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Inaugural Message to Legislature.

January 1913

Gentlemen of the Legislature:

We are entering upon a new era in statecraft. A general awakening is in the process of evolution. The people are coming to feel with force the time-honored quotation, "A government of the people, by the people, and for the people." They are not overzealous as to the particular political party that an official represents; in fact, the three great political parties in Michigan agree on essentials and it ought, therefore, to be easy for the legislators representing these three great parties to work together harmoniously and efficiently in securing these common ends. We are, indeed, colleagues in our effort to join in common service for the highest welfare of our great state. In other words, we are citizens and public servants first and our party differences are secondary. I can assure the current Legislature that I shall take great pleasure in encouraging party cooperation from start to finish. Most of the measures that I shall recommend have commanded the attention of the people for at least a decade.

Since the secrecy of our ballot is the foundation of our liberty, the law wisely provides this should remain inviolate. Our present primary law violates these fundamental principles by providing that every voter shall tell the town board to which party he belongs, he publicly recorded as such a partisan, and his name sent to Lansing as such a partisan. He can change his label only on certain days of the year as provided by law. This provision should be repealed. I suggest that registration day and primary day be one and the same. This would insure a full attendance at the primary. All party tickets should be printed on one ballot, the voter marking one ticket only in the booth. In order to prevent minority nominations, provisions should be made for second choice column.

The abolition of party enrollment would do away with the absurd fifteen per cent proposition. By having registration day and primary day the same, thousands of dollars could be saved. By giving the people the initiative and referendum to amend the constitution and make laws; by giving them a single and secret ballot and a primary law to nominate and elect their public servants; by giving them the recall to discharge unworthy and misrepresentative public officials, you place in their hands the necessary tools whereby they can easily get such reform legislation that they desire. The above are the fundamental things that should take precedence over all other legislation if we are to have in this state a government truly of, for and by the people.

In order that the people may rule it is essential that they be given the proper tools to work with so that they may attain their own salvation. The most important of these measures is the Initiatives and Referendums. This system has been adopted by nearly one-third of the states in the Union, but in one-half of these, the system is ineffective because of some "joker" inserted in the amendment. A constitutional amendment should be submitted providing for the Initiative and the Referendum. Of all the states, Oregon has had the Initiative and the Referendum the longest. It has been in operation there for over ten years and during that time the people have initiated or referred over one hundred measures by popular vote. The percentage of petition signers is reasonable and the amendment is self-operating. I suggest that it should be adopted without any substantial change. Its operation after a series of years has been so satisfactory, that after ten years the people voted down the attempt to repeal it by an overwhelming majority.

A constitutional provision should be submitted providing for the recall of all executive, legislature and administrative officials. The petition for the recall should not require more than twenty-five per cent of the voters of the district. This percentage has the approval of all of the authorities on this subject.

If the people are to rule through the agency of the ballot at the election primary our election primary laws must be simplified. Possibly we are under the delusion that we have had the Australian ballot system for many years, but as a matter of fact, such is not the case. It is claimed that the present party column ballot is easy for the ignorant voter to vote the straight party ticket, but it is difficult for the independent voter to split the party ticket. The double system of marking the ballot with a circle on the top and squares at the side gives rise to endless confusion. Many voters mark the squares to the side of the first name on the ticket believing that this mark votes the whole ticket. Election inspectors say that one voter in ten fails to mark his ballot properly, indicating that fifty thousand Michigan voters are annually disfranchised, in whole or in part, by the present complicated ballot. Our ballot should be changed to the genuine Australian Ballot similar to that provided by the Massachusetts law. The advantage of this ballot is that there is but one way to mark it. No complicated instructions are necessary. In voting, each candidate's name comes under the eyes of the voter and he places a cross in front of the name of every man he wishes to vote for.

Furthermore, I recommend a corrupt practice act, providing for the limitation of expenditures and the publication of these expenditures both before and after primary and regular elections.

Many citizens think that the people all called on to elect too many officials. An examination of our election returns for many years will disclose the fact that the people exercise much independence in voting for governor, some in selecting a lieutenant governor, but below that office the candidate for the state officers receive practically the same vote regardless of their individual merits. If, for example, anything goes wrong in the state treasurer's office the blame is promptly laid on the governor, although he has no control over that office.

In the interest of better government and a shorter ballot, why would it not be a good idea to submit a constitutional amendment providing for the election of governor and lieutenant governor and that the remainder of the elective state officials be appointed by the governor to act as his cabinet and advisors in state affairs. The ballot could also be shortened by abolishing the offices of circuit court commissioners and coroners and providing that justices of the peace may perform the duties of these officials.

It is necessary that each candidate get his name and ideas on public questions before the public. Newspaper advertising is very expensive. In this form of publicity the rich man has an advantage over his poorer brother. Small fortunes are frequently spent to gain a single office that doesn't pay one half the amount in return salary. I suggest that the Oregon system of publicity be carefully considered. In that state an election pamphlet is published by the state. Each candidate of every party paying a nominal sum can have a certain amount of space, give his biography and views of public questions and if some proposition or enactment is submitted, it is printed in full in this pamphlet and an argument for or against by its most active advocate or enemy is also printed. This pamphlet is mailed at the state's expense to every registered voter ninety days before election. As a result of this publicity pamphlet, Oregon has become a great school for the study of political questions.

Congress has submitted to the various state legislatures for their approval an amendment to the Federal Constitution for their approval an amendment to the Federal Constitution providing for the election of senators by popular vote. Would it not be an honor to Michigan to be the first to ratify this amendment?

The present Home Rule Law should be amended so as to give to all cities home rule to the fullest extent permissible under the constitution. Particularly should the law be amended so as to provide for the recall of all municipal officials and direct legislation by initiative petitions signed by not less than ten per cent of the electors; also for the separation of municipal elections from the general November elections.

The people at the last election amended the constitution to provide for piecemeal charter legislation. Before this amendment can become effective, the legislative must by law provide the necessary machinery. I would urge this be passed and made effective at the earliest possible moment so that our municipalities may have the advantage of the amendment.

The more one surveys the "hit and miss" taxation system in Michigan, the more one is convinced that radical changes are needed in the system itself.

The one thing that would greatly simplify our taxation methods would be a separation of state and local taxes. Scarcely any one will deny that this change is needed but the question is how to bring it about. How to raise the specific taxes necessary to run the state is the most serious problem.

I would suggest three courses of revenue. Our present inheritance tax brings us in a comparatively small amount. I would suggest that this tax should be largely increased, especially on extremely large fortunes and the proceeds be placed in the general fund for state purposes. A second source of revenue might come from a graduated income tax like our sister state of Wisconsin is now trying. The corporate excess tax plan of Massachusetts as recommended by the committee of inquiry into taxation at the last session of the Legislature is still another method of raising the necessary state revenue.

While I do not recommend any of these plans specifically, I do recommend the separation of state and local taxes and ask your honorable body to carefully examine all the methods above suggested and such others as may occur to you and I hope that by some of these methods or a combination of them, the legislature can find some way of raising the necessary revenue so that a separation of state and local taxes may be brought about.

We now have a railroad commission which is given the power to fix rates and regulate the practices of railroads, telephones and phone companies. I would recommend the enlargement of the powers of this commission to cover all public utility corporations of the state. Furthermore, as there can be no intelligent fixing of charges without a knowledge of the real value of the properties, I would recommend that the commission be authorized to make physical valuation of all such properties that they deem advisable that the rates fixed may return reasonable dividends on actual investment.

During the past twenty-eight years I have received numerous letters from men and women, who have accumulated a little money asking my advice in relation to an investment in Stocks and Bond s of Foreign Corporations and Public Utilities Corporations. They had become enthusiastic over a scheme whereby they hoped "to get rich quick" through these purchases. My experience is doubtless the experience of every member of the Legislature. The sale of these stocks runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. It is hardly fair to expect the people of Michigan or of any other state to have any adequate knowledge concerning the real value of these stocks. I suggest the enactment of a law similar to the Kansas law whereby our people will be protected from this kind of fraud. In other words, prohibit the sale of stocks and bonds of any company until said company has been investigated and approved by the Railway Commission.

Experience proves that the welfare of the people in their relation to banking institutions cannot be too carefully guarded. State banks and national banks are subject to state and national supervision. In spite of this supervision there is a feeling that further steps should be taken to secure depositors. While I would not recommend extreme legislation for the further protection of the depositor, I do believe that this subject should receive careful consideration at the hands of the Legislature. I can see no reason why private banks should not have state supervision and be required, on call, to file statements. Under no circumstances would I say legislate so as to imperil the progress and development of small banks. There are communities where the needs of the people make the small banks a necessity. The interests of the people in these villages, however, should be as carefully guarded as are the interests of the people in the larger cities.

The Torrens System was first introduced in Australia in 1858 by Sir Robert Torrens, whose name it bears. It worked so well in Australia that it spread to all civilized countries including Canada and is in force everywhere except in the United States; however, several states have recently adopted it, including Massachusetts, Oregon and Ohio. It has been in force in Cook County, Illinois for about fifteen years and is rapidly making its way in public favor. Its workings can easily be examined at Windsor as it has been in force there for many years. I suggest that the Legislature make mandatory on the administration of every estate the registration of the land of the estate under the Torrens System. This would absolutely abolish the abstract monopoly and prevent the unreasonable delays which obtain in many cases.

In this age it is unnecessary to discuss the all-important function of the farmer. Land and labor are fundamental to the welfare of man. In Michigan we have too long neglected to put to the best possible use of our tremendous natural riches that come under the head of land values. We have ample room in this state for an additional army of thousands of farmers; in fact, we have opportunities such as few other states can offer. I would suggest that this Legislature consider the importance of creating a Commissioner of Agriculture who shall conserve the soil, improve farm methods, encourage emigration to the wild lands of Northern Michigan; furthermore, that the state should extend some help to the settler of this new land, that the Canadian government does to similar settlers in the Northwest.

If I ever lacked enthusiasm in appealing for good roads, I had an abundant opportunity to reenforce my enthusiasm by riding over thousands of miles of poor roads in Michigan during the months of September and October. I believe it is the duty of the state to study the problem of good roads with reference to immediate legislation whereby this fundamental feature of transportation can be substantially encouraged. I think that all will agree with me that the fees arising from automobile licenses should be turned into the highway fund.

Governor Osborn in his first Inaugural urged the legislature to enact further laws to perfect and extend the system of regulation and inspection already existing so as to reduce the minimum number of injuries and deaths from industrial accidents. This inspection should be taken out of politics and placed in the hands of experienced and competent men. Under the existing laws no provision exists for state inspection of all mines. A stringent law should be passed for the protection of all workmen engaged in the business of mining, and the employment of the most expert and competent inspectors to enforce the provisions of this law.

The present weights and measures law was enacted in 1837. It provides that every town clerk shall keep a set of weights and measures and annually each year seal all the weights and measures of the township receiving therefore four cents for each one sealed. For seventy-five years town clerks have failed to perform this function.

A modern weights and measures law should be enacted. As a food inspector of the Dairy and Food Department daily visits the shores of the state, the law could be enforced by this department in a very economic and efficient manner.

Vicious tendencies seem to have sprung up not only in Michigan, but in other states whereby numberless boards and unnecessary offices have been created. In not a few instances this tendency has been encouraged in order to further partisan political interests. Whenever a party has achieved a victory, participants have never failed to clamor for jobs as a kind of reward for their recognized enthusiasm. This tends to arouse suspicion in the minds of the people. No longer can any political party afford to encourage the old doctrine that, "To the victor belongs the spoils." I, therefore, suggest that every possible effort be made by this Legislature to abolish all useless boards and dispense with all offices that are not essential to efficient government.

According to the State inspector's report for 1910 (the most recent report I could get) over $10,000 was collected from the salt manufacturers of the state for "inspecting" salt that was never inspected. For this $10,000 no service was rendered the manufacturer nor the consumer. By all means abolish the State Salt Inspection farce.

Advocates of oil inspection say that it costs the state nothing and returns to the state an income. In 1911, sixty per cent of all fees collected was used to pay salaries of inspectors and their expenses; forty per cent went into the State treasury. This is not an economical system for raising revenue. In abolishing the present oil inspection system provisions might be made for the retention of one inspector to be directed by the Dairy and Food Department. His duty would be to make occasional tests and investigate complaints relating to poor oil.

We now have a State Livestock Sanitary Commission consisting of three commissioners and the state veterinarian whose duties are to investigate, when called on, infectious and contagious diseases of various animals. The commission has no office at any place or even a directing head. Its members scattered over the state, are not always readily accessible in time of need. It would seem as if this commission might be abolished and its duties transferred to the Dairy and Food Department or to the Agricultural College and the Veterinary Department of the college take charge of the same, thus saving a duplication of offices and at the same time making the work of the commission more effective.

For more than a quarter of a century I have made a careful study of the school houses in Michigan. The majority of them are insanitary and unfit for live stock to occupy. They rarely furnish adequate light, never furnish a proper supply of pure air, are not comfortably heated, and, on the whole, are destructive to the health of school children. It should be remembered that the ordinary school room, unlike the ordinary dwelling room, in frequently occupied by a large number of children. Probably no one reform would exert a greater influence in reducing the death rate of children then would the construction of sanitary school houses. Ordinarily school officers know very little about modern sanitation. It is largely a question of how large a "pen" is required to protect the boys and girls from inclement weather. A law should be submitted to the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Secretary of the State Board of Health. These officials would approve of the heating, ventilating, lighting, in fact, of all sanitary essentials before the contracts could be entered into for construction. In states where this plan has been pursued satisfactory results have been obtained.

So far as possible, our educational interests should be divorced entirely from partisan politics. In Michigan, we have not succeeded in doing that. I suggest the enactment of mandatory law providing for city boards of education not to exceed seven members, elected by the people at large. Such school boards should be supervisory and legislative in their function and should have the appointing of two salaried executives, a superintendent and a business manager, each of whom shall be responsible for his particular work.

Many states in the union have enacted laws for securing a uniform system of textbooks. I would suggest that the Legislature make a careful study of the results of the Indiana plan. Barring the larger cities and restricting uniformity of the eight-grade schools, all the advantages that we now realize could be secured, and besides the state would save thereby tens of thousands of dollars.

I agree with the declaration of the Republicans in their platform in which they declare that we should sacredly preserve the primary school fund. Under the rather extraordinary changes in the assessment of property there seems to be some probability of seriously reducing the primary school fund. This would cripple the work of our common schools. We cannot afford under any circumstances to do less for our seventy thousand school children. We can afford to do more rather than less.

From a materialistic standpoint, no investment yields greater returns to the wealth of the state than health. A recent estimate of the common value of life in England shows that human labor capitalized, is worth five times all other capital.

The physicians of Michigan stand ready to further all legislation that tends to enlighten the people along lines that conserve health. At present, Michigan is the camping ground for numerous medical fakers. I suggest the enactment of a law whereby practitioners be required to pass examinations before the State Board of Medical Examiners, or State Board of Health, in physiology, anatomy, hygiene, chemistry, bacteriology, physics, pathology and diagnosis. A knowledge of these subjects is fundamental in any rational attempt on the part of a practitioner to serve the best interests of his patients. This is a reasonable requirement, and the legislation along this line ought to commend not only the approval of the profession, but the approval of laymen, generally.

The business of the state can be more economically and efficiently administered if merit, ability, integrity and energy of employees rather than political activity be made the basis of employment. I, therefore, suggest that the legislature enact a Civil Service law to this end.

I recommend the enactment of a law whereby railroad companies, mining companies, and manufacturers concerns be required to pay their employees weekly. This is a matter of simple justice.

Every successful business man is always aware of the importance of economy. Just why he should sometimes when he becomes the hired man of the state is something of a mystery. One thing is clearly evident and that is, that the people are no longer willing that an official should, for the sake of political friendship, make the state a dollar of unnecessary expense. Efficiency is fundamental in all forms of service. I sincerely hope that the legislators will cooperate with me in reducing the numbers of employees to the minimum.

My attention has been called to many other matters, but possibly I have already offered too many suggestions. I realize that on account of your limited time some of them cannot be considered. In conclusion, I repeat that the Australian Ballot, an efficient Primary Law, the Initiative and Referendum and the Recall should receive through and careful consideration at the hands of this legislature. We are in duty bound to fulfil those pledges. I feel sure that along the line of a majority of my recommendations we are a unit.

I am aware that there is always danger of putting on the statute books too many laws. We sometimes forget that law enactment is not so important as law enforcement. I unhesitatingly place the interests of the people of Michigan above political partisanship. This is an age in which honest men and glad to cooperate in order that they may render their fellow men the largest and best possible service.


Source:Inaugural Message to the Legislature of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Lansing, Mich: Wynkoop, Halenbeck, Crawford Co., 1913).


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