- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2000

The Reform Party riot

The "giant sucking sound" Ross Perot and others heard over the weekend in Nashville was the sound of Mr. Perot's wild-eyed, vengeful enforcers sucking the democratic lifeblood out of his so-called Reform Party. Mr. Perot evidently believes that his financial contributions during the Reform Party's formative years entitle him to control the party forever. The ugly spectacle on Saturday in Nashville, during which pro-Perot forces literally strong-armed their way back into power, had all the democratic underpinnings of the Beer Hall Putsch.

Last July at the party's national convention in Dearborn, Mich., Reform Party delegates selected Jack Gargan as party chairman. Mr. Gargan was backed by Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, the Reform Party's highest elected official. The chairman's post became vacant when Russell Verney, a longtime aide to Mr. Perot, decided to step down. Mr. Gargan, who received more than 60 percent of the 400 delegates' votes in a runoff election, soundly defeated Mr. Perot's hand-picked successor for the post.

Mr. Gargan did not assume the chairmanship until Jan. 1. From the moment he was elected, however, pro-Perot forces began a determined effort to undermine his role in the party. Mr. Ventura was also a major target. The Perotistas did what they could to sabotage the orderly transfer of power and to diminish Mr. Ventura's growing influence in the party. Why? Undoubtedly, ideology played a major role. Despite all his idiosyncrasies and bombastic pronouncements, Mr. Ventura is a committed ideologue. He repeatedly emphasizes his belief in free trade and tax reduction. Free trade, of course, is anathema to Ross Perot. In picking Pat Choate to be his running mate on the Reform Party's 1996 presidential ticket, Mr. Perot reached out to one of the most vociferous protectionists in the nation.

The Perotista forces never intended to give Mr. Gargan a chance. Six weeks after his term began, the Perot-stacked executive committee forced the Nashville meeting to strip Mr. Gargan of power. In his place, they installed Mr. Choate, who immediately resigned as campaign manager for Patrick Buchanan. Anticipating the Perot putsch, which occurred amid near-riotous conditions, Mr. Ventura resigned from the Reform Party last Friday, calling it "hopelessly dysfunctional." Mr. Buchanan is now the favorite to capture the Reform Party presidential nomination, unless the mercurial Mr. Perot and his henchmen decide the founder himself is entitled once again to be standard bearer. In either case, democracy has suffered a fatal blow in a party that was ostensibly created to reinvigorate the democratic process.

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