Perot promises to direct and help bankroll political reform group

July 19, 1992|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Staff Writer

DALLAS -- After shutting the door on his presidential bid -- and a day later cracking it just enough to try to keep his band of followers together -- Ross Perot met yesterday with a group of his state coordinators and told them he would help bankroll and serve as national chairman for a new political reform movement.

Emerging from a 2 1/2 -hour meeting with the Texas billionaire, the Perot volunteers, some of whom had hastily flown to Dallas for yesterday's closed-door session, had only the sketchiest idea of what this movement would look like, stand for or cost.

But the grass-roots organization, to be named something like "Voice of the Eagle," "Freedom's Voice" or "Owners of America," would call on the two presidential candidates, as well as congressional and senatorial candidates, to embrace their as yet undetermined ideals.

By abandoning his presidential quest and "broadening his role," said Ohio coordinator Cliff Arnebeck, Mr. Perot can act as a "moral force on the other candidates."

As he said on Cable News Network's "Larry King Live" Friday night, Mr. Perot plans to keep his name on the ballot as "leverage" on the major parties, although he reiterated that he was not actively seeking the presidency. Still, he told the 41 state coordinators gathered here yesterday that he would "assist" them financially in the remaining petition drives to get his name on the ballot in all 50 states.

The No. 2 spot on the ticket will continue to be held by Adm. James Stockdale, a former prisoner of war. Admiral Stockdale has said he has no interest in serving as vice president, but he allowed Mr. Perot to use his name to get on early ballots.

Participants at yesterday's meeting said Mr. Perot vowed to devote himself "full time" to the fledgling reform movement. They said the group might endorse a candidate in November and then evolve into a third party after the fall election.

In Annapolis, about 100 Perot volunteers meeting at the state headquarters voted yesterday afternoon to form a third independent party in Maryland for the November election.

"We're not going to throw our support to any presidential candidate, any Senate candidate or any House candidate until they match the agenda in which we're interested, which is the momentum of the country," said David Green, formerly the news media coordinator for the Maryland Perot petition committee.

California coordinator Bob Hayden, who organized yesterday's meeting in Dallas, said that Mr. Perot would contribute an undisclosed amount of money to launch the reform movement but that the businessman also expected the state organizations to raise money.

According to Mr. Hayden, the group plans to hold either state conventions or a national convention sometime after Labor Day, to which they'll invite President Bush and Bill Clinton, publish reports on congressional candidates and form steering committees at the state and national levels to come up with a platform.

"We'll develop a platform around things we, as freedom fighters -- and that's how we think of ourselves -- believe in for our country, for our children and for our grandchildren," said Lillian Bickel, Colorado coordinator.

Although she said the group hadn't yet determined its platform, Ms. Bickel also said its members would ask both major party candidates "to adopt our platform or embrace it as closely as possible."

They'll look closely at the position papers Mr. Perot's camp had in the works when he called off his campaign last week, she said. If neither candidate addresses their concerns, they could still pull the lever for Mr. Perot.

The coordinators said they expected to meet with Mr. Perot again today to decide on a name for the group, a budget and the beginnings of by-laws and a platform. They admitted they didn't know how they'd reach a consensus on the issues among all 50 states.

The billionaire businessman blighted the hopes of a legion of supporters last week by abandoning his presidential bid but almost immediately tried to soften the blow by saying he would remain involved with his network of followers.

Craig Miller, a volunteer who had traveled from Los Angeles even though he was not a state coordinator and thus not allowed in the meetings, said he and his fellow Perot fans felt "lost in space," but he wasn't sure such a reform movement was possible without Mr. Perot as an active candidate and focal point.

Some state coordinators have already switched over to other candidates.

Yesterday's activities clearly reflected the chaos and mystery of the past few days in Perot country. Mr. Perot entered his headquarters building through a back door and evaded the press, even leaving in a car different from the one he arrived in.

All news media had been whisked from the building by the afternoon, and volunteers said the Perot campaign headquarters including the phone bank -- would be shut down by the middle of next week.

Outside, too, there was little activity, suggesting that the Perot chapter in election year 1992 was limping to a close. Although local radio and TV stations had publicized a rally at noon, no crowds ever assembled.

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