Lamm announces campaign for Reform presidential spot Ex-Colorado governor calls both big parties tools of special interests

July 10, 1996|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Offering a blunt agenda for America, former Gov. Richard Lamm of Colorado launched his campaign yesterday for the presidential nomination of Ross Perot's Reform Party.

Lamm, whose chances of becoming the third choice in this fall's election appear to depend largely on whether Perot himself decides to run, is stressing issues of "reform and renewal" dear to millions of 1992 Perot voters: balancing the federal budget, slashing the trade deficit and overhauling the political system.

Elected governor three times as a liberal Democrat during the 1970s and 1980s, Lamm said he would have a "no-B.S. agenda" as a candidate. He asserted that both major parties have become tools of powerful special interests. "We need more than a change of presidents," Lamm said in a 15-minute speech at the University of Denver, where he is a faculty member. "We need a change in our political culture. The Reform Party is the one and only place I believe that you will get that."

Among the "hard choices" Lamm proposes are limiting spending increases for Social Security, Medicare and other federal programs, reducing the flow of immigrants and reforming health care to keep medical costs under control as the population ages.

"The New Deal, in my mind, has become a raw deal for my children," said the Wisconsin native, who was visibly nervous as he began his remarks. He would raise the retirement age to 70, gradually privatize Social Security, trim inflation adjustments and scale back benefits for the well-off.

Lamm, who said last month he was not foolish enough to challenge Perot within his own party, would face a tough struggle to win the nomination if Perot becomes a candidate. The Texas billionaire hasn't revealed his plans, but he's indicated he would run unless a hypothetical "George Washington II" emerges to lead his party.

Lamm said that after he decided two weeks ago to "roll the dice" on a presidential run, he tried "to get a signal from Ross Perot, and they told me that one was not available." When Lamm finally called Perot Monday night to let him know he was running, Perot refused to tip his hand.

The Reform Party, which Perot created and supports through his vast wealth, will choose its ticket next month under a process controlled by Perot and his allies. Perot had no public comment yesterday on Lamm's announcement.

In a telephone interview after his speech, Lamm said he was concerned that he might become a foil for Perot, and that, by running, he might help legitimize Perot's candidacy by allowing the Texan to claim that he had won a contested race for the nomination.

But the 60-year-old Lamm said he did not want to look back "30 years from now" and regret not having run.

Lamm, an early supporter of Bill Clinton in 1992, became disillusioned by the president's failure to address the nation's long-term budget problems. He is also critical of Clinton's close relationship with such Democratic special interests as the Trial Lawyers Association and the teachers' unions.

"The Democratic Party is not the party of reform," he said.

Lamm's initial strategy is to pick up the endorsements of state and local Reform Party officials. Many '92 Perot voters no longer want to see the Texan as their standard-bearer, but it is not clear how many of the party's 1.3 million core supporters share that view.

Lamm said he must "find the right line of declaring [my] independence of Ross Perot, and at the same time honoring him TTC as the father of the party." In a reversal, Lamm said yesterday that he would vote for Perot if Perot became the nominee, although he said he would not serve as his running mate.

The shoestring Lamm campaign has only about $6,000 and few firm plans for the weeks leading up to the Aug. 11 Reform Party convention in California. "I guarantee you it will be disorganized," he said of his campaign.

Lamm's toll-free number (888-803-1996), part of his grass-roots plan to raise up to $20 million by November, began operating yesterday. The Federal Election Commission has yet to rule on whether any Reform nominee other than Perot would be eligible for about $30 million in taxpayer funds for the campaign.

At the announcement ceremony, Lamm was joined by members of his family, including Dottie Lamm, his wife of 33 years, who initially opposed his candidacy -- leading him to refer to her jokingly last month as his "ex-wife."

Mrs. Lamm, a columnist for the Denver Post, said she was now "99 percent" behind her husband. A supporter of abortion rights, she had expressed fears that her husband's effort might help elect Bob Dole, who opposes abortion.

Lamm himself brushed aside speculation about the impact of his candidacy.

"I am less concerned about that than whether it will help our nation," he said. "America does not need another political campaign based on denial and avoidance of some of our real problems. It needs a crusade to reform and renew our country, its institutions and political system."

Pub Date: 7/10/96

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