- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2000

LONG BEACH, Calif. The Reform Party virtually split in two yesterday afternoon in a blizzard of shouts and shoves as supporters of presidential candidate John Hagelin stormed out of a meeting, proclaiming that backers of Pat Buchanan had violated the constitution of the fledgling party.
As emboldened party members jostled with security, party secretary Jim Mangia stormed out of the room, trailed by Mr. Hagelin and his aides.
Mr. Mangia denounced as illegal the meeting, called by Mr. Buchanan to discuss the process for selecting delegates and committee members, while others at his side loudly denounced Mr. Buchanan and his followers.
"They had no quorum and tried to put in members who were illegitimate," said Jim Bourassa, who said he was the chairman of the Arizona Reform Party. He also said the security guards tried to keep the dissenters in the room as they left.
One Texas delegate, irritated because the meeting was closed, tried to push his way past guards and into the meeting during the melee.
Another delegate, Victor Good from Colorado, pushed open the door to the Westin Hotel ballroom and encouraged those outside to come in while the besieged guards fought back the crowd.
"The real convention is now in session and is being held at the Renaissance Hotel [two blocks from the Westin]," Mr. Bourassa said. "And it's open to everybody."
At that convention, which the Buchanan camp disputed, Mr. Mangia said the faction will file a lawsuit against Mr. Buchanan, alleging voter fraud in the party's primary.
They claim Mr. Buchanan sent ballots to people who were not properly registered voters. The deadline for voting is today.
"The goons have failed. This is how the Buchanans do business by fiat, by despotism," said Tony Hernandez, secretary of the Reform Party of Florida. "Shame on them."
The disputed meeting at the Westin, called and paid for by Mr. Buchanan, was being held to address concerns that some of the national committee's 164 members were appointed in violation of the party's constitution.
The hope was to remedy those concerns and properly seat the committee.
"This is a key meeting," said Bay Buchanan, Mr. Buchanan's sister and chief political adviser. "It establishes the authority of [party chairman] Gerry Moan and decides who is on the national committee."
The convention declared by Mr. Bourassa is unauthorized and has no party legitimacy, she added.
"Even if they were outnumbered 200 votes to one, they would still say that we were not the winners," Mrs. Buchanan said.
When the bulk of convention attendees arrive today, they could be faced with two conventions and two candidates each claiming to be the rightly nominated party candidate.
Both Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Hagelin's camps are convinced the other side has no legal case, and each will stake claim to $12.6 million in federal election money in the name of the party.
That money is available because of party founder Ross Perot's showing in the 1992 and 1996 elections, during which he drew a combined 27 million votes.
But Perot loyalists, who back Mr. Hagelin, claim that Mr. Buchanan's defection from the Republican Party last fall brought an unwelcome conservatism to the party.
Mr. Buchanan, who is drawing around 2 percent in national polls, maintains that the party will end if he is not nominated for the presidency.
Both sides have sniped at each other for purported violations of the party's constitution.
A July 29 Reform Party Executive Committee meeting in Dallas declared Mr. Buchanan ineligible for the presidential nomination for refusing to turn over a list of voters who had received Reform Party ballots.
Mr. Buchanan claimed that action void because the committee had two members who were not properly appointed.
Perhaps a better illustration of the rancor, which bordered on petty at times, occurred outside the Westin ballroom yesterday, when two men approached a Long Beach police officer and accused each other of simple assault.
The officer simply told both to go back to their meeting and stand on opposite sides of the room.
Mr. Bourassa called the Buchanan backers "party wreckers."
Responded Buchanan aide Tim Haley, the Hagelin camp is "a strange group of people."
Neil Bernstein, a former Buchanan press secretary, can't avoid the dispute; fired earlier this year from the Buchanan campaign, Mr. Bernstein announced yesterday that he will assist the Hagelin campaign during the convention.
The verbal exchanges and the interchanging personnel show a degree of dedication to political reform rather than a confused, floundering movement, offered delegate Conor Coughlin, from Mukilteo, Wash.
"This party absolutely has its act together," Mr. Coughlin said. "You are looking at very passionate people."
Mrs. Buchanan said the chaos sends a positive message to voters.
"It tells them that this is a vibrant party, a party that is alive, a party that is willing to disagree," the candidate's sister said.
Mr. Moan, the party chairman, said he will do all he can to mediate between the two sides, although "I'm the one everybody hates on Monday," when the convention ends.
Mr. Buchanan is scheduled to arrive this afternoon. His acceptance speech, also disputed, is slated for Friday.
However beleaguered, the Reform Party and its hope for an alternative to the "Potomac Party" as one Reform loyalist called the two major parties, will stagger on.
"It just continues along its tortuous path," said founding chairman Russ Verney.

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