Wes McCune began watching Ronald Reagan in 1961, when he noticed a news story of a speech the Hollywood actor delivered in Denver. Reagan blasted the Social Security system and warned against the creation "of a permanent structure of government so complex it is virtually beyond congressional control and self-perpetuating."
McCune clipped the article, just as he saved the article in which Reagan [did] announce his gubernatorial candidacy, it was McCune whom Pat Brown's office called to ask: Who's this guy Reagan?
McCune, as he's been doing for more than two decades, went to his files.And the answer was there, because if it happened in the world of American conservatism, Wes McCune knows about it.
Bow-tied and low-key, he operates under the bland name of Group Research, Inc. McCune and his secretary, Gladys Segal, for 20 years have monitored the comings and goings of the nation's right wing. Reporters call for background information. Political campaigns call for ammunition. Labor and educational groups ask for research. Each month he writes a newsletter.
"I don't think people realize yet how much of a statistical change there's been in Congress," he says. "They know the Republicans won the Senate, but they think Baker runs the place. They don't yet know how strong the organized right is."
The McCune files began when he worked as a reporter in the '40s for Newsweek, then for Time and Life before serving as executive assistant to President Truman's secretary of agriculture. In 1956 he returned to his home state of Colorado as public relations chief for the National Farmer's Union.
But people kept calling him about his files. In 1962 friends talked him into organizing the files in Washington, and today he operates from the upper floor of a Capitol Hill townhouse with creaky steps and fading wallpaper.
McCune's is a solitary crusade. Newsletter subscriptions ($30 per year), contract research jobs and an occasional fund-raiser pay the rent.
"I have to fight paranoia in this occupation," says McCune. "You think, 'They're coming! They're coming!' But I have to keep a perspective, and I hope I do. But look at the Senate -- you have to realize this is not just a bunch of accidents happening, something is going on."
But not to worry -- iit's all in the files.