The Progressives played a key role in the development of California’s politics. What innovations and reforms did they introduce? Have they had an overall positive or negative impact on the state? Explain why.

Progressive contributions to California’s politics are strongly associated with Hiram Johnson, especially in the 1910s. Reforms expanded the role of government on the public behalf and increased direct political participation. One key contribution was to limit the power of corporate monopolies, especially the Southern Pacific Railroad. The institution of the direct primary, popular election of US senators, and women’s suffrage were also accomplished. Progressives were generally pro-worker and pro-Union but often opposed integration and immigration.

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The Progressive era in California politics is was shaped by Hiram Johnson, who served as the state’s governor and later a US senator and was an active member of the Progressive Party.

Between his two terms as governor, which began in 1910 and 1914, Johnson was active in the national...

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The Progressive era in California politics is was shaped by Hiram Johnson, who served as the state’s governor and later a US senator and was an active member of the Progressive Party.

Between his two terms as governor, which began in 1910 and 1914, Johnson was active in the national Progressive or Bull Moose Party, serving as the vice-presidential candidate with Theodore Roosevelt for the 1912 election. The reform movement of the late nineteenth century, which was heavily focused on labor-union opposition to monopoly capitalism, gained steam under Governor Johnson.

Aiming to improve conditions for ordinary people, Progressives operated on both economic and political fronts. Curbing the powers of major corporations within the state, notably the Southern Pacific Railroad, was one major initiative. Increased direct participation in the political process was another accomplishment.

Through the Stetson-Eshelman Act, the state Railroad Commission gained the authority to establish fares and costs, formerly set by the railroad. A state Public Utility Commission was also established, which not only controlled all public utilities but asserted control over the railroad.

In regard to political participation, reforms included granting voters the ability to pass legislation or veto existing legislation via the referendum. A direct primary was also established, along with popular election of US senators. Related measures curbed the power of party bosses. During Johnson’s administration, women’s suffrage was also approved by voters.

The strong association of Progressivism with labor unions was one aspect of the significant gains for workers. A Workmen’s Compensation Act was passed in 1913. However, the preexisting racial segregation policies largely went unchallenged, with African Americans banned from many unions. Anti-immigrant and racist biases against Asian workers were also evident.

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