Henderson stood at the French Doors in the Oval Office,
looking into the Rose Garden, hands folded behind his back.
It was good to have a few minutes alone to contemplate the
direction his administration, in office now for 5 months,
was taking the Nation.
interrupted his solitude. "Mr. President, I have the
Majority Leader returning your call, and Senator Taylor has
"Put the Leader
through, and show Senator Taylor to the study, Liz. Thanks."
Liz smiled at
senator Nancy Taylor, the junior Senator from Montana. A
conservative Republican, the 48-year-old was two years into
her second term. This was her first private White House
visit with the liberal President, called on short notice by
his invitation. No shrinking violet, the tough-talking Nancy
Taylor was seldom at a loss for words. She was afraid one of
those rare moments was upon her, though.
will see you now, Senator." Taylor followed the businesslike
aide into the President's study adjacent to the Oval Office.
"He just picked up
the phone, he'll come and get you in a few moments."
looked around the masculine, private study. While not
terribly well lit, the small room seemed comfortable,
deceivingly casual, and was impressively appointed with
historical artifacts and artwork. The nice-sized fireplace
looked too clean to have been used recently. It
look functional. Didn't Harry Truman have it moved in here
during a major renovation? An
large walnut tree shaded the private terrace just outside
the office. She could hear the muffled voice of the
President through the door. In eight years, this was her
first trip alone to the White House, her first glance at the
inner sanctum of power. Leaning back against the doorjamb
through which she'd entered, the door to the Oval Office to
her left and in her sight, she reflected on the events
leading her to this place.
earlier the President had presented his "One Nation" package
to the House of Representatives. With the smallest minority
representation in 40 years, the Republicans stood powerless
against the Democratic juggernaut. The proposal sought the
federalization of all teachers, day-care workers, police,
social workers -- including all child protective services --
and prosecutors as so-called "national agents of social
enforcement." When it was first announced, Republicans,
conservatives and the like-minded had been drop-jawed
stunned that such an idea could even be suggested, much less
seriously considered. But the President made his case to the
people, the elected representatives parroted their daily
talking-points, and the mainstream media provided the
uncritical, supportive stage on which they were able to
perform. The bill authorized the transfer of just over one
trillion dollars directly from the state treasuries to the
federal government to support the endeavor. While the bill's
opponents screamed about blatant violations of the 14th
Amendment, nobody seriously thought the Supreme Court would
find fault with it. Sixteen years of Democratic
administrations saw the high court stocked with progressive,
left-leaning justices who rarely saw a problem with a
generous, expansive interpretation of the Constitution. The
only thing preventing the bill from becoming law was the
Now the bill sat
in the upper house, where the Democrats held a 58-42
majority, just two votes shy of the 60 votes needed for
cloture -- the ability to stop a filibuster and bring the
bill to a vote. It was the threat of a filibuster that had
brought Senator Taylor to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue .
The door to the
Oval Office opened suddenly; Senator Taylor snapped to
attention and turned to the tall, striking man with a
Hollywood smile walking toward her with his hand extended.
she said crisply, extending her hand to shake his. "A
pleasure to see you again, sir."
He guided her into
his office, motioned toward a chair, took his own, and
filled a minute with the obligatory social chit-chat before
regarding her directly. "Senator, I understand you have a
few reservations about my One Nation package. Let's hear
So she explained
her concerns, speaking openly, confidently and without a lot
of political beating-around-the-bush -- or intervening
questions from him. Her efficiency was providential, as it
turned out. As she was just beginning to summarize her key
points, he was already rising, flashing that celebrity smile
again, and thanking her for "taking the time to share those
most interesting perspectives."
Before she hardly
even knew it, she was out the door once more.
if you can find Raul Fuentes. Put him through as soon as you
get him. Thanks." Fuentes was the President's Special
Assistant for Policy and Political Affairs.
President." Bob Henderson spun around in his chair, grabbed
a folder from his desk and headed off to meet an aide
rushing into the Oval Office at full speed. The aide hit the
brakes as he saw the President of the United States on a
the Physician's Union people are assembled in the Roosevelt
Room. We're ready for you." The aide was now walking
backward as the President shot past him.
He got two steps
past Liz's desk when she looked up. "Mr. President, I have
Mr. Fuentes on the line -- he was at his desk."
around without missing a stride and shot back towards the
Oval Office. "Paul," he shouted to the aide now behind him,
still rushing down the corridor, "Entertain them for a
minute, will you? I want to take this."
the door behind him, settled into the high-backed, black
leather chair behind his desk and hit the speaker button.
"Raul! I'm glad I
"I was surprised
to hear from you, Mr. President. There's a high-level staff
meeting scheduled for this afternoon -- do we have a
"No, no, not at
all. Just a little business I thought you might take care of
"Yes sir, what do
you need?" Fuentes hated special requests -- just something
else (he sometimes cynically mused) that he would have to
lie about in front of a Congressional committee someday.
"I don't know if
you've heard the One Nation package just passed the House?"
"Yes, sir, I did.
Listen, I need a clear head on this. Nancy Taylor from
Montana is hell-bent on stopping this thing -- she's
threatening filibuster, and at this point I don't think we
have the votes to bust it. I mean, if we have to, we can
scare up the votes; most of those whores are just holding
out for a bridge or a water purification plant or something.
But it's going to cost us. She's a straight shooter; I don't
think this is just a party-politics position with her. Find
out what's going on, will you?"
"Sir, didn't we
lose Montana by something in the neighborhood of 80
"Yes, and Idaho,
the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Indiana along with it. I know they
love me out there, Raul, but nothing has stopped them from
getting on the chow line before. I threw a lot of sweetener
into this bill for those ungrateful cowboys; I need to know
why all of a sudden they're not biting!"
"I'll check with
our state-local team here; they should have a handle on what
the local hot-button issues are out there. And I'll see what
else we have. I should be able to piece together what might
be percolating out there under the radar and let you know as
soon as we have something."
"Thanks, Raul. See
you this afternoon. Gotta go." The President hit the speaker
button and once again headed out to his meeting.
President, I put together a short briefing document."
Fuentes handed the brief across the desk.
"Thanks, Raul. I
appreciate you pulling this together on such short notice."
The President opened the padded, black leather portfolio and
studied the three sheets of paper within.
"Looks like pretty
standard demographic migration stuff ... shifting voter
patterns, income distribution ... the usual. How does this
correct about the demographic migration, but the patterns
out there are not what we would traditionally call standard,
sir. Normally, when we see these big moves from rural to
more urban populations, you start developing a more
collective voting preference."
the President. "They change from rugged individualist,
cowboy gunslinger to neighborhood-minded soccer moms and
"Correct, sir. At
least it's what we're used to seeing. But the patterns in
Montana, and several of the other western states just aren't
following suit. We're getting the traditional rural-to-urban
migration all right, but voting preferences haven't changed
accordingly. In addition, there's been a significant influx
of new populations."
about the Hollywood and media crowd, buying up the hobby
ranches?" Henderson knew several close friends and
contributors who had done just that.
there, sir, but aren't really a factor. I mean one person
can buy up 10,000 acres, but it's still only one vote. The
family who sold the property is now living in a
three-bedroom ranch house outside of Missoula, and is still
voting conservative. Very conservative.
And the people who are moving into the state are coming in
from the eastern and western coastal areas."
"Sounds like good
news for us, no? It's an influx of more progressive thinkers
who should eventually dilute the conservative voting bloc.
Just like when New Hampshire became a bedroom community for
"Not so, sir. The
people moving in are very conservative, libertarian, really.
We're seeing lots of people moving away from the once
conservative, now progressive suburbs to what they consider
safer territory. And the local and state politics are
reflecting that. They've got the highest percentage of
libertarian politicians -- including the Governor -- of any
state in the Union."
"That's why we
can't get a Democrat elected dogcatcher out there."
"Yes sir. And from
their perspective, this legislative package is right in
"Almost 28 percent
of the acreage out there is federal land," the President
pointed out, taking a greater interest in the brief and
eyeballing some of the statistics.
"Yep. And until
very recently the federal government was the largest single
employer in the state. Toss the Bureau of Indian Affairs
into the mix, and you've got the most government-hating
concentration of people in the country living in the middle
of what is essentially a federal protectorate."
"We've pumped a
lot of money into that state over the years," the President
Assistant nodded. "Dependence can sometimes breed as much
resentment as respect, I suppose. We haven't even touched on
the gun issue ..."
"I understand the
state government has been a little lax in enforcement."
sir. ATF thinks practically every unregistered assault rifle
hidden since the Brady Bill has made its way into the
isn't going to give us any help with that, is he?" Henderson
"He's a real piece
of work. I understand he's calmed down a bit since being
elected governor -- he was a true bomb throwing,
revolutionary nut job when he was in the legislature -- but
the truly frightening thing, sir, is he was elected by huge
margins. And he's incredibly respected in the neighboring
"So the bottom
line is Nancy Taylor isn't holding out for a deal. She
reflects the state. They believe all that stuff and so does
she, so she's operating on principle," the President
Assistant nodded affirmatively.
Henderson placed the briefing folder on his desk.
"Well, I did find
someone who has spent some time in Governor Kane's eating
establishment -- you know he still owns the place. It's just
two or three blocks from the Capitol."
reading as much."
"He used to hold
court there before he got involved in elective politics. Now
he just pops in for a beer once in a while. Anyway, the
cocktail talk from off-duty legislators indicates all the
noise over the One Nation bill is not just a lack of
political support; there is serious talk of some sort of
civil disobedience across the state. And of course the
militia nuts are going berserk. Bill Barrett, the Flathead
County state senator, is really worried about possible
bombing or assassination attempts. You remember the book, Unintended
Consequences? The one where the gun nuts go ballistic
and start shooting all of the pro-gun-control politicians?
It's the new Bible out there. And believe me, this guy
Barrett is no friend of the federal government. If he's
worried, we should be worried."
cheeks reddened and his voice hardened a notch. "How the
hell did I just go from trying to get a piece of legislation
passed to possible assassination attempts?"
"Sir, when you
went to president's school, do you remember the lesson about
not shooting the messenger?"
governor doing about it?"
"We think he's
planning a quiet trip up to Kalispell with Barrett to try to
keep a lid on things."
"Keep me posted."
The President shifted in his chair, now noticeably
uncomfortable. "We've got a meeting to get to."
Fuentes stood together. After picking up another briefing
folder from his desk, President Henderson and his Special
Assistant quickly headed out to their meeting in silence.