Two parties battle for Reform Party

Thursday, August 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONG BEACH, Calif. – The Reform Party that grew out of a movement called United We Stand on Thursday confronted the rest of that slogan – Divided We Fall.

As one Reform Party convened at the Long Beach convention center – most likely to nominate Pat Buchanan on Friday – a breakaway group marched around the corner to stage a conclave that is expected to nominate physicist John Hagelin.

And then the real fight begins: Which side will get the $12.5 million for the general election earned by Ross Perot's 8 percent finish in 1996?

Even as he fended off allegations that he had hijacked the party to transform it into a tool for social conservatives, Mr. Buchanan issued a searing statement in which he vowed to make America a "godly nation" and accused the major parties of ignoring its "cultural crisis."

In the statement, which echoes a "cultural war" speech he gave at the 1992 GOP convention, he rails against "rampant homosexuality, a sign of cultural decadence and moral decline" and vowed that if he becomes commander-in-chief, "homosexuality will again be incompatible with military service."

And, despite being pilloried last year for a book that questioned U.S. involvement in World War II, he invoked the image of Nazi doctors in decrying the "barbarism" of late-term abortion.

"When one reflects that German doctors were executed after World War II for having participated in Hitler's euthanasia program, what does this say about us as a nation?" Mr. Buchanan said.

Mr. Buchanan emphasized Thursday that his statement would bind only himself and his running mate – that announcement is set for Friday morning – and that his statement fulfills a promise that he would stay true to his own beliefs without seeking to alter the party platform.

Mr. Hagelin, meanwhile, said his goal is to showcase "true reform ... revitalizing the Reform Party on the founding principles" that include government accountability, campaign finance reform, fair trade and fiscal responsibility.

The anti-Buchanan faction began the day with a news conference where Perot spokesman Russ Verney, the party's founding national chairman, "proudly endorsed" Mr. Hagelin, a former professor at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. Mr. Hagelin, the Natural Law Party nominee in 1996 and 1992, wants to run under both party banners this year.

A group of about 200 then paraded to the convention center shouting "reform, reform."

"We want in, we want in," they chanted. Even though nobody tried to keep them out, they sang the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" and moved on to their meeting at the Performing Arts Center.

"That's the perfect place for them," said Gerry Moan, national chairman, who has complained during pre-convention activities of the opposition's "theatrics."

Each side is claiming to be the rightful heir to the "house that Ross built" and to the money.

"I'd like to thank Arianna Huffington for establishing the tradition of a shadow convention, because this is the real convention of the Reform Party," Mr. Moan said.

Jim Mangia, former Reform secretary who is now chairman of the alternative party, said Mr. Buchanan "hijacked" the party, "defrauding" the primary balloting in order to "steal" the federal money. A complaint was filed Thursday with the Federal Elections Commission, according to Mr. Verney.

Mr. Buchanan denied hijacking the party or selling the Reform Party a bill of goods about his beliefs.

"They're views I argued in columns, on television shows and three times as a [Republican] presidential candidate," he told reporters at a hotel near the dueling conventions.

'Short rations'

As for Mr. Hagelin, he said: "John Hagelin is a log who has been thrown on the railroad tracks of a runaway train, and he will not slow us down."

But he conceded that without the $12.5 million, his campaign would have to survive on "short rations. ... The only way they can beat us is to try and impede us, go into court and deny us the funds."

At the rump convention, Mr. Hagelin tried to lift the spirits of several hundred delegates, including Lenora Fulani, a Marxist from New York, and two dozen other New Yorkers whose credentials to the other gathering were granted, then revoked. He declared his audience the "stronger half" of a divided party, and referred to the Buchanan campaign as a "painful disease."

Nine of 11 national executive committee members, including Paul Truax of Dallas, sat behind Mr. Hagelin on stage during his 40-minute speech, in which he critiqued U.S. policy on health care, education, genetically altered food and nuclear proliferation.

"People say you've fallen to 1 percent in the polls. We have not! Pat Buchanan has fallen to 1 percent in the polls," he declared. "Even five million votes will send the Republicans and Democrats scrambling to co-opt our ideas."

At the "Buchanan convention," Mr. Perot's 1996 running mate Pat Choate tried to make a connection between Mr. Perot and Mr. Buchanan, mentioning several trade and reform issues on which they agree. He reminded delegates that Mr. Buchanan "electrified" the United We Stand America issues conference in Dallas in 1995.

No third party has ever made the transition from first to second generation leadership, Mr. Choate said, suggesting that Mr. Buchanan could lead the Reform Party into the post-Perot era.

Confusion reigned for much of the day. At one point, Mr. Mangia told reporters that Mr. Perot would be at his group's convention on Friday. Not true, said Mr. Verney, only 10 paces away.

Mr. Moan said, "I think he [Mr. Perot] is letting the kids fight it out in the schoolyard."

Even as the party appeared to be in dissaray, Mr. Moan was talking about "party building."

One expert suggested that's California dreaming.

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a government professor at Claremont Graduate University, predicted that, "Humpty Dumpty can't be put back together again.

"I've felt the Reform Party was not real since Ross Perot walked away from it. It was clearly a party of personality," she said.

"Most people," she said, "are not going to take this party seriously when this is over with."

'Movement is the thing'

Ms. Fulani, who co-chaired the Buchanan campaign for a time, said that Mr. Buchanan's insistence on toeing an ideological hard line and his tactics for winning the nomination have harmed the party.

"Bright man that he is, I don't think Pat Buchanan can spell 'democracy,' " she said. But she vowed that the effort to give voters a viable alternative will survive. "The movement is the thing. Whether or not it continues to be expressed through this thing called the Reform Party remains to be seen."