Click on an image to see a larger version.

Discussion of House Bill 445 in House Journal, 1895

Direct Legislation League of Washington campaign flyer

Direct Legislation League donation card

Joint Legislative Committee's "Review of Legislative Proceedings"

"Organization to Work for Bills," Morning Olympian, January 26, 1911

Representative Govnor Teats

Representative Hugh C. Todd

"Plan for Big Fight," Morning Olympian, February 9, 1911
House Bill 153 discussion of amendments in House Journal, 1911
"House Passes Direct Legislation Measure," Morning Olympian, February 15, 1911

Representative George Denman

Discussion of House Bill 153 in Senate Journal, 1911

Senator H.O. Fishback

Discussion of House Bill 60 in House Journal, 1911
Discussion of House Bill 60 in Senate Journal, 1911

Discussion of House Bill 62 in House Journal, 1911

"Initiative Is Put Through Senate," Tacoma Daily Ledger, March 2, 1911

"Initiative Bill Passed by House," Tacoma Daily Ledger, February 15, 1911

"Reject Initiative and Referendum," Editorial, Seattle Daily Times, November 3, 1912
"The Initiative and Referendum Amendment," Editorial, Seattle Daily Times, November 4, 1912

Representative William M. Beach

Senator H.A. Espy

Senator Ralph Nichols

House Bill 120, Sesion Laws 1915
Discussion of House Bill 120 in House Journal, 1915
"Election Bills are Given Veto," Morning Olympian, March 10, 1915
"Lister Sees Senate Pass Vetoed Bills," Morning Olympian, March 11, 1915
Letter to the Patrons of Washington, Agricultural Grange News, March 1915
"Scheme to Call Back Saloon is Hidden in Bill," Agricultural Grange News, March 1915
"Olympia Notes," Agricultural Grange News, April 1915

Cartoon lampooning House Bill 120, Agricultural Grange News, May 1915

"Vote and Work Against all Referendum Measures and Constitutional Amendment," Grange News, Oct. 1916

Senator Ken Jacobsen

Initiative, Recall and Referendum Amendment


A rising tide of discontent with economic and political conditions in the early 1890s gave rise to national and local populist movements. Tensions stemming from rapid industrialization, the growth and influence of corporations and other developments, with a growing mistrust of the two mainstream political parties, led to the formation of an alternative party in 1892, the People’s Party. In Washington State, populists rallied around such issues as government ownership of railroads and communications systems, land reform, a graduated income tax, “free silver,” civil service reform of government employment, and other labor reforms. Nine populists were sent to the State Legislature on the People’s Party ticket in 1893; the next session, as a steep economic recession rocked the nation, twenty-one populist representatives were sent to the House and three to the Senate. Populist member L.E. Rader from Pierce County introduced the first resolution to amend the Constitution to include the provision for the initiative and referendum that session. It was “indefinitely postponed,” but not forgotten.

The initiative and referendum were part of a reform program widely discussed across the nation. “Direct Democracy” was sometimes seen as a panacea for all the ills which troubled reformers. They trusted “the people” to set the nation on its rightful course when they had given up on what they saw as hopelessly corrupt state legislatures. South Dakota was the first state to adopt direct legislation, followed by Oregon in 1902. The Oregon example was widely touted in Washington through a shared newspaper distributed by the State Grange. Grangers were primed to support just such a grass-root approach and took an early lead in promoting this new political tool.

The Klondike Gold Rush helped pull the country out of recession, but other issues still troubled many in the state. In 1907, the State Grange worked with labor interests to shower the Legislature with petitions favoring the initiative and referendum reform. Again a bill was introduced; it passed the House, but failed in the Senate. It was said to be opposed by corporate powers, especially the “liquor trust” which feared the initiative as the path to prohibition. The direct primary law—another plank in the direct democracy program—was passed that year, however, with broad-based support.

While working for various reforms, Grange Master Kegley had learned the value of collaborating with labor groups and others. Kegley pushed for the formation of the Joint Legislative Committee in 1911 to work for progressive legislation. Under his leadership, the State Grange teamed with the Direct Legislation League of Washington, the Washington State Federation of Labor, and the Farmers’ Union. They met continuously during the session to track legislation, plot strategy and discuss issues. The Committee then printed a report that outlined their activities during the 1911 session and detailed their successes and failures. They were able to achieve part of their program of reform, but their greatest success was in presenting a united front to win the passage of the initiative. With this tool in hand, other reforms would follow.

Grange historian Gus Norwood credits this partnering with the “passage of direct primary law, direct election of US senators…Grange support for workman’s compensation law, eight-hour day for women…women’s suffrage…the initiative and referendum.” (Norwood, p. 70-71)

“The foremost legislative achievement of the Washington State Grange prior to World War I was the enactment of the initiative, referendum and recall. The Grange was not alone in this effort but it provided the keystone for the arch. By providing the means for direct legislation by the people, it strengthened democracy in America.” (Norwood, p. 75)

Norwood, in his discussion of Direct Democracy legislation noted that,

“The assumption that direct legislation is a substitute for the Legislature is not valid…The real targets of the Grange and other advocates of direct legislation are the powerful corporate interests and lobbying forces which corrupt the legislative process by unreasonable lobbying, by inordinate campaign contributions and by selecting candidates for the Legislature and state offices and financing their campaigns.” (Norwood, p. 78)

Master Kegley saw himself and fellow Grangers as fighting against what he called the “Fish, Sawdust and Whiskey Ring.” Others named railroad corporations, “the money power” and the “Saloon trust” as forces to battle with for the future of the state.

Historian Mary Avery agreed that populists

“continued to work through the Washington State Grange and labor organizations to counteract what they regarded at the attachment of both the Republican and Democratic parties to financiers who were trying to exploit the resources of the Pacific Northwest for the benefit of railroads and other big corporations. It seemed to the former Populists that additional control by the voters over public officials and legislation was the best answer… (Avery, p. 202)

“In 1907 and 1909 bills for initiative, referendum and recall did not receive the necessary vote in the State Legislature to bring them before the voters as proposed constitutional amendments. The State Grange and State Federation of Labor campaigned vigorously for their passage, however, and by 1911 the legislators were convinced that they were desirable procedures and referred the question to the voters who approved their adoption as constitutional amendments. (Avery, p. 203)

Direct Democracy Measures in the Legislature: House Bills 153, 60 and 62

Although the House and Senate were overwhelmingly Republican in 1911—not until the 1913 session would thirty-eight Progressive Party members and two Socialists take their seats in both chambers—the intense lobbying of the Grange and labor groups through pressure exerted by the Joint Legislative Committee seems to have made a difference.

Representatives Govnor Teats, a Republican from Pierce County who was serving his first term, and Hugh C. Todd, a Democrat from Whitman County in his second term, introduced a bill January 24, to provide for the initiative:

House Bill 153 by Messrs, Teats, Todd, Buchanan (H.D.), Denman, Phipps, Halsey and Wright: An act to amend section 1 of article II of the constitution of the State of Washington, relating to legislative powers, providing for the initiative and referendum, and striking section 31 of said article II, relating to the time when laws take effect.

It was then referred to the Committee on Constitutional Revision. Pressure to release the bill with approval mounted, as recorded in the House Journal:

On February 1, a petition “relating to direct legislation for Washington” was read and referred to the Committee on Constitutional Revision

On Feb. 6 Mr. Denman moved that the committee on Constitutional Revision be discharged from further consideration of HB 153, and that the bill be returned to the House. A roll call to table the motion was defeated 30-55, 11 absent. Mr. Todd failed in his motion that consideration of the bill be made a special order of business. A motion to report the bill from the Committee in three days passed.

Feb. 9 (the day the bill was to be considered) “Petitions relating to the enactment of direct legislation laws were read and referred to the Committee of Constitutional Revision.”

Later that morning the bill was reported out of committee with a majority recommendation that it “do pass as amended.” Twenty amendments were offered which made initiative procedures more stringent in operation, in effect crippling the measure. The minority report from the Committee recommended it pass without amendment. [Please see the House Journal excerpt to follow the discussion of the proposed amendments.] As amendment after amendment was brought up for discussion, they were voted down. The opposing side filibustered, stalled by calling for time-consuming roll call votes and resorted to name-calling in their efforts to defeat the bill. At one point, sponsoring member Teats “finally resented the remarks of the opponents of the measure and declared he was tired of being called an anarchist because he did not agree in every way with certain members of the house.” (Morning Olympian, Feb. 15, 1911) The only amendment to pass was offered by Representative Denman, one of the signers of the minority report and identified as a floor leader in support of the bill. He also moved that the bill be put on final passage, which was accepted. Although a call of the House slowed the process, the bill was passed 79-12 with 5 abstentions and sent to the Senate.

House Bill 153 was sent to the Senate February 16. It was read in and referred to the Committee on Constitution and Constitutional Revision. The Senate committee also amended the bill in an attempt to cripple it. Senator Fishback, a Republican from Lewis County, proposed a particularly damaging amendment, that copies of the petitions:

“shall be placed on file for signature in the office of the county auditor of each county in this state and in no other place, any qualified elector may affix his signature on said petition at said county auditor’s office in the presence of the county auditor or one of his deputies and at no other place.”

The amendment—as were most—was lost. The Senate continued to debate the measure, sometimes with the doors locked under a call of the Senate. Finally, final passage was voted: the bill passed 32-7, with 3 absent.

The House then concurred with the Senate amendments and the bill was signed by the Speaker and the President of the Senate. Governor Hay then signed the bill into law.

A companion bill to amend the State Constitution by initiative was introduced on Jan. 16, House Bill 60, by Mr. Teats and Mr. Todd:

An act to amend section 1 of article XXIII of the constitution of the State of Washington relating to amendments, and providing for the amendment of the constitution by the initiative.

It was also referred to the Committee on Constitutional Revision. On Jan. 26, it passed out of committee with amendments, and with a minority report without amendments. Again, calls of the House were employed, long roll call votes demanded and debate ensued. Amendments both friendly and obstructive were offered, but finally the bill passed the House 77-15, with 4 absent.

The bill was sent to the Senate where it was assigned to the Committee on Labor and Labor Statistics. Although supported in the House, the bill died in the Senate without much discussion. More telegrams urging passage were sent to the Legislature Feb.16, from Seattle Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Seattle Civic Forum in support of HB 60 and 153, but only the original initiative bill emerged from the process. Governor Hay was said to oppose amendment of the Constitution by a simple majority of voters as described in the bill and demanded a super-majority by threatening a veto.

“Case (of the Federation of Labor) declared that it was impossible to get the bill on the calendar unless two amendments were incorporated in it, either one of which would have rendered the measure useless: Twenty percent of the voters must sign a petition for any offered amendment; 60 percent of the voters must endorse it in general election. Friends of direct legislation felt that it was better to do without than to encumber the constitution with such a detrimental and unusable proposition. The effort to secure the right to amend the constitution was, for the time being, abandoned.” (Crawford, p.168-169)

The other Direct Democracy bill, House Bill 62, also sponsored by Mr. Teats and Mr. Todd authorized the recall of elected officials:

An act to amend article one (1) of the constitution of the State of Washington authorizing and empowering the voters to call a special election at any time to recall and discharge any elective public officer and to elect his successor, by adding thereto at the end of article one (1) two new sections which shall be numbered sections 33 and 34 of said article one (1).

Similar supporters and detractors debated the issue, but the measure passed both houses, albeit without including the judiciary, and was signed into law on the last day of the session.

The first step in gaining Direct Democracy had been won. Federated Labor leader Case observed that Washington, “thanks to the vigilance of civic groups, citizens who were to vote in the November election upon constitutional amendments could do so with the assurance that the only charge which could be brought against the measures of Direct Legislation was that of incompleteness.” (Crawford, p. 170)

Another view deflated the achievement:

“Many of those who voted for the bill practically admitted during the debate that they did not believe in the principles set forth by the measure, but were voting for it under a feeling that if the people want it ‘let them have it.’”

(Tacoma Daily Ledger, March 2, 1911)

One representative, Mr. Faulkner, however, saw the contest as “the culmination of a struggle between the ‘blue-blooded patrician and the red-corpuscled plebian, which was ending in favor of the proletariat.” (Tacoma Daily Ledger, Feb. 15, 1911) Nonetheless, the populist tools of the initiative, referendum and recall were now in the hands of the citizens to vote their approval or not.

The Joint Legislative Committee remained active in support of the legislation. They met in Yakima in September to cement their alliance under the name “Joint Legislative Committee of Direct Legislation League of Washington, State Federation of Labor, Farmers’ Union, State Grange.” They vowed to continue their efforts and “to secure adoption of the initiative and referendum soon to come before the people.” They intended to pursue the right to amend the constitution by initiative and “the enactment of measures that will conserve and extend the powers of the people to rule them selves and elect their public servants.” (Ensley, p.13-14)

At the following election, the amendment passed overwhelmingly. Every county of the state supported direct legislation despite a low-key campaign and opposition from major newspapers. The final vote was 110,100 for and 43,905 opposed.

The Legislature of 1913 then passed House Bill 653 that provided for the operation of the initiative and referendum. This bill outlined the procedures and roles of the Office of the Secretary of State, the Attorney General and the courts, and the part played by county auditors and other officials. From time to time, the statute has been amended and elaborated, but essentially the administration of direct legislation was in place. However, the debate was not over.

The Debate Against the Initiative

During the debate, detractors of Direct Democracy called the measures an “unspeakable folly on the part of the people.” Senator Fishback, who had tried to restrict signature gathering to occur only under the watchful eyes of county auditors, “pointed out the revolutionary step which the proposed law makes in the existing government and urged the senate to safeguard it as much as possible.” (Tacoma Daily Ledger, March 2, 1911)

Representative Beach went further in his remarks and gave an impassioned speech against the bills:

“First we are to have chaos, and then the red flag of anarchy. Are we drifting to demagogy and are we to be in the same position as the ancient republic of Greece? The day is fast coming when brains will cease to be at a premium in this state. The organizations which are demanding pledges and freak laws of us don’t want men with brains in these chairs. They are after the fellow who will jump like a jack-in-the-box when the string is pulled.”

(Tacoma Daily Ledger, Feb. 15, 1911)

Senator Espy also cautioned legislators to ensure measures had statewide approval and did not represent narrow interests. His attempted amendment required that signatures gathered for an initiative be collected from two-thirds of the counties of the state. He “called the attention of the rural legislators to the fact that in the city of Seattle the required number of signatures could be secured for special legislation at any time and the passage of this bill might thus become dangerous to the welfare of the small counties.” (Tacoma Daily Ledger, March 2, 1911)

Others worried about the rights of minorities and sought to safeguard their positions. Senator Nichols spoke eloquently of the danger of “mob rule.” He “called attention of the senate to the history of representative government and also compared it with the democracies of Athens and other early states. He warned them of the possibilities of mob rule, which this law makes possible and picturesquely told of the pendulum character of public opinion as shown in the life of the Savior…” (Tacoma Daily Ledger, March 2, 1911)

As feared by some, immediately the initiative was used to bring in statewide prohibition. A campaign was launched and an initiative filed in January 1914; prohibition was approved 189,840 to 171,208 and became law in 1915. Opponents quickly organized to propose a bill to hobble the initiative and prevent any other such successful campaigns in Washington. House Bill 120, introduced by the Committee on Privileges and Elections, was entitled “An Act to Facilitate the Operation of the Initiative and Referendum,” but its detractors saw through the title and declared it an enemy of direct legislation. It revived the expedient of requiring all signatures for initiatives and recall petitions to be gathered in the presence of county auditors, claiming that such a measure would prevent fraud. Proponents declared,

“that the courts had admitted themselves helpless in handling the fraud that ‘stalked rampant’ through the use of the initiative last fall; that the restrictions were placed about the use of the direct election prerogative not for the purpose of destroying it but to guard it against fraud such as would certainly destroy it if allowed to go unchallenged; that the republican party was responsible for the initiative, referendum and initiative laws and were responsible for protecting the working of them…” (The Morning Olympian, March 11, 1915)

Grange Master Kegley called the bill “this dark-lantern plot conceived in the minds of the Liquor Interests with a view to destroying the efficacy of the Referendum.” He foresaw “a Whiskey controlled Legislature” that would then repeal prohibition and “all popular government legislation with the firm belief that it had been made practically certain that there was no danger of the Referendum or the Initiative if they are to pull off the pending legislation.” He implored all readers to contact their legislators either by letter or to flock to Olympia and “make emphatic protest against any such legislation.”

(Agricultural Grange News, March 1, 1915)

Despite such efforts orchestrated by the Grange and their allies, House Bill 120 passed the House and Senate. Governor Lister vetoed the bill but the Legislature overrode his veto. The amendment was duly sent to a vote of the people, but then was decisively rejected by them: 196,363 voted against Referendum 3 and only 62,117 approved it. The initiative, referendum and recall were safely embedded in the Washington State Constitution.

The Legislature still did not acquiesce in their defeat. They began to employ the use of the “emergency clause” with bills that they felt were vulnerable to a voter-initiated referendum. Several cases have been heard by the State Supreme Court on the use and abuse of the emergency clause, further defining the legislative device and ensuring the use of the referendum. The following cases illustrate the issue, which is still a topic of debate:

Brislawn v. Meath, 1915

Satterthwaite v. Hinkle, 1929

Kennedy v. Reeves, 1945

Sources on History of Initiative Campaign:

Joint Legislative Committee, “Review of Legislative Proceedings of Session of 1911”

Avery, Mary W., History and Government of the State of Washington, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1961

Crawford, Harriet Ann, The Washington State Grange, Binfords and Mort, Publishers, Portland, 1940

Ensley, Henry K., Operation of the Initiative and Referendum in the State of Washington, Masters Thesis, State College of Washington, Pullman, 1938

Norwood, Gus, Washington Grangers Celebrate a Century, Washington State Grange, Seattle, 1988

Riddle, Thomas, The Old Radicalism in America: John R. Rogers and the Populist Movement in Washington, 1891-1900, Washington State University, 1976

For Further Analysis on the Initiative in Washington State:

The League of Women Voters, “Direct Democracy: The Initiative and Referendum Process in Washington,” The League of Women Voters of Washington Education Fund, 2002 available on:

Bone, Hugh A., and Robert C. Benedict, “Perspectives on Direct Legislation: Washington State’s Experience 1914-1973,” Western Political Quarterly, June 1975, pp. 330-351

Bone, Hugh A. and Herman D. Lujan, “Direct Democracy in Washington,” Government and Politics in the Evergreen State, edited by Nice, David C., John C. Pierce and Charles H. Sheldon, Washington State University Press, 1992.

Johnson, Claudius O., “The Adoption of the Initiative and Referendum in Washington,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly, v. 35, Oct. 1944, pp. 291-303

___________________ “The Initiative and Referendum in Washington,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly, v. 36, Jan. 1945, pp. 29-53

Long, Carolyn N., “Direct Democracy in Washington,” Washington State Government and Politics, edited by Cornell W. Clayton, Lance LeLoup, and Nicholas P. Lovrich, Washington State University Press, Pullman, 2004

The Initiative Today

Howard R. Ernst, in his study of ballot initiatives, notes:

When considering the number of states offering the devices of popular governance, it is important to note that no state that has awarded these political mechanisms to its citizens has ever revoked the devices…The history of initiative politics in this country suggests that the river of democracy flows in one direction, toward the body politic.” (Ernst, p. 5, in Dangerous Democracy?)

Nonetheless, more and more modern writers are beginning to question the efficacy of legislation by initiative. David Broder, in his widely acclaimed study of the issue remarks:

“It has given the United States something that seems unthinkable—not a government of laws but laws without government. “It is alien to the spirit of the Constitution and its careful system of checks and balances. Though derived from a reform favored by Populists and Progressives as a cure for special-interest influence, this method of lawmaking has become the favored tool of millionaires and interest groups that use their wealth to achieve their own policy goals—a lucrative business for a new set of policy entrepreneurs.” (Broder, p.1)

The initiative, once the favored resource of progressives and other reformers, is now under attack as a tool captured by the very “interests” it was designed to circumvent. The current discussion is lively and heated—and on-going.

See, for example: Ken Jacobsen, State Senator, “State Becoming Ungovernable,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 14, 2003

Resources for Further Study

Bowler, Shaun, Todd Donovan and Caroline J. Tolbert. Citizens as Legislators: Direct Democracy in the United States. Ohio State University Press, Columbus, 1998

Broder, David S. Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money. Harcourt, Inc., New York, 2000

Cronin, Thomas E. Direct Democracy: The Politics of Initiative, Referendum and Recall. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1999

Ellis, Richard J. Democratic Delusions: The Initiative Process in America. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, 2002

Sabato, Larry J., Howard R. Ernst and Bruce A. Larson. Dangerous Democracy? The Battle Over Ballot Initiatives in America. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Maryland, 2001