B. Thomas Marking
The Wingspread Enterprise
1020 Needles Drive, Suite A
Custer, SD 57730
Genre: Political Drama
Publisher: The Wingspread Enterprise, www.FirstDemocracy.org
Price: $ 16.00
Autographed Copies: $16.00
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Biography: B.A., Political Science The CITADEL, The Military College of South Carolina. Extensive graduate work in Political Philosophy and International Relations at the University of Maryland. Seventeen years in the Civil Service, serving in four separate agencies: Department of the Navy, General Services Administration, Civil Aeronautics Board and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Eleven years at the U. S. Department of State as a Foreign Service Specialist, serving in Washington, D.C., plus the embassies in Islamabad, Manila and Ankara. Twenty-six years of volunteer service in the U. S. Air Force Auxiliary (Civil Air Patrol) and six years of volunteer service with the American Red Cross.
Currently residing in the Black Hills of South Dakota and working for an agency of the SD state government.
Synopsis: It is a presidential election year. The Republican candidate is weak and linked to a series of scandals. The Democratic candidate, Senator Rathburn Stoddard, should have it locked, except that a charismatic business tycoon has formed a third political party with the intent of transforming the American political system. The interloper seeks to give citizens the right to vote directly on major issues through binding national referenda. That, of course, is a threat to Washington norms.
However, the new Voice of Independence Party (V.I.P.) is a victim of its own success. The founder's granddaughter is kidnapped. To ensure her safe return, the V.I.P. candidate is forced to withdraw from the presidential race. The party leaders need a viable replacement immediately or their fragile movement will disintegrate. They decide to approach Mr. Thomas Jefferson (“T. J.”) Carroll. Carroll is the wealthy owner and editor of a major national magazine, a decorated war veteran, and son of the well-known Ambassador Jefferson Carroll.
T. J. just happens to be looking for a new challenge. Several factors compel him to accept. He needs something to fill the void left by a wife lost to illness, and he is no longer satisfied with political commentary from the sidelines.
Retired Senator Maggie Russell, a feisty old campaigner from Texas, complements Carroll’s quiet leadership. She is the vice-presidential nominee for the V.I.P. And in Smokey Weston, a wily campaign strategist with the demeanor of a Montana cowpoke, he finds a comrade and confidant to replace his late father (though Weston is confined to a wheel chair). This team gradually energizes the disaffected citizens of America and mounts a renewed threat to the Stoddard campaign. A brilliant performance in the presidential debate, coupled with last minute blunders by the Stoddard machine, lead to a nail-biting election. Carroll manages a narrow victory. It’s on to the White House.
Another member of Carroll’s campaign staff is southern-born divorcee, Laura McLaughlin, his chief speechwriter. There is an instant attraction. Both struggle, however, to maintain a professional relationship. They are the last to realize love is blossoming. With the election over, they succumb to their emotions and soon after taking office, T. J. proposes to Laura in the Oval Office. She becomes the new First Lady and his strong right arm in the fight for political reform.
As President, Carroll battles Congress for passage of the 29th Amendment; a change that would implement the national referendum system. This would mean nothing less than the dawn of direct democracy in America. Senator Rath Stoddard leads the opposition. He plots to preserve the status quo through political maneuvers and dirty tricks. In a last-ditch effort to derail the President’s initiative, an over-zealous member of the Senator's staff orchestrates an assassination attempt. The ambush fails, but there are several casualties. The FBI soon discovers the link to Stoddard.
In the climactic scenes, Carroll orchestrates an ambush of his own. He addresses a special joint session of Congress on July 3rd and simultaneously calls for a great march on The Capitol to demonstrate public support for the amendment. Passionate debate rages through the night. Carroll finally reveals Stoddard’s role in the attempt on his life and maneuvers Congress into a compromise. As dawn breaks on July 4th, President Carroll emerges to tell a huge crowd surrounding the Capitol that democracy is born again in America and in the world.
About the Book
XXIX is a unique work of daring fiction. It is the
Excerpt -- Representatives of the Voice of
The visitors are quite persistent. "Sir, we're going to make you the same offer ol' George Washington got back around 1775.
What we're asking is that you drop everything else you're doing and take on the uphill fight of your life; leading a rag-tag bunch of zealots that are pushing a radical new idea against well-healed professionals who want to keep things just the way they are. One helluva deal, ain't it?
Some time later, Marissa joins her son on the deck and they share the drama of a mountain sunset.
"You're considering it, aren't you?"
Thomas Jefferson Carroll confirms his mother's intuition.
"I figured as much," sighs Marissa. "It seems to be the Carroll's destiny to ride off and fight for the little guy, even when the cause is hopeless. I guess it's only natural you'd want to take on the Republicans and the Democrats -- both at the same time.
So begins a perilous odyssey that may lead one man, and his nation, to reconciliation with their pasts and a realization of their intended destinies. You are welcome to come along. However, it will then be up to you. Will this story become political fantasy or political prophecy?
Sample Chapter 15
Only once or twice a year are the combined House and Senate forced to rub shoulders, literally, in a joint session of Congress. Even that is too often for some. The fact that this is an unscheduled session, called just when they should be adjourning, makes the atmosphere all the more sour. The Fourth of July holiday is particularly lucrative in terms of fundraising. Now they’re all stuck in D. C.
Three loud bangs of a huge brass doorknocker bring sudden silence to the hall. The sergeant at arms opens the oversized doors with practiced solemnity, steps inside, and makes the traditional announcement. "Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States."
President Carroll enters, shaking hands with several individuals as he makes his way to the podium. Laura and Wilson are shown to seats in the VIP section of the upstairs gallery while a half dozen television crews make final adjustments. Several familiar faces from the White House staff are already seated: John Halbert, Duff Scroggin, Angel McKracken and Vicky Brazil. The president settles in at the podium and waits for the applause to subside. It doesn’t take long. One deep breath and then it's time.
"Madam Vice President, Mr. Speaker, distinguished members of the Supreme Court, the Senate and the House of Representatives, honored guests; I thank you all for meeting with me tonight.
“May I set the stage for my remarks by offering these words of wisdom from the writings of our third President, Thomas Jefferson? I quote:
'Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it, and labored with it. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.' Unquote.
"In the brief history of our nation, manners and opinions have changed dramatically, many new truths have been disclosed, many discoveries made. There has been great progress of the human mind -- indeed, progress in almost every aspect of our lives, save one.
“Still we labor under a form of government devised in a century long past. It is time for the institution of government to evolve and mature as well. No warning is intended or, I trust, needed. But history offers many ominous examples of governments that failed to grow along with their peoples.
“The issue posed by Amendment Twenty-nine is simple. Either you believe that the American people are ready to govern themselves, or you believe that the people in this chamber are somehow more worthy to make the policies that govern this nation. It is an argument America has been having since its birth, and never quite resolved. This amendment will finally bring that resolution.
“The world is watching now. They want to know if America truly believes in democracy -- believes in the wisdom of the common man; or if the dream we sold them was an illusion.
“They will have their answer soon. I have come for a decision on the proposed Twenty-ninth Amendment to our constitution. I will not leave here without it.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the legislature, I know this will be unusual, but I have studied your rules and procedures and I can find no prohibition. I therefore propose, Mr. Speaker, that this become a working session of the Committee of the Whole, convened for the specific purpose of openly debating, and then approving, or rejecting, Amendment Twenty-nine.
“I will retire to the floor of the chamber, so that I might participate in this debate as an equal and I would ask that the Speaker preside over this joint session as he would under any other circumstance."
Hundreds of men and women are now thrown into muffled pandemonium. They expected to simply listen and offer polite applause on cue. There are flurries of hushed discussion on the floor and in the galleries. Several men rush to consult with Senator Stoddard. The Speaker discusses the matter with the clerks and then with Maggie Russell who, of course, is also serving as President of the Senate. Finally, the Speaker, Marshall Williams, bangs his gavel, calling the chamber to order again.
"It has been proposed that this joint session of Congress become a working session of the Committee of the Whole for the purpose of debating the proposed Twenty-ninth Amendment and that we grant the chief executive the unusual privilege of participating in said debate."
Speaker Williams selects his words carefully and then makes his ruling known. "The proposal appears to be in order. Will someone second this motion?"
As expected, the announcement brings immediate response.
"Mr. Speaker," bellows Senator Stoddard.
"The chair recognizes the senior senator from West Virginia," responds Marsh Williams.
"Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the president’s desire to rush this issue to a swift conclusion. However, the legislature is a deliberative body and we have procedures, honed by long experience, for the orderly progress of debate. An issue of this magnitude should not be hastily decided. Furthermore, I must protest the president’s obvious attempt to force the legislature into submission on this. He has organized a massive demonstration in this city and now, with cameras rolling, he challenges us to an open debate on a very sensitive and divisive matter. I, for one, do not believe we can have an honest and open discourse under these conditions. I urge my fellow legislators to oppose this ill-conceived strategy."
The president is quick to respond. "Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the distinguished senator’s desire to keep this issue from coming to any conclusion. This item should have come to the floor of both houses months ago. Instead, it has been systematically blocked by your well honed procedures. The crowd outside simply demonstrates the public’s impatience with these delaying tactics. As for open discourse, well, I won’t pull any punches just because we’re on camera and I trust none of you will either."
Speaker Williams is content to let the two principle combatants continue their exchange, for now. Stoddard fires back. "Mr. Speaker, I’m sure that President Carroll is well-schooled in the constitutional requirements for making an amendment. We would have to arrive at a joint resolution, to which two-thirds of both houses must agree. Given that none of us came prepared to debate this issue tonight, the likelihood of attaining that level of agreement is remote at best. I assure the president that I am not irrevocably opposed to this addition to our constitution. But, as my old pappy used to tell me, “If somethin’ is worth doin’, it’s worth doin’ right.”
"Well, Mr. Speaker," counters Carroll, "that is exactly what I’m offering the Congress; a chance to do it right. I’m sure the distinguished senator from West Virginia has been following our progress with the states. At this moment, I have firm commitments from thirty-one state legislatures to call for a constitutional convention to consider the Twenty-ninth Amendment. A half dozen more will sign on if the Congress fails to seize the initiative and do the right thing by tomorrow.
"Now, if that convention is convened, ladies and gentlemen, the Twenty-ninth Amendment will be only one of the items on its agenda. You know that as well as I do. I think Senator Stoddard’s concerns would best be served by accepting a debate on this issue tonight."
Maggie was right. The prospect of a constitutional convention did strike fear into this body. It would be an opportunity to revisit everything the legislative branch had ever done; total exposure. A hush falls over the chamber. Marsh Williams takes the opportunity to regain control.
"Very well, do I have a second for the president’s proposal?” Those who aren't holding their breath are biting their lips to see if anyone will dare to stand and defy the Stoddard clan.
A statuesque young black woman is the first to rise. She lifts her eyes to the podium and throws her shoulders back. With appropriate gravity, she states, "Mr. Speaker, I will be honored to second the president’s motion." Muffled groans are heard amidst a collective sigh.
The Speaker is unable to hide a smile of approval. He leans over to Maggie and says, "This could turn out to be a fun evening after all."
The Vice President responds, "You can bet the farm on it, Marsh."
Williams takes the next step. "The motion to debate the Twenty-ninth Amendment in joint session has been seconded by the representative from New York. All those in favor signify by saying yea.”
As the assembly responds, a senator rushes to speak with Stoddard. "Rath, can’t we insist on two-thirds of both houses to pass this motion?"
"Stoddard shakes his head. "We better play along right now. If we throw up too many obstacles it might backfire. I’ll think of something."
Speaker Williams calls for the nays and the chamber responds. He could make a decision based on the aural response, but as expected, it's not going to be that easy. There wasn’t a clear distinction anyway.
Stoddard gets to his feet. "Mr. Speaker, I call for the yeas and nays."
Williams nods. "There is a call for the yeas and nays. The clerks will call the roll of the Senate first, then the House. I believe the president’s motion will require . . .” Williams pauses to check the figures. “ . . . 268 votes to pass -- a simple majority. Proceed."
The count begins and grinds on laboriously. Gene Kirby watches from GNN's assigned vantage point in the press gallery. Wearing headphones, he speaks intently but softly into the microphone.
"Oh, man! This whole thing could die right here. Camera 1, stay focused on the tally board. Camera 2, try to get as many close-ups as you can as they vote." Kirby is riveted by the drama, and hopes he is capturing the best of it for those who have to watch from home. He is.
At long last, the tally reaches 266 yea and 262 nay. There are only a few members left to be called. The clerk of the House slows down a bit in deference to the weight of the moment.
"Mr. Washburn," says the clerk.
"Yea" is the response.
"Mr. Washburn votes yea," notes the clerk. "Mrs. Yancy."
"Nay" is the response.
"Mrs. Yancy votes nay. Mr. Yourk."
"Nay" is the response.
"Mr. Yourk votes nay. Mr. Younger.”
Seth Younger, a freshman representative from Virginia, rises and takes a final look at the tally board. Facing the clerk, he raises his voice above its normal volume and declares "yea."
Individuals express their reaction in unmistakable body language. Some slump in their seats. Some bow their heads in relief or dismay. Several raise their eyes to the ceiling in gratitude to whatever deity resides there. Others roll their eyes in disapproval. The House clerk completes the roll call.
Carroll is among those who bow their heads, close their eyes and exhale slowly. Kirby raises a triumphant fist in the air and whispers "yes!" under his breath.
Once the Legislative Clerk of the Senate and the Clerk of the House make their formal report to the Speaker, Marsh Williams turns to President Carroll. "The final count is 269 Yea, 264 nay, and two abstaining or absent. Mr. President, would you care to now join the assembly?" Smokey’s Bandits, the amendment’s lobbyists, had done well.
The president steps down from the dais. A vacant chair appears as if by magic and a Senate Page escorts Mr. Carroll to his place. Before the smartly dressed teenager departs, he subtly reveals a Young Rough Rider pin and whispers, "The pages are all with you, sir."
The president shakes the boy's hand and smiles warmly. "Hey, thanks, son. That’s good to know."
Marsh Williams, as always, is sensitive to the plight of the citizens outside the chamber who are trying to follow the proceedings. He therefore asks the president to set the stage for the unexpected debate.
"Mr. President, before we get into this too deeply, it might be well to briefly review the basic process described by the proposed Twenty-ninth Amendment, for the benefit of all those here and at home."
"An excellent suggestion, Mr. Speaker." The president turns to face the chamber. "Well, let’s see. Every three months a small group of volunteer citizens, randomly selected by computer, meets in seclusion and decides which policy issues, if any, need to be put before the voters. They are sequestered to prevent undue pressure from special interests. However, in this task they may seek advice from any source they choose, in the government or in the private sector. The selected issues are then published and a national referendum begins. One month is allowed for a full public debate and voters may cast their ballots at any time during that period. This may be done by phone, via computer, or in person at a designated polling place. These votes are tallied, under strict scrutiny and security, at a Regional Decision Center, like the prototype in Rapid City.
“Now, if two-thirds of the participating voters say yes, the policy is approved. This decision is then binding on all branches of the federal government. The Congress must translate the policy into law. The executive branch must implement the law. And the judiciary resolves any disputes that may arise, while staying true to the decision of the citizenry.
“That’s just an overview. But I think it’s a fairly simple concept and it should be enough to get us started."
"Thank you, Mr. President," says Speaker Williams. "Now, who wants to fire the opening salvo?"
Surprisingly, Rath Stoddard does not respond. He has decided to let his lieutenants engage the enemy first. The “Boss of Bosses” gives the nod to a nearby cohort. It is a sound and predictable tactic.
Marsh Williams answers the call. "The chair recognizes Mr. Prescott, the senior Senator from Massachusetts." Prescott shuffles his papers before beginning. "Very well, Mr. President. One of the troubling aspects of this amendment, for me, is the concept of a small group of citizens, meeting for a brief period, and attempting to articulate the major issues needing resolution. There will be issues involving national security that cannot be openly discussed and there will be issues of such complexity that this short-lived group you call “the Caucus,” could never fully understand them. I would feel much more comfortable, sir, with this entire concept, if it were the Congress that articulated the issues to be submitted to a national referendum."
The president is well prepared for this easily anticipated objection. Once recognized by the chair, he responds. "I’m sure you would, sir. And your concerns are legitimate. However, your proposal raises even greater concerns. It would allow the Congress to continue acting as a parent, submitting to the citizens only those issues that it considers simple enough for them to understand or of such low importance that no real harm would come from letting the voters make the decision. No, the citizens of this nation must be trusted to choose their own issues.
“Now, as to your point on questions of national security: remember that the citizenry will only be setting general policy, not approving individual projects or classified programs. For example, the Caucus might call for a referendum on whether the Defense Department should re-institute the draft, but it would probably not want to consider whether the Army needed a specific new weapons system.
"I also believe that our national security policies should be well known, to friend and foe alike. And, I'm comfortable that the Caucus will know when it's getting in over its head or down into the weeds."
A congresswoman stands to be recognized and Speaker Williams accommodates. "The Chair recognizes Mrs. Myers, the Congresswoman from Arizona’s Third District."
"Mr. President, the future role of Congress is a stumbling block for me in this matter. If the citizens at large now determine national policy and the Congress simply translates that policy into law, would the nation still need both houses of Congress? If not, which one goes away -- the one based on equal representation, or the one based on proportional representation?" Myers takes a quick sip of water but indicates that she's not through yet. "It seems to me," continues the Arizona representative, "that this could fundamentally alter the delicate balance of powers designed by the Founding Fathers."
"I think it’s far too early to raise the specter of congressmen in the unemployment lines," muses the president, "especially considering the generous retirement plan you’ve designed for yourselves." This draws some polite chortles -- not as many as hoped. "But seriously, I see no shortage of work for the two houses of Congress. The citizens will obviously not choose to intervene in every issue before the legislature. The Caucus will identify the few questions the public should be deciding. The vast majority of issues will work their way through Congress as usual. Of course, if Congress should fall into gridlock, as seems to often happen, the Caucus might simply elect to take the matter out of their hands.
“Regarding the balance of powers, two points need to be made. One: the powers have been in severe imbalance for some time, because the ultimate 'power of the purse' resides with Congress. For example, no public servant in this country, not even me, nobody except the members of Congress, can vote themselves a salary increase.
“And two: one might look at Amendment Twenty-nine as finally recognizing the existence of the fourth branch of government -- the people; who, until now, have had almost no meaningful power. I believe this amendment will actually restore and strengthen the balance of powers in our system, not weaken them. There will be four legs to stand on instead of three."
Congresswoman Myers shakes her head in disagreement as she summarizes her feelings. “It sounds to me like Congress could find its hands tied at every turn, financially and in terms of meeting the nation’s legislative needs. I feel this amendment will bring us new paralysis, not new liberty.”
The president smiles before responding, and pauses to show that he’s giving due consideration to the Congresswoman’s points. “The people won’t allow their legislative branch to fail or look foolish, madam. As Americans, we’re very proud of our Congress and what it stands for in the world. We’ll be even more proud when it accepts the concept of citizens being the final authority in the laws that govern them.”
At this juncture, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court rises. "Mr. Speaker, may I be permitted a question in this forum?"
"Certainly, sir. The chair recognizes the honorable Chief Justice Engelman of the Supreme Court."
"Speaking for the court, Mr. President, we too are concerned about disturbing the balance of powers. It seems that even decisions of the Supreme Court might be overruled, declared unconstitutional, as it were, by a popular referendum. If the Supreme Court is no longer the final authority, we worry that our system of laws will lose its anchor, drift with the prevailing winds and justice may be less certain in a future America."
“I am pleased that the judicial branch of government is so ably represented here today,” responds the president. “It too will face new challenges. Let me reply, if I may, with another of my favorite Presidential quotations: 'The people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts -- not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.' End quote." Carroll lets that sink in for a moment.
"That’s from Lincoln’s inaugural address. Your recent term limits decision is a fine example. The court established a new national policy; an unpopular policy that I believe may well be reversed once the Twenty-ninth Amendment is in place. So be it. America will still be a nation of laws, Mr. Chief Justice, but the laws will be better conceived and stronger because the very people who must abide by them will adopt them.
“Therefore, I cannot share your cynicism about the future of justice in America. No people on this planet have a stronger sense of justice than we Americans. Our splendid jury system is living proof.
“The people have always relied upon the good judgment of the court. It’s time for the court to reciprocate. What say we put some trust in their collective wisdom for a change?"
The chief justice nods as he sits down. Though acknowledging the president’s point, he is obviously not feeling quite as chastised as Carroll might have hoped. Still, the concept of supreme sovereignty belonging to the citizenry has been introduced. The president prays he has done it well.
For the next several hours, the debate continues. Every word of the proposed amendment is examined. Every "what if" is imagined and brought to the table. Mostly calm, sometimes stormy, the show goes on. Viewers around the world come to appreciate the value of station identification breaks because, in this commercial-free telecast, there's no good time to raid the fridge or milk the goat. On the grounds surrounding the Capitol Building, battery powered TV sets and radios draw crowds as the people strain to hear every word or see every bit of the action.
In the seventh hour of the proceedings, a middle-aged man from Miami stands. He feels it's time to take his shot.
Marsh Williams renders the usual courtesies. "The chair recognizes Mr. Pineda, representative from the great state of Florida."
From the beginning, the acidic tone in Pineda's voice conveys his position and attitude. "Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. President, I rise to speak for America’s minorities. The great Alexis de Tocqueville once warned of a dictatorship of the majority and I think your proposal to bestow ultimate authority on the general public takes us right in that direction. There are many examples in history of whole nations making bad decisions, in a moment of passion, with terrible consequences for themselves and others.
“Look at our own “Bastion of Democracy.” We can hardly claim to have treated our minorities with wisdom and compassion: the Native Americans, the Africans, the Irish, the Japanese-Americans, the Hispanics, the Muslims, and others.
“At least in our present system, the voice of the minority is not so easily drowned out. Once we bestow these new powers on the majority, what protection does your very odd version of democracy offer?"
The president holds his tongue for a moment, but his face reveals a cold anger building. At this point, everyone in the chamber is tired and frustrated. Emotions were bound to surface eventually.
"Protections? None at all, sir, except the good sense of the American people. And let’s get one thing straight right now. We, the government, cannot bestow this authority on the people. All we can do is return this authority to its rightful owners, having absconded with it on the basis of 'implied consent,' and then abused it for over two centuries.
Do some of you really worry about the people making bad policy decisions? The question is sincere. I want to know. Do you?" The President gets no response at all.
"Well then, let me ask you this ...
As the president's tirade continues, a senior senator goes to Rath Stoddard, urging him to do something. Stoddard nods his agreement. With each new indictment, Carroll's fervor is growing.
At this point, Senator Stoddard breaks the opposition’s long silence. "Mr. Speaker! I think we’ve heard just about enough of this. Clearly, the president came here, not for an honest debate, but to harangue and discredit and bully the Congress into submission on his pet project. Our record is not perfect. I will grant that. But neither is it as onerous as the president would have the American people believe. If he will show no respect for this venerable institution and its distinguished members, I, for one, do not feel compelled to remain here and suffer his abuse. I urge my colleagues to follow my lead."
With that, Stoddard gathers his papers and storms out of the chamber. About 150 others follow on his heals. Those remaining sit in shock or break into small discussion groups. Disorder reigns.
The First Lady, seeing the exodus, mobilizes the nearby White House staff, leaves the viewing gallery and hurries to help block any attempted departure. At the same time, television and radio networks cut in with instant analysis of the dire situation in Washington.
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