More than a century ago, California adopted a reform movement in response to major corruption in California’s government. The railroads owned political parties, controlled the state Legislature and blackmailed cities in exchange for a rail connection.
Editorial cartoons and novels depicted the railroads as an octopus with its greedy tentacles clutching statehouses, the economy, farmers and cities. To wrestle power away from the octopus, then-Gov. Hiram Johnson proposed the direct democracy process in his first inaugural address.