National Reform Party experiences chaos

Erin Ghere

Gov. Jesse Ventura and members of the newly reformed Independence Party broke away from the national Reform Party earlier this year, saying it was in disarray.
Chaos at this week’s national Reform Party convention could only reinforce their opinions.
The Long Beach, Calif., convention split in half early on amid arguments. The two sides marched on the other’s convention, while moderates attempted to halt physical altercations in the hallways.
The conventions ended peacefully Saturday several blocks from each other, each nominating a different man for president: Pat Buchanan and Iowa physicist John Hagelin.
The decision now rests in the hands of the Federal Election Committee and from there possibly a court.
At stake is $12.5 million in federal campaign funding secured by H. Ross Perot in his 1996 presidential run. By garnering 8 percent of the popular vote, Perot fulfilled a 5 percent vote requirement for political parties to qualify for federal funding the following election year.
It was Perot’s supporters who nominated Hagelin, rather than Buchanan. Many Hagelin supporters say they dislike Buchanan’s anti-abortion and hard right-wing leanings.
Both men accepted the party’s endorsement as well as running mates. Buchanan’s vice presidential candidate is Ezola Foster, a California black educator, while Hagelin’s is Nat Goldharber, a California computer millionaire.
A difference of opinion
Buchanan is calling for an end to legalized abortion and international trade agreements, as well as a reduction in federal taxes.
He warned of a country where “abortions replace tonsil removals as America’s most common medical procedure.”
In addition, he condemned the country’s current Democratic leadership’s acceptance of homosexuality.
“Rampant homosexuality, a sign of cultural decadence and moral decline … is celebrated, as our first lady parades up Fifth Avenue to share her ‘pride’ in a lifestyle ruinous to body and soul alike,” Buchanan said during the convention.
Hagelin’s convention speeches focused on a variety of issues: campaign finance reform, preventative health care, clean energy, teachers’ salaries and foreign policy.
The former Maharishi University (Iowa) college professor previously ran as the presidential candidate for the meditation-inspired Natural Law Party twice before and will again this year in addition to his Reform Party run.
The split
As the two conventions nominated separate men for the same position, they also traded barbs, accusing each other of election fraud by using mail-in and Internet votes for nominating purposes.
Hagelin filed two complaints with the FEC while the convention was still underway.
Hy Berman, a University history professor, said most third parties have a cycle where they come into existence, peak and then decline.
But with the Reform Party, Berman said, there is a further problem: The party never had a structure or organization; it was an operation to elect Perot.
And without cohesion, the party broke down.
Attempted reconciliation talks broke down, but Buchanan reached out to Hagelin supporters and Perot in his acceptance speech Saturday.
“We’re giving (the Reform Party) the chance to grow and live. We’ve earned that chance. Ross, come on out and give us a hand.”
Buchanan was considered a member of the Republican Party until October 1999 when he said he would consider the Reform Party’s nomination for president. He has worked under several Republican presidents, including President Ronald Reagan, in the past.
Hagelin and his supporters claim Buchanan swooped in and stole the party from its true followers.
Pam Ellison, who is running for the Fourth District congress seat under the Independence Party, said it was Buchanan’s presence that made many Minnesotans want to break off from the Reform Party.
“This was not the party we wanted to be affiliated with,” said Ellison, who was also worked on Ventura’s gubernatorial campaign.
All of Minnesota’s Reform Party delegates attended the pro-Buchanan convention.
The FEC will have 10 days to decide who should receive the $12.5 million in funding. Republican candidate George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Al Gore will each receive about $67.56 million.
Without a clear candidate, Reform Party voter support might waiver — a move that could hurt the party significantly. If Buchanan or Hagelin cannot pull 5 percent of the vote in the Nov. 7 general election, there will be no federal funding for the party in 2004.
As the convention closed Saturday night with no compromise in sight, one of the nation’s most viable third parties rolls on to November, its fate undetermined.
— The Associated Press contributed to the report.
Erin Ghere welcomes comments at [email protected]