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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter10,part2)

2006-08-28 23:26

    PART 2

    If the years were bringing Jeff a sharper realization of the forces that control so much of life they were giving him too the mellowness that can be in revolt without any surrender of faith in men. He could for instance now look back on his college days and appreciate the kindness and the patience of the teachers whom he had then condemned. They had been conformists. No doubt they had compromised to the pressure of their environment. But somehow he felt much less like judging men than he used to in the first flush of his intellectual awakening. It was perhaps this habit of making allowance for weakness, together with his call to the idealism in them, that made him so effective a worker with men.

    He was as easy as an old shoe, but people sensed the steel in him instinctively. In his quiet way he was coming to be a power. For one thing he was possessed of the political divination that understands how far a leader may go without losing his following. He knew too how to get practical results. It was these qualities that enabled him out of the wreckage of the senatorial defeat to build a foundation of victory for House Bill 77.

    To bring into effect Jeff's pet measure of the initiative and referendum necessitated an amendment to the state constitution, which must be passed by two successive legislative assemblies and ratified by a vote of the people in order to become effective. The bill had been slumbering in committee, but immediately after the senatorial election Jeff insisted on having it brought squarely to the attention of the House.

    His feeling for the psychological moment was a true one and he succeeded by a skillful newspaper campaign in rallying the people to his support. The sense of outrage felt at this shameless purchase of a seat in the Senate, accented by a knowledge of its helplessness to avenge the wrong done it, counted mightily in favor of H. B. No. 77 just now. It promised a restoration of power to the people, and the clamor for its passage became insistent.

    A good deal of quiet lobbying had been done for the bill, and the legislators who had sold themselves, having received all they could reasonably expect from the allied corporations, were anxious to make a show of standing for their constituents. Politicians in general considered the bill a "freak" one. Some who voted for it explained that they did not believe in it, but felt the people should have a chance to vote on it themselves. By a large majority it passed the House. Two days later it squeezed through the Senate.

    Rawson, who had been persuaded half against his judgment to support the bill, lunched with Jeff that day.

    "Now watch the corporations dig a grave for your little pet at the next legislature," he chuckled, helping himself to bread while he waited for the soup.

    "They may. Then again they may not," Farnum answered. "We are ruled by political machines and corporations only as long as we let them. I've a notion the people are going to assert themselves at the next election."

    "How are you going to make the will of the dear people effective with the assembly?" asked Rawson, amused.

    "Make the initiative and referendum the issue of the campaign. Pledge the legislators to vote for it before nominating them."

    "Pledge them?" grinned Rawson cynically. "Weren't they pledged to support Hardy? And did they?"

    "No, but they'll stick next time, I think."

    "You're an incurable optimist, my boy."

    "It isn't optimism this time. It's our big stick."

    "Didn't know we had one."

    "Do you remember House Bill 19?"

    "No. What's that got to do with it?"

    "It slipped through early in the session. Anderson introduced it. Nobody paid any attention to it because he's a back country Swede and his bill was very wordy. The governor signed it to-day. That bill provides for the recall of any public official, alderman or legislator if the people are not satisfied with his conduct."

    The big man stared. "I thought it only applied to district road supervisors. Were you back of that bill, Jeff?"

    "I had it drawn up and helped steer it through the committee, though I was careful not to appear interested."

    "You sly old fox! And nobody guessed it had general application. None of us read the blamed thing through. You're going to use it as a club to make the legislators stand pat on their pledges."


    "But don't you see how revolutionary your big stick is?" Rawson's smile was expansive. "Why, hang it, man, you're destroying the fundamental value of representative government. It's a deliberate attack on graft."

    "Looks like it, doesn't it?"

    It was while Rawson was waiting for his mince pie piled with ice cream that he ventured a delicate question.

    "Say, Jeff! What about James? Is he getting ready to flop over to the enemy?"

    "No. Why do you ask that?"

    "I notice he explained when he voted for House Bill 77 that he reserved the right to oppose it later. Said he hadn't made up his mind, but felt the people should be given a chance to express themselves on it."

    Upon Farnum's face rested a momentary gravity. "I can't make James out lately. He's lost his enthusiasm. Half the time he's irritable and moody. I think perhaps he's been blaming himself too much for Hardy's defeat."

    Rawson laughed with cynical incredulity. "That's it, is it?"

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