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Reform Party rebels won’t disband; planning next move

June 28, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A dissident faction of former presidential candidate Ross Perot’s Reform Party decided not to disband but made no decision Saturday whether to go it alone or try to resolve their differences with Perot loyalists.

``I don’t think that any of us are quitters,″ said Dr. Linda Witherspoon, a 50-year-old physician from Memphis, Tenn., at a gathering of more than 50 current and former Reform Party members from 16 states.

The self-described National Reform Party Steering Committee believes Perot wields too much power in an organization they say was intended not just to support the Texas billionaire’s bids for the White House but to build a third major political party in the United States.

``When we started this party, it was going to be the party with no special interest money,″ said Nelisse Muga, a landscaper from San Diego. She helped with a drive to collect voter registrations to create a new Reform Party ticket in time for the 1996 presidential election.

``Now special interest money runs the Reform Party _ Ross Perot’s money,″ she said.

The Reform Party elected national leadership at a meeting of state delegations in Nashville, Tenn., in January. An inaugural convention is being planned for this fall.

Party dissidents first gathered in the Chicago suburb of Schaumberg, Ill., last October, after former Colorado governor Dick Lamm lost to Perot his bid for the Reform Party presidential nomination.

Some felt the nomination process was unfair. Others were upset with a decision from Perot’s headquarters in Dallas that the party would support no candidates for Congress in 1996. They allege tendencies toward Dallas despotism have grown since.

After the Schaumberg meeting, the dissident group applied to the Federal Election Commission for recognition as the Reform Party’s national governing body. In March, the FEC closed its case on the matter saying it had received insufficient information to decide.

At this weekend’s meeting, the group planned to decide how to proceed.

After ruling out dissolution, they discussed options ranging from forming a national third-party movement _ either by continuing a fight for legal claim to the Reform Party name and ballot access or by choosing a different name _ to staying alive as a caucus working for more democratic management within Perot’s party.

Russell Verney, chairman of the party’s national organizing committee, showed up to plead for peace.

``We can’t steer ourselves in a circle and fire inwards. We have more than enough work for all of us to do positively,″ Verney said.

Some dissidents agreed.

``My own impression is you’re just losing members and wasting time,″ said Chuck Hunting, 40, owner of an Internet publishing company in Dallas, Ore. ``Let’s kiss and make up and get on with this.″

Some felt Perot’s shadow over the third-party movement has grown too large for compromise, however.

``We have to break with (Perot) completely and build this party from the bottom up,″ said Howard Johnson, 55, a salesman from Jacksonville, Fla.

Some former Reform Party members from New Jersey have already jumped ship to another state-level third party known as the Conservative Party.

``Don’t worry about Dallas. Go home and build up your state parties and Dallas will need you in 2000,″ suggested Frank Conrad, 53, a Beechwood, N.J., coin shop owner and New Jersey Conservative Party volunteer.

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