In Perot land, indifference now reigns New venture fails to attract members

January 24, 1993|By Dirk Johnson | Dirk Johnson,New York Times News Service

EMPORIA, Kan. -- Betrayed and forgotten by the nation' power brokers, struggling Americans in distant little towns are growing "ornerier and meaner than a spavined, distempered mule," William Allen White, the famed editor of the Emporia Gazette, wrote in 1895.

Nearly a century later, an enduring streak of populism here helped Ross Perot win one-third of the vote in Lyon County, one of his strongest showings anywhere.

This wind-swept county near the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas would seem fertile land for Mr. Perot's latest venture, an organization he says will monitor government and influence legislation. Mr. Perot has said that 400,000 people have joined the group; membership dues are $15.

But interviews with nearly 50 Perot supporters here failed to find anyone who has called or written the new organization, much less sent a check to the wealthy Dallas businessman. And nobody knew anybody who had.

"Send $15 to Ross Perot?" asked Dave Casteel, who wore the puzzled look of a man who had been invited to bring sand to the beach. "I think I'll have to pass on that."

When the subject of Mr. Perot comes up, people here still have nice things to say about him. It's just that the subject does not come up very much anymore.

"Good man, that Perot; you bet he is," said Jim Cox, 80, stopping outside a Kmart store. "But you know, you don't hear much about him now. No, sir, that's a topic that's died out."

Mr. Perot says his organization, United We Stand, America, will work as a citizens' lobby to screen candidates. Those with a dedication to Perot-style measures, like reducing the federal deficit, would win the group's approval.

But for now, the talk of Emporia is mostly on President Clinton. Indeed, the new president seems to be enjoying a honeymoon, even among the most ardent Perot backers.

"I had my doubts about Bill Clinton at first," said Judy Gosser, 56, who voted for Mr. Perot but will not be sending him $15. "I'm starting to like Clinton now. He seems sincere. And he's the president for the next four years. Let's give him a chance."

Donna Key, a computer operator who voted for Mr. Perot, said that she would do so again but that she would like to see him stay off television for awhile, just the same.

"He ought to give it up," she said. "People are going to get tired of him."

But most of the Perot voters interviewed here said they approved of his new effort, even if they were not sure what he was going to be doing.

"Keep fighting the battle, step on some toes," said Ralph Lutz, a 66-year-old farmer.

Would Mr. Lutz be sending $15? "Oh, now, wait a minute about that," he said. "Just what is this $15 going to go for, anyway?"

Even the head of the local Perot campaign, Dr. David Edwards, said he had not yet gotten around to joining the new organization.

"I was just talking to my wife about that last night," said Dr. Edwards, an orthopedic surgeon. "Got to send in for that membership."

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