An item appeared in the Sacramento Bee yesterday that reminded me how far we have come from the days of Hiram Johnson and progressive reforms of the early 20th Century.

It was a story about how the all powerful prison guard’s union, CCPOA, just contributed $577,000 to Senate Pro Tem Don Perata’s political committee with the express purpose of defeating Proposition 11, the initiative on the November ballot to take control of legislative redistricting away from the Legislature. You can read all the gory details here.

Just by chance, CCPOA is trying to get a new contract with a pay increase from Perata and his allies in the Legislature. Last year they tried to ram through a pay increase at the last minute but the deal died as the session ended. To demonstrate their displeasure with the Democratic leadership, they then spent $2 million to defeat the February initiative to change term limits, a pet project of the Democrats. My guess is they get what they want this time or else they would have withheld the donation until after the legislative session. You don’t “invest” over a half a million dollars if you think you will not get the “return on investment” you desire.

Now I am certainly not accusing either party of doing something wrong. Perish the thought. But if you believe there is no connection between these two events, I have an international orange-colored bridge in San Francisco that I would like to sell you.

And the prison guards are not the only public employee union that uses the Legislature to do their bidding by passing legislation they favor and crushing legislation they oppose. Whether it is the California Teachers Association (CTA) or Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Democratic majority in the Legislature is a captive of their interests. For a Democrat to cross them is political suicide.

School choice? You must be joking. CTA will never let it happen. They are more concerned about political power than they are about parental power.

Card check for union voting? Absolutely. Why have a secret ballot where one can vote anonymously when you can coerce people and expose them publicly for a negative vote.

How does this have anything to do with Hiram Johnson and reform?

102 years ago this November, Hiram Johnson was elected Governor running on a platform to break the power of the Southern Pacific Railroad and the stranglehold it had on the California Legislature. He took the power of electing U.S. Senators away from the Legislature and gave it to the people through popular election. He also gave us the referendum, the initiative and the recall. Without the recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger might never have been governor.

But the only thing that has changed in those 102 years is who is calling the shots in the Capitol. Have we merely traded the unfettered power of Southern Pacific for the unfettered power of the public employee unions?

And where is today’s Hiram Johnson? Where is the champion of the people willing to speak truth to power? Unfortunately there is no one on the horizon.

If Republicans ever want to have a chance of being a majority party in California, they need to adopt a radical reform agenda in the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt and Hiram Johnson instead of being narrowly focused on tax increases and social issues.

Time to be bold. Will anyone pick up the gauntlet?