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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter14,part2)

2006-08-28 23:39

    PART 2

    At the ensuing election the progressives swept the state in spite of all that the allied corporations could do. James was returned to the legislature with an increased majority and was elected speaker of the House

    according to program. His speech of acceptance was the most eloquent that had ever been heard in the assembly hall. The most radical of his party felt that the committees appointed by him were in their personnel a little too friendly to the vested interests of Verden, but the _World_ took the high ground that he could render his party no higher service than absolute fair play, that the bills for the rights of the people ought to pass on their merits and not by tricky politics.

    Never before had there been seen at the State House a lobby like the one that filled it now. The barrel was tapped so that the glint of gold flowed through the corridors, into committee rooms, and to out of the way corners where legislators fought for their honor against an attack that never ceased. Sometimes the corruption was bold. More often it was insidious. To see how one by one men hitherto honest surrendered to bribery was a sight pathetic and tragic.

    The Farnum cousins were the centers around whom the reformers rallied. James directed their counsels in the House and Jeff pounded away in the _World_ with vital trenchant editorials and news stories. Every day that paper carried to the farthest corner of the state bulletins of the battle. Farmers and miners and laboring men watched its roll of honor to see if the local representatives were standing firm. As the weeks passed the fight grew more bitter. Now and again men fell by the wayside disgraced. But the pressure from their constituents was so strong that Jeff believed his bill would go through.

    His friends forced it through the committee and pushed it to a vote. House Bill 33, as the initiative and referendum amendment was called, passed the lower legislative body with a small majority. The pool rooms offered five to four that it would carry in the senate.

    It was on the night of the twenty-first of December that the amendment passed the House. On the morning of the twenty-third the _Herald_ sprang a front page sensation. It charged that the editor of the _World_ had ruined a girl named Nellie Anderson at a house where he had boarded and that she had subsequently disappeared. It featured also a story of how he had been seen to enter his rooms at midnight with a woman of the street, who remained there until morning reveling with him. Attached

    to this were the affidavits of two detectives, a police officer, and the druggist who had furnished the liquor.

    The story exploded like a bomb shell in the camp of the progressives. Rawson tried at once without success to get Jeff on the telephone. He was not at the office, nor had he reached his rooms at all after leaving the _World_ building on the previous night. None of his friends had seen or heard of him.

    The afternoon papers had a sensation of their own. Jefferson Farnum had left Verden secretly without leaving an address. Evidently he had been given a hint of the exposure that was to be made of his life and had decamped rather than face the charges.

    Rumor had a hundred tales to tell. The waverers at the State House chose to believe that Jeff had sold them out and fled with his price. It was impossible to deny the stories of his immorality, since it happened that Sam Miller, the only man who knew the whole story, was far up in the mountains arranging for a shipment of Rocky Mountain sheep to the state museum. Farnum's friends could only affirm their faith in him or surrender. Some gave way, some stood firm. The lobbyists and the opposition went about with confident, "I-told-you-so" smiles writ large on their faces. Within a few days it became apparent that the reform bill would be defeated in the senate. Its fate had been so long tied up with the people's belief in Jeff that with his collapse the general opinion condemned it to defeat. Its friends hung back, unwilling to risk a vote as yet.

    The situation called for a leader and developed one. James Farnum stepped into the breach and took command. In a ringing speech he called for a new alignment. He would yield to none in the devotion he had given to House Bill Number 33. But it needed no prophet to see that now this amendment was doomed. Better half a loaf than no bread. He was a practical man and wanted to see practical results. Rather than see the will of the people frustrated he felt that House Bill I7 should be passed. While not an ideal bill it was far better than none. The principle of direct legislation at least would be established.

    H. B. No. I7 was brought hurriedly out of committee. It had been introduced as a substitute measure to defeat the real reform. According to

    its provision legislation could be initiated by the people, but to make it valid as a law the legislature had to approve any bill so passed. The people could advise. They could not compel.

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