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Judge: Choate Leads Reform Party

March 28, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ With his chairmanship of the Reform Party upheld by a federal judge, Pat Choate is moving to stabilize the fractured third party with plans to raise $1 million in the next several months and to reach out to his vanquished rival.

``The door is open,″ Choate said after Monday’s ruling. ``Our goals are the same.″

But there was no sign that Jack Gargan, who fought Choate for the chairmanship, would accept the gesture. In an interview minutes after U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon ordered a halt to his activities, Gargan vowed to leave the party and take his supporters with him.

``This is no party, this is somebody’s little fiefdom,″ said Gargan, an ally of Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who recently quit the party. ``There will be a huge exodus from the party at this point.″

Moon ruling Monday that the chairmanship belongs to Choate, Ross Perot’s 1996 presidential running mate, ended a tug-of-war that had weakened the party’s standing in the 2000 campaign.

``This will now allow us to go forth and mount a competitive race for the White House this fall,″ Choate said after the ruling in Lynchburg, Va.

Today, he was announcing plans to move the party’s headquarters to Washington and to raise $1 million by the time of the August convention.

Moon ordered Gargan and Treasurer Ronn Young to stop all activities relating to those positions, including soliciting donations, spending the party’s money, operating an official Web site and planning a convention. The party would suffer ``irreparable injury″ if the two men continued, the judge said.

Gargan said he would leave the party after 10 years helping build it.

``In a way, I’ve won. This has been a rats nest for me. This has been eight months of hell,″ he said.

A rowdy meeting of party leaders in Nashville, Tenn., last month elected Choate to replace Gargan. But Gargan argued in court that the meeting was convened illegally and that the vote to oust him and install Choate was invalid.

In his opinion, Moon rejected all of Gargan’s arguments. Citing the party’s constitution and Robert’s Rules of Order, a handbook on parliamentary procedure, Moon said the Nashville meeting did not require 30 days notice as Gargan contended. He said Gargan’s refusal to call the meeting to order _ which led to televised brawling _ was ``an improper attempt to subvert the will of the controlling body,″ and that the 109 votes to remove Gargan and Young were more than required.

``The Reform Party will suffer irreparable injury if Gargan and Young are not enjoined from acting as the authorized representatives of the party,″ Moon said.

Moon’s ruling resolves the dispute between Gargan and Choate, but there are other problems.

The departure of the party’s most popular elected leader, Ventura, and the void created by Perot’s silence on political issues have left it with a patchwork of state organizations caught up in a variety of fights waged in courtrooms and cyberspace.

Perot, the Texas billionaire and two-time presidential candidate, refused Monday to comment on the lawsuit or answer questions about whether he plans to jump into the race and compete for his party’s nomination against former Republican Pat Buchanan.

``When I’m ready to say something, I’ll let you all know,″ Perot said following remarks to the Federation of American Health Systems in Dallas.

He has refused to speak directly with Buchanan, the front-runner for the Reform nomination.

Buchanan, meanwhile, is being sued by New Hampshire Reform Party Chairman John Talbott, who says the conservative columnist is illegally using the party’s name in his state and trying to elect his own convention delegates at a meeting in Manchester on Saturday.

On another front, Buchanan and Choate are threatening to go to federal court over rules by the Commission on Presidential Debates that would exclude the Reform Party’s nominee from those events unless he is scoring 15 percent or better in public opinion polls. Without participation in the debates, Buchanan has said, the party has no chance of winning the White House.

Buchanan’s poll standing is dismal now, but he predicts he will break into double digits by June.

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