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How Miss Perkins Learned To Lobby
April 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 3
She talked with MacManus, but he could not help her in the assembly. She appealed to Sullivan, who said: Me girl, I seen you around here and I know you worked hard on this and I know you done your duty and I know it’s very hard for a young lady like you to work away from home. I’ll tell you; it’s the truth. Murphy told them to go ahead and put out the bill, but the idea was that the Assembly would pass a different bill. They say, of course, you can’t accept it—you’re under instructions not to accept it. They don’t mean to put it through. They don’t mean to let you get that law this year because they know you won’t accept the bill that’s over in the Assembly with the canners’ amendment on it. That’s the idea.
It drove her nearly crazy. It was an election year, and the Republicans who controlled the assembly would claim that they had done something for labor; the Democrats in the senate, with an unamended bill, would claim that they had done even more; and everyone would deplore the fact that time had run out before the bills could be reconciled. “That’ll be fine publicity,” she said angrily to Pauline Goldmark, “but no law this year.”
As Goldmark hurried off to see what she could do, Joseph Hammitt, the lobbyist for the Citizens Union, asked Perkins quietly, “Do you really want that bill?”
“How many women work in canneries?”
“About ten thousand.”
“How many work in factories throughout the state?”
“About four hundred thousand.”
“If I were you, I’d do what I could for the four hundred thousand.”
She went out to the corridor to grapple with her conscience. Where did the worse betrayal lie? Her orders were explicit and recently confirmed. All over the state league members had worked for a law without exemptions. Suppose, in the league’s name, she abandoned the women in the canneries and then failed to achieve any law at all; what would be left of the league’s program for another year?
Alone in the corridor, she decided to accept the amendment, to work for the majority of women this year and those in the canneries next. Without daring to confess her decision to Goldmark she went directly to Wagner and MacManus. They protested that the league was against the canners’ amendment. No more, she insisted. She wanted the bill even if amended. Wagner, expressing his surprise, agreed to report it out.
But before he had done so, he was called to the dais to preside over the meeting while the lieutenant governor went out to confer with the governor. Minutes slipped by, and, to her horror, on a tally of heads she discovered that four of the senators whose votes she was counting on had gone home. At best she only had thirty-two votes, including those of the senators who had left; by constitutional requirement, in order to pass the bill she needed at least twenty-six, a majority of the fifty-one senators. Then she saw Big Tim and his cousin Christy Sullivan, also a senator, leaving to catch the eight o’clock boat.
She was aghast. She begged them to stay. Wagner had promised to have the assembly bill reported out of the Rules Committee.
Big Tim, whom a reporter once described as “no lily” but “human,” looked at her, considered, and then explained: “Wagner’s the chairman of the Rules Committee, and you’ll have to have a rule. He’s now the temporary president of the senate, so he can’t call the Rules Committee together to pass a rule. That’s the plan.”
“Oh, Mr. Sullivan!” she gasped. The guile of it left her speechless.
Her disappointment must have touched him, for after a moment he said: “Me sister was a poor girl, and she went out to work when she was young. I feel kinda sorry for them poor girls that work the way you say they work. I’d like to do them a good turn. I’d like to do you a good turn. You don’t know much about this parliamentary stuff, do you?”
She shook her head.
“Well, I’m the ranking senate member of the Rules Committee. Wagner is presiding officer, and his orders are not to recognize anybody to move for reconsideration. If you don’t believe me, you just try it. You get Newcomb to ask for a rule.”
As she realized the extent of his offer to help her and the theatricality of the role he was preparing to play, she began to enjoy the intrigue. Hastily she collected for him the signatures of a majority of the committee. Then she sent Josiah Newcomb and Mayhew Wainright, two of the committee’s lesser members, down the aisle asking to be recognized. Standing almost directly in front of Wagner, they raised their hands, waved their arms, and called, “Mr. President! Mr. President!” But he wouldn’t look at them. Ignored, they came back to her in defeat.
Then Big Tim, his point proved, his role created, went down the aisle in splendid fashion. “A report from the Rules Committee,” he called. “A report from the Rules Committee.” Wagner turned white. Even from the back of the chamber she could see it. Lawyerlike, he began to splutter, “I can’t receive any additional rules. No rules to be given.”
“I am the acting chairman of the Rules Committee,” Sullivan proclaimed, “and I de-mand a vote on whether I can make a report or not!”