- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2000

As he recalled in his autobiography, "Right from the Beginning," Pat Buchanan, the pugnacious commentator and former Republican presidential candidate who is now seeking the nomination of the Reform Party, refined his pugilistic instincts on the streets of Washington. During the 1950s, Mr. Buchanan fondly recalled in his memoirs, he and his brothers routinely engaged in weekend fisticuffs with others merely for the sport of it. That experience may come in handy at the Reform Party's convention, which officially begins today in Long Beach, Calif. Given what has already transpired earlier this week, it would not be surprising if Mr. Buchanan and his "brigadiers" resorted to hand-to-hand combat as part of his strategy to capture the nomination, a prize far more valuable than Monday-morning bragging rights at Gonzaga College High School nearly 50 years ago. Indeed, the Reform Party's nomination carries with it $12.6 million in federal funds to be spent in the general election.

It is all extremely confusing. At a pre-convention Tuesday meeting of the Reform Party's National Committee, total chaos erupted. Some party members attempted to storm the closed meeting from the outside, while dozens of National Committee members from the inside bolted through the exit door, leaving the meeting to form a competing National Committee session at a different hotel.

The Buchanan campaign had called for the meeting of the Reform Party's 164-member National Committee, which includes three members from each state and the District of Columbia as well as the party's 11-member Executive Committee. This came after the Executive Committee late last month voted to disqualify Mr. Buchanan from seeking a slot on the party's presidential ballot. The Committee took that action after Mr. Buchanan had refused to provide material proving that the people whose names he had submitted as qualified participants in the party's primaries were in fact eligible to vote. John Hagelin, a two-time presidential candidate for the Natural Law Party who is challenging Mr. Buchanan for the Reform Party's nomination, has charged that Mr. Buchanan had corrupted the primary process by sending Reform Party primary ballots to people who had supported him in his three races for the Republican Party nomination. Mr. Buchanan argues that two of the seven Executive Committee members who voted to disqualify him lacked the credentials to cast their votes.

In an effort to deny Mr. Buchanan the party's nomination, associates of H. Ross Perot, the gadfly billionaire who created the Reform Party, but who probably will not be attending the convention, are backing Mr. Hagelin, a physicist who believes that a particular form of meditation "yogic flying" will end wars and reduce crime. For good reason, the anti-Buchanan faction believes that the former conservative Republican will transform the Reform Party which Mr. Perot established to pursue fiscal discipline, changes in campaign-finance laws and reform of entitlement programs into a socially conservative party emphasizing issues long dear to Mr. Buchanan, including opposition to abortion, homosexuality, globalization, immigration and affirmative action.

The fight during Tuesday's National Committee meeting erupted over two issues: the Executive Committee's disqualification of Mr. Buchanan and the selection of the chairman of the convention credentials committee, which will rule on the 40 or so convention delegate challenges. Determining which delegations to seat is crucially important because party rules permit the convention delegates to set aside the results of the party's primary voting which has been conducted in recent weeks by e-mail, postal mail, phone and other means. This can happen if two-thirds of the delegates seek to nominate another candidate. Thus, even if he loses the primary vote, Mr. Buchanan can capture the nomination if he controls the convention credentials committee.

Regardless of the outcomes of what seem to be evolving into two distinct Reform Party conventions this week, the courts will almost certainly determine which candidate will receive the federal subsidy and represent the party in the general election. Another certainty is that nobody will confuse the wild machinations of the Reform Party with the scripted conventions of the Republican and Democratic parties.

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