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Two Years in Oregon By Wallis Nash Characters: 19894

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The Legislative Assembly-?The Governor-?His duties-?Payment of the members-?Aspect of the city; the Legislature in session-?The lobbyist -?How bills pass-?How bills do not pass-?Questions of the day-?Common carriers-?Woman's suffrage-?Some of the acts of 1878-?Judicial system of the State-?Taxes-?Assessments-?County officers-?The justice of the peace-?Quick work.

The Legislative Assembly of the State of Oregon meets for a session of forty days once in every two years, at Salem, the capital of the State.

The Assembly consists of a Senate of thirty members and a House of Representatives of sixty members. Senators are elected for four years and Representatives for two years; but half the whole number of Senators go out of office every two years, so that at every biennial election the whole number of Representatives and half the whole number of Senators are chosen.

The proportion of Senators and Representatives pertaining to any county may be varied after each United States or State census, in accordance with the results of that census, as showing the number of white inhabitants in the county or district and their proportion to the total white population of the State.

The executive power of the State rests in the Governor, who is chosen by the white voters in the State every four years. His duties are various and important. They are defined by the Constitution as follows: He is commander-in-chief of the military and naval forces of the State, which forces he may call out to suppress insurrection or to repel invasion. He must take care that the laws be faithfully executed. He must inform the Legislative Assembly as to the condition of the State, and recommend such measures as he deems expedient. He may, on extraordinary occasions, convene the Legislative Assembly by proclamation, and must state to both Houses, when assembled, the purpose for which they are convened. He must transact all necessary business with the officers of government, and may require information in writing from the officers of the administrative and military departments upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices. He has power to grant reprieves, commutations of sentences, and pardons for all offenses except treason-this last offense being under the direct control of the Legislative Assembly. He has power to remit fines and forfeitures-subject in all these cases to his reporting to the Legislative Assembly his exercise of such powers, and his reasons therefor. He must sign all bills, and has the power of veto. The Houses of the Legislative Assembly may, on recommittal, pass bills over such veto by votes of two thirds of members present. He has power to fill vacancies occurring in any State office during the recess of the Legislative Assembly. He must issue writs of election to fill vacancies occurring in the Legislative Assembly, and all commissions must issue in the name of the State, signed by the Governor, sealed with the seal of the State, and attested by the Secretary of State.

In case of vacancy in the office of Governor the Secretary of State has to discharge his duties till the next election-time comes round.

Oregon manifests a good deal of pride in her various Governors; the portraits of several of them adorn the Capitol building.

THE LEGISLATURE.Members of the Legislature receive pay at the rate of three dollars a day during the session. The President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives receive five dollars a day. In addition, they all get mileage for their journeys to and from Salem.

During the session of the Legislature the capital city is crowded and busy; a strong and intelligent interest is shown in the meetings of this miniature Congress, all of which are open to the public.

The preservation of order, of course, depends largely on the character and influence of the presiding officers; but the members of both Houses appeared to me remarkably amenable to discipline. The debates in the Senate were generally decorous, even to dullness; the House presented a more lively scene, a good many members being sometimes on their feet at once.

The great faults appeared to an outsider to be the tendency to make very unnecessary speeches, and the constant calling for divisions, by name, on the most trivial points. Thus, much time was wasted.

The objectionable feature was the presence of a numerous "lobby." The persons constituting this institution made themselves seen and heard in season and out of season; no man or corporation having any bill to promote could leave it to the uninfluenced consideration of the members, but sent to Salem paid retainers, to attend the sittings, to haunt the members, to study their proclivities and intentions, and to get together and cement such alliances as should secure the passage of the various bills.

Bills may be introduced in either House, but may be amended or rejected in the other; save only that bills for raising revenue must be introduced in the House of Representatives.

It becomes a matter for grave consideration in which House a bill should be introduced, as the prestige of success in one House may help to carry it through the other.

Oregon as a State voted Democratic for some years, and that party commanded a majority in the Legislature. But, prior to the last elections, namely, those held in 1880, various splits or dissensions in the Republican party, or among its managers, were got rid of, and a Republican majority in the Legislature, and the election of a Republican Representative to Congress, followed.

The first struggle when the Legislature meets is over the choice of presiding officers. The chief reason for this interest is that on the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House devolves the duty of nominating the various committees to which bills shall be referred. There are committees on finance, Federal relations, commerce, railroads, and several others. The Houses pay some respect to the report of a committee on a bill-especially if it be unanimous; but the chief province of the committees appeared to me to be to obtain possession of a bill, and then according to the private views of the committee or of a majority of its members to expedite, or hinder, and perhaps entirely prevent, its passage. And thus, again, the power or rather the influence of the presiding officers was felt.

Every kind of parliamentary tactics was practiced; no device that I ever heard of was unknown and unused by these far-Western politicians. One thing was very noticeable, namely, that the great fights of the session were over matters involving, or supposed to involve, private interests.

THE LUNATIC ASYLUM.Thus, for many years it has been the custom in Oregon for the State to let out to a physician the care of the insane, he receiving from the State so many dollars for each patient, the cost to the State being collected from the responsible relatives or from the estate of the insane person. As the population of the State increased, of course, the number of the insane grew also, till about three hundred patients were in the doctor's care.

Not a whisper was heard against the management: there was good supervision; the patients were well and wisely treated, and the percentage of cures quite up to the average of the most successful public asylums. But many persons thought the time had come to have a State asylum, with its buildings, and committee of management, and its staff. So a bill was introduced to this end; the physician who was then contracting, and for many years had contracted, with the State for the care of the insane, objected. Then rushed in the lobbyists, and every stage in the struggle was watched, and wrangled over, and schemed for, as if the whole future of the State depended on the result. In spite of the efforts of the doctor and his following, the State-asylum advocates won the day, and ultimately the bill passed.

Plans for the new asylum have since been prepared, and the building is begun. Another vast question, which divided the Legislature into two hostile camps, was whether or not the narrow-gauge railway company should carry an act giving it the use of a piece of ground at Portland, called the levée, which had been presented to that city a few years ago, but now lay practically unused. The railroad company had marked the ground for its terminal purposes; the city of Portland objected. This fight was most bitter, but ended by the country members joining in support of the bill, and carrying it over the heads of the Portland members by swinging majorities-animated largely by a spirit of resentment at the Portland members having been very active in striving to defeat a bill for preventing unfair discrimination by railroad and steamboat corporations throughout the State.

This was another of the burning questions. The transportation business of the State is now largely controlled by one great corporation, called "The Oregon Railway and Navigation Company," formed by amalgamating divers ocean and river steamboat companies, and purchasing or constructing detached lines of railroad.

The two lines of railroad running north and south up and down the Willamette Valley not being as yet absorbed, a lively competition existed so far as river and railroads ran parallel. Outside the limits of competition the corporations took it out of the people by what they thought were oppressive exactions.

Further, the headquarters of both companies being in the city of Portland, and their course of transportation carrying all the traffic of the State in and out through the Portland gate, the continuance of this state of things, and the support of the Railway and Navigation Company, became the great object of the Portland members of the Legislature, as well as of those members who were for any reason influenced by the corporations. Hence a deep-lying div

ision of interest between them and the country members.

COMMON CARRIERS.These last desired to pass the bill in question, not only to rectify existing unfairness, and to prevent the repetition of former oppressions, but as rendering more easy the task of whoever should propose to create competing lines, which might connect with or intersect those of the present companies. This end was to be gained by providing that all transportation agencies, of whatever kind, should convey, without preference in time, rates, or method of delivery, all passengers and goods presented for transit over the whole or any portion of their lines. It left the hands of all companies entirely unfettered as to what rates they should charge on fares or freights, but insisted that all traffic should be evenly and proportionately charged.

The bill was introduced in the Senate, and passed its earlier stages triumphantly. Then the corporations and the Portland merchants awoke to the possibilities of competition; stimulated also by the knowledge that the passage of the bill was desired by the promoters of the Oregon Pacific Railroad, designed to bisect the State from east to west, and to have its outport at Yaquina Bay. What an outcry arose! Every argument that could be tortured by the lobbyists into a criticism of the bill was openly and secretly brought to bear on the members. Its enemies got it referred to a hostile committee, from which it was with great difficulty recalled. Time was asked to understand a bill which consisted of but twenty-four lines. Motions for adjournment were made, and divided on again and again to waste time. But the most ridiculous scene was reached when after the debate on the third reading had virtually closed, and the final vote to determine the fate of the bill under the "previous question" was just going to be put, the President of the Senate, a stout Jewish gentleman from Portland, of German extraction, descended to the floor of the Senate to deliver a panting, incoherent tirade of abuse, not on the merits of the bill, but against the Oregon Pacific Railroad and every one connected with it; denouncing as a "lie, and a fraud of the first wather, ghentelmen," a statement made by a body of traders and farmers in the valley, and submitted by them to the United States Board of Engineers, that the grain which would seek an outlet over the proposed road would amount to six million bushels annually-which statement had been quoted by the Oregon Pacific Railroad Company in their prospectus. Shall I ever forget the look of blank amazement on the faces of the Senators while the President's five minutes lasted, and he gesticulated and foamed! However, the bill was lost by a vote of 16 to 14; one Senator having "ratted" at the last moment, to the disgust of a large body of the members of the House, who were waiting to seize the bill and carry it up-stairs into their chamber.

SOME LEGISLATIVE ACTS.Among other resolutions carried was one in favor of woman suffrage-a triumph celebrated immediately by a supper and reception given to the members of the Legislature in the Opera-House at Salem by the ladies who had been pressing forward the resolution, and advocating it in some cases by a form of lobbying which, however legitimate, I should fancy some of the members must have found it hard to resist. Heaven forbid that it should ever fall to my lot to hold opposing views and bring forward hostile argument to a group of ladies whose heads were as full of logic and sense as their faces and forms of smiles and attractiveness! To give some general idea of the scope of the State legislation, let me quote the titles of a few of the acts of the session of 1878:

"An act to amend an act entitled 'An Act to provide for the Construction of the Willamette Valley and Coast Railroad.'

"An act to promote medical science.

"An act to protect the stock-growing interests of the State of Oregon.

"An act to regulate salmon-fisheries on the waters of the Columbia River and its tributaries.

"An act to secure creditors a just division of the estates of debtors who convey to assignees for the benefit of creditors.

"An act for the support of the State University.

"An act defining the rights and fixing the liabilities of married women, and the relation between husband and wife.

"An act to authorize foreign corporations to do business and execute their corporate powers within the State of Oregon.

"An act to provide for liens for laborers, common carriers, and other persons on personal property.

"An act to prevent the spread of contagious and infectious diseases among sheep."

Before finishing this chapter I wish to add a few words on the judicial system of the State.

The judicial power of the State is vested in the Supreme Court, circuit courts, and county courts. The Supreme Court sits at Salem, to hear appeals from the circuit courts. It now consists of three judges, elected in 1880 to serve six years, four years, and three years respectively, their successors holding office for six years.

The State is divided, I believe, into five circuits, and for each a judge is elected to serve for six years.

The circuit courts have all judicial power, authority, and jurisdiction not specifically vested in any other court, and have appellate jurisdiction over the county courts.

COUNTY OFFICERS.The county court consists of the county judge, who holds office for four years, and two county commissioners. Together they transact county business, and have a jurisdiction over civil cases where not more than five hundred dollars is in issue, and over the smaller class of criminal offenses where the punishment does not extend to death or to imprisonment in the penitentiary.

The Supreme Court of the United States has a district judge presiding over a court at Portland. That court is the arena for trying all cases where one of the parties is not a citizen of the State, and also all cases in which the Federal laws and Constitution, as distinguished from the State system, are involved.

The police of the State is in the hands of the sheriffs and their deputies, the sheriff being elected by popular vote every two years. The city of Portland has a regular police force of its own. The other towns in the State appoint marshals, who perform police duties within the city limits.

The sheriffs are also tax-collectors. It should be added that the State and county revenue, as distinct from Federal revenue, is collected in one payment by an assessment of so many mills (or thousandths) in the dollar on the total amount of property of every kind owned in the State by the tax-payer. The amount on which each man has to pay is ascertained by the county assessor, in consultation with the tax-payer. No form of property is allowed to escape, but a reasonable valuation is placed on possessions of a doubtful or fluctuating nature; and exemptions are allowed for household furniture and clothes and small possessions to the extent of three hundred dollars.

The county clerks have also to stand the racket of election every two years. In Benton County we are fortunate enough to have the services of a gentleman who has been re?lected eight times. His long experience in the office makes him an absolute dictionary of information on the history of every farm in the county. He is, to my mind, an illustration of the absurdity of this election and re?lection. Every two years he has to waste a month in going over the county, spouting on every stump, to please the electors. He has had to endure several contests, evoked by the sayings, "It's well to have a change now and then," "He's been there long enough; let some one else have a show," etc. But any new-comer into his office would have to spend a year or two in getting up the very information about the county which the experienced official has at his very finger-ends. And his long enjoyment of the office is the only reason I have heard given for a change.

In the county clerk's office are kept the record-books for the county, and also the maps of the various townships, received from the chief office at Oregon City. In the record-books are copied all deeds affecting the title to land in the county. The chief effect of thus recording deeds is to give such public notice of the object of the deed that no man subsequently dealing with a fraudulent vender can he treated as an innocent purchaser without notice, to the injury of the real purchaser. All deeds affecting land have to be executed in the presence of two witnesses, and acknowledged before a county clerk or a notary public. The interest of a wife in her husband's property is carefully guarded; and, in order to give proper title, the wife has to join in conveying land to a purchaser.

In addition to the various judicial officers above described, there are the not-to-be-omitted justices of the peace. Their functions are extensive: among others, they can perform marriages, and at short notice, too. I have heard of one justice, known for his expeditious ways, before whose house a runaway couple halted on their wagon. The man shouted for the justice, who appeared. "Say, judge, can you marry us right away?" "I guess so, my son." "Well, then, let's have it." Whereupon the justice mounted the wagon-wheel, and there stood with his foot on the hub. "What's your name?" "Jehoshaphat Smith." "Well, then, wilt thou have this woman, so help you --?" "Yes." "My fee's a dollar; drive on." The justice in the city tries for assaults and drunkenness, and administers for the latter seven days in the calaboose-a hole of a place in a back alley-detention there no trifle, especially if, like a tipsy little friend of mine, he finds, on awaking with his customary headache, that his room-mate is a big countryman, very drunk, who has the reputation of "smashing everything up" when he has got what some here call "his dibs."

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