Perot: ‘I Am Mainly a Myth’ With PM-Perot, Bjt
DALLAS (AP) _ He’s worth about $3.5 billion. He owns a copy of the Magna Carta. He donated horses to the New York City police. He put together a commando team to rescue Americans trapped in a foreign land. Now he wants to be president.
″I keep having to remind people I am mainly a myth,″ says Ross Perot, who journeyed from middle class to billionaire tycoon.
On Thursday, Perot’s equally extraordinary political path took another twist as he formally entered the presidential race.
He cast himself as a reluctant political warrior, forced to oblige the die- hard volunteers who put him on 50 ballots. Yet he bankrolled their efforts for 2 1/2 months after dropping his undeclared candidacy.
The wiry, wisecracking Perot grew up in Texarkana, which straddles the Texas-Arkansas border 160 miles east of Dallas. The son of a cotton broker and homemaker, Perot calls his parents ″heroes.″
After graduating from Texarkana Junior College, Perot entered the Naval Academy, serving on a destroyer and aircraft carrier from 1953 to 1957.
In 1955, angered by a senior officer and confused by the terms of his service obligation, Perot sought help from Texans in Congress to get out of the Navy. But he couldn’t and was reassigned to another ship.
Still, the Navy instilled in Perot a passion for the military that crops up in his everyday action and language.
The same year he left the Navy, Perot married Margot Birmingham, a one-time schoolteacher, now an active participant in Dallas civic organizations. They have five children.
In 1962, at a time when few understood computers, Perot founded Electronic Data Systems Corp. It grew into a giant by landing contracts for big data processing jobs and new system designs - much of it government work.
His contracts with the government left a two-decade trail of congressional investigations into allegations of favored treatment, unfair bidding practices, excessive charges and costly errors. But his business thrived.
He instilled a military-like, round-the-clock dedication in EDS employees and, for a time, urged a conservative dress code that some likened to a uniform.
Employees were required to sign forms giving Perot the right to investigate them. More recently, reports this summer indicated Perot hired private investigators to probe the business dealings of President Bush’s family and, this year, the backgrounds of his own campaign supporters.
As philanthropist extraordinaire, Perot spent $4 million to charter jets with supplies for U.S. prisoners in Vietnam in 1969. The goods were never delivered but Perot raised the profile of POWs and has championed their causes since.
The POW effort quickly won him notice inside the White House. Former Nixon administration aides recalled him as the ″ultimate insider″ who parlayed offers to spend up to $60 million to polish Nixon’s image into access to the president and favors for his company and family.
In early 1979, he organized a private commando team to help two EDS employees flee from Iran. Perot later supervised a book on the flight that was written by British author Ken Follett. ″On Wings of Eagles″ became a TV miniseries in 1983.
Perot’s speech is peppered with military references and jargon. He likened reporters’ questioning during his campaign build-up to ″saturation bombing″ and, in 1989, suggested that the rules of war should be applied against drug criminals.
But Perot turned dove when it came to the Persian Gulf War. In the weeks before the war began, Perot said, ″Don’t send 437,000 wonderful American fighting men and women to die to cover our 10 years of stupid errors.″
In the early 1980s, he headed statewide commissions on drug crimes and education reform at the behest of Texas governors.
Other times, he put himself in the middle of the day’s hot issues - such as trying to save a dying Wall Street brokerage in 1972 and offering Oliver North a job after the Iran-Contra affair broke in 1986.
Perot not only owns a copy of the Magna Carta but several well-known original impressionist and American paintings, helicopters, speed boats and big homes. He has given away well over $100 million, ranging from horses for the New York Police Department to the downpayment on Dallas’ elegant symphony hall.
He shrugs off the importance of his fortune.
″Having lived completely across the economic spectrum, and never having had any interest in money ... it’s kind of interesting to wind up with all this stuff.″