Reform Party Gathers to Rally Support in Key State
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The first time Carolyn Guillot heard Ross Perot speak, she was intrigued. The second time, she was hooked.
``I had never been involved in politics before,″ the 54-year-old says. ``I just was attracted to Ross Perot. He was speaking to the issues that I was concerned about.″
The Texas billionaire’s fledgling Reform Party holds its first statewide conference this weekend. Presidential politics will certainly be on the bill _ Perot is scheduled to speak, as well as former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, mentioned as a possible Reform Party alternative to Perot.
``Ross Perot is an integral part of this party but we need to move beyond the aura of one individual,″ said state party chairman Michael Farris. ``I think that’s what Ross Perot wants.″
But that won’t be the only concern. Sunday will be devoted to teaching members how to build a new political party. Workshops will focus on local party organization and candidate recruitment.
``It’s kind of the introduction of the party to the membership on a statewide basis,″ said Farris.
``Building a party is a long-term process. It is necessary for us to organize for a long-term manner to ensure we get the Reform agenda passed,″ he said.
Perot has said he is not interested in running again, but would do so if the party members asked. He is scheduled to be the concluding speaker on Saturday.
``I’m hoping for a strong other candidate,″ said Guillot, the Santa Monica grandmother. ``I like what Perot says, but I don’t think he could win. I want somebody with a new face.″
Finding that somebody is another matter. Without Perot as its candidate, Claremont Graduate School political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe says, the Reform Party may have trouble raising the money necessary to compete with the Republicans and the Democrats.
``To have the least bit of legitimacy, they’ll have to have someone with money,″ she said.
One frequently mentioned possibility is Lamm, who is scheduled to address the conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center Saturday. Lamm has more than once that he doesn’t plan to run, but some party members are hoping he will change his mind.
The Reform Party qualified for the California ballot last November with signatures of 117,620 registered voters, about 26,000 more than necessary.
The party has candidates running in 10 of California’s 52 congressional races and in six of 120 legislative races.
Perot won 20.6 percent of the California vote in his 1992 presidential race, about 2 percent above his national average.
In the 1996 Republican primary, voters who said they supported Perot in 1992 again tended to cite the economy, taxes and the deficit as the most important issue.
They were less likely than GOP primary voters overall to support an anti-abortion plank in the Republican platform, and less likely to identify themselves as members of the ``religious right.″
The unifying force, party members say, is a lack of confidence in the Republican and Democratic parties.
``I used to believe the major politicians when they told us everything was wonderful and would be better next year. Then I began to realize that wasn’t so,″ said Allan Chambers, 60 of Santa Monica.