms in Wisconsin included the replacement of the spoils system, a system that allowed the successful political party to give public office positions to supporters, with a state civil service system. Additionally, the state adopted the state income tax, which became the first state to do so.
Other states later followed Wisconsin’s measures. California’s Republican governor, Hiram Johnson, had broken the Southern Pacific Railroad’s grip on his state. New York’s governor, Charles Evans Hughes, had been an investigator of malpractice by gas and insurance companies and the coal trusts. Lastly, New Jersey’s governor Woodrow Wilson would also turn his state into one of the nation’s most liberal and progressive states.
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