Governor Eidenberger signed the papers in front of him with a flourish, then posed in the classic grip-and-grin with the three men before him. Floor heaters hummed vigorously, warming the 600 square foot outdoor tent that was outfitted with Astroturf carpet, a solid oak desk, and the flags of both the United States and California on separate poles.
“ Thank you, gentlemen, it was a pleasure working with you.” He shook hands with each man and patted he last one on the back as they exited.
Begman nodded at the departing lobbyists, and at the stone-faced security detail, as he entered and stood before the governor.
“Sir? We have a few issues to talk about.”
Governor Eidenberger dropped to the ground. “ I’m going to do push-ups while you talk.”
Begman consulted his clipboard. “First, the President’s people have asked that you refrain from smoking cigars with cameras around, since you are on the President’s Council for Physical Fitness. They feel it sends a mixed message to the youth of today. “
The Governor counted off, “Ten, eleven, twelve.”
“Did you hear me?” asked Begman, leaning over a bit.
The Governor put one hand behind his back and maintained his pose. “Look at me! 60 years old and I can still kick the heiny of a man half my age. A third my age, even. “ He continued his exercises.
“What about the cigars, sir?”
The Governor switched to sit-ups. “I say, you can be fit and still smoke occasionally. Look at me! I already installed this stupid tent since it’s illegal to smoke inside. And don’t even get me started on the fact that I have to hide the Cubans or smoke that inferior crap. What else do you have for me?”
“ This Placerville secession thing,” said Begman, still standing. “It’s turned out to have unexpected depths.”
Eidenberger stopped his crunches and laughed. “You mean that crazy stripper, Moonbeam Hemingway or whatever she calls herself? She’s just doing this as a publicity stunt. It’s all to drum up business for her shows.”
“ No, sir, this isn’t about the stripper. We researched the secession issue and the kid may be on to something with this petition.”
“ You can’t just leave the United States,” said the Governor as he got off the floor and sat behind his desk, gesturing for Begman to sit in the visitor’s chair. “Congress has to approve it. I know this because I learned it when I took my citizenship test.”
Begman flipped some papers while he talked. “Normally, yes, it requires an act of Congress. But it turns out California was rushed into the union in 1850 so the federal government could tax all the gold anticipated in the gold rush of 1849. Since California was admitted so hastily………well, all of the usual safeguards and language weren’t quite in place. In California, all that’s required is for a majority of the citizens to agree to secede. Citizens, sir. Not registered voters. Not even people over 18. Just anybody living in the town.”
“ They don’t even have to be over 18? That’s crazy,” said the Governor skeptically.
Begman shrugged as he replied, “This is California, sir. “
“Well, we can’t let this happen. Can we just fence in the whole town and declare them enemy combatants? Starve them out until this blows over?” proposed the Governor.
“ Uh, I don’t think so. What they’re doing is perfectly legal. They’re not plotting the violent overthrow of the government,” replied Begman. “Plus, public relations-wise, I don’t think imprisoning a town will help your image. “
The Governor leaned back and laced his fingers behind his head. “I need to be seen as strong but reasonable. Not punitive, but well-informed, with the best interests of all in mind. Remember when the Indians wanted gambling on their own little compounds, but didn’t want to pay any taxes to California? “
“ You mean the Native Americans putting casinos on their reservations, sir.”
“Yeah, them,” said the Governor. “ I told them if they didn’t kick some of the proceeds to the state, I would make it difficult for anyone to access their land. We’ll do the same with Placerville. Have the transportation guys go out and install toll booths at the entrance and exit to town. 25 bucks to get in or out of town, if they’re using the state highways. That’s only fair. If they’re leaving the state, we have to recoup the tax money they won’t be paying.”
“ That town does see a lot of ski traffic,” agreed Begman as he jotted some notes.
“Exactly,” said Governor Eidenberger.