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Some delegates walk out of Reform Party

January 26, 1997

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Members of a breakaway faction of the Reform Party movement walked out of a national meeting Saturday, charging a party leader’s election was a power play by Ross Perot.

To the jeers and clapping of 200 people, about 40 Reform Party members walked out of an organizational meeting that is preparing for the third party’s first convention.

Those who left were upset with a vote that installed Russ Verney, coordinator of Perot’s 1996 presidential bid, as chairman of an organizational committee.

The faction called the Schaumberg group doesn’t want the party controlled by people picked by Perot, and claimed Verney would be serving to benefit the Texas billionaire.

A group leader said the rift is between two visions for the future.

``One wants a participatory democracy, the other wants a benevolent dictatorship,″ said Ralph Copeland, who also is chairman of the Reform Party’s steering committee.

A compromise to create the organizational committee without a chairman and with both Perot supporters and those who want Perot to relinquish control of the party was rejected twice by a majority of delegates in a voice vote Saturday night.

When delegates learned there would not be a third vote, those supporting Copeland’s position turned in their badges and walked out with audience members. It was not known how many of those who left were delegates.

Copeland said his group would hold a news conference Sunday morning.

Earlier in the day, Perot urged Reform Party members to quit bickering and focus on national issues.

``I think as we create this party and as you put it all together, we have got to avoid any divisiveness and games and things that destroy,″ Perot said.

Representatives from 42 states and the District of Columbia met in hopes of reinforcing initial efforts to create a viable third party. By all appearances, it seemed that leaders of opposing party factions were trying to do what Perot wanted.

Copeland blamed Verney, saying he should have pressed harder for the delegates to pass the compromise committee plan.

``He laid down and rolled over,″ Copeland said.

But Verney said the disagreement would be smoothed over and the rebels returned to the fold.

``I think we’ve overcome some major hurdles. I think now we have another little hurdle in front of us. Folks feel estranged, left out. They need to feel a part of this,″ Verney said.

Another battle was being fought among representatives of six states over who they wanted to represent them on a committee that votes later in the weekend to create a national executive committee for the party.

Those states were California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Tennessee.

States that sent no representatives to the meeting, which runs through Sunday, were Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming.

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