Chaos at the Reform Party Convention(s)

Michael Pugliese debsian at
Wed Aug 9 18:42:59 PDT 2000

What fun!

Michael Pugliese

..."Take your brownshirt tactics somewhere else!" screamed one man at a Buchanan supporter.

(Probably Jim Mangia, the Fulaniite) ...Events were so chaotic that some Buchanan opponents were trying to storm their way into the closed-door national committee meeting even as other Buchanan opponents were trying to get out.

As the meeting continued, members from both factions slipped out from time to time to give a blow-by-blow of the action inside, and even those mini-news conferences provoked reactions.

Anti-Buchanan forces shouted, "Let the media in" and "Let them see the travesty inside!" and other things that are not printable.

Buchanan's self-described "Brigaders" screamed back: "No way!" And worse.

As the tension built to a climax, Russ Verney, a founding member of the Reform Party who now holds no party office, tried to push his way past security guards and into the hall, telling everyone they'd have to arrest him to keep him out.

"Go home! You're nobody now!" screamed a man wearing a Buchanan button.

Verney's efforts to push his way in ended when the doors to the room crashed open and dozens of national committee members opposed to Buchanan's nomination spilled out.

"Illegal tactics!" shouted party secretary Jim Mangia, who led the group out. As Mangia instructed his people to regroup at a nearby hotel, Buchanan backers screamed: "Shut up!"

After the pro-Hagelin group left, the meeting resumed and Bay Buchanan declared victory to reporters outside the hall. But Hagelin's supporters challenged her assertion.

"[Party Chairman] Gerry Moan was like Hitler, running the meeting in a dictatorial manner. It was ridiculous, a farce," said Paul Truax, a co-founder of the Reform Party who, depending on whom you ask, either is or isn't on the party's executive committee.

Those backing Hagelin say their fight is just getting started. While Moan, who controls the party's finances, remained at the Westin to seat the remaining national committee members, the splinter group held their own meeting to do the same.

The tumultuous split had been building for weeks, with an increasingly nasty series of exchanges between the Buchanan campaign and Perot loyalists, including allegations of ballot fraud, the firing of the party's longtime volunteer spokeswoman and threats of lawsuits to block distribution of the $12.5 million in federal campaign funds.

Some party stalwarts found the whole situation discouraging and sad.

"We're the ones that worked so hard from 1992. I think it's terrible that Pat Buchanan is taking over like a dictator," said Beverly Miller, a member from Wisconsin. "I don't know if they're going to seat me or not, but we felt we had to be there and do what we can to stop this."

In a recent interview, Buchanan rebuked charges that he was staging a hostile takeover of the Reform Party.

"Look, when we came into the party I would say in two dozen states it was virtually nonexistent--it was defunct--and in 30 states it wasn't even on the ballot," he said. "Now when we bring our folks into the Reform Party and build it and create it where it doesn't exist and get on the ballot . . . clearly they tend to reflect the beliefs and values of Pat Buchanan. What else would they expect?"

Later Tuesday, Bay Buchanan said those who walked out were sore losers who refused to play by the rules. Asked if the discord was embarrassing, she said: "No, absolutely not." ............................................................................ .................

THE REFORM PARTY Buchanan's Bid for the Presidential Nomination Splits the Party Leadership By MICHAEL JANOFSKY

LONG BEACH, Calif., Aug. 8 -- With nastiness boiling over to screaming and shoving, the Reform Party split apart today, as a faction opposed to Patrick J. Buchanan's presidential candidacy stormed out of a meeting of national party leaders and vowed to proceed on its own, perhaps as a new party. After the walkout, each group declared itself the true Reform Party, depicting the other as a bunch of rule-breaking misfits who have either stolen the party (Mr. Buchanan's supporters) or destroyed it (his opponents).

With both groups still claiming to be the Reform Party as founded by Ross Perot eight years ago, it was not immediately clear what effect the walkout might have on the party's plans for the 2000 elections or even the election of a nominee -- or nominees -- for president. For his part, Mr. Perot, the Texas billionaire, has had almost nothing to do with the party since his second run for president four years ago.

"If it keeps on going like this, on parallel tracks, we could end up with two nominees," said Russell J. Verney, the party's first chairman and one of those who led the walkout. "Or it might come back together, and then even come apart again. Who knows?"

In the view of Mr. Buchanan's allies, the protesters essentially surrendered control of the party organization by leaving the session of national committee members, held in an ornate ballroom of the Westin Hotel.

This would virtually assure Mr. Buchanan the presidential nomination later this week at the expense of his only rival, John Hagelin, a physicist from Iowa.

The Reform national convention is scheduled to begin on Thursday at the Long Beach Convention Center. But the protesters -- about a quarter of the 164-member national committee -- began discussing their own plans for the convention, beginning with a meeting they convened at the Renaissance Hotel immediately after their walkout.

In effect, both meetings conducted the same business at the same time -- the resolution of national member challenges. But no one at either meeting faced any opposition.

"We've reconvened the meeting of the one we walked out of," said Jim Mangia, the national secretary and a vocal critic of Mr. Buchanan.

Almost at the same moment that Mr. Mangia's group voted to disqualify Mr. Buchanan from the primary over questionable ballot signatures, the other group voted to ignore any attempts to disqualify Mr. Buchanan. The Mangia group also voted to confirm two executive committee members whom the other group had voted to expel.

Gerald M. Moan, the party's acting chairman, called for the two groups to resolve their differences and join what he called, "The new and improved Reform Party." But strongly defending the Buchanan faction and affirming its legitimacy, he warned the opposing group, "If their plan is to cause a mockery of democracy by storming the convention, they would be guilty of the same thing they accuse other people of doing."

Today's meeting at the Westin was called several weeks ago by the Buchanan campaign to clear up a series of lingering issues that could have prevented Mr. Buchanan, the former television commentator, from winning the party nomination and $12.6 million in federal campaign money.

Foremost among them was a planned review of challenges to national committee members, a favorable disposition of which Mr. Buchanan was counting on to give him a majority of supporters on the committee. This, in turn, would assure the affirmation of a strong Buchanan ally as chairman of the convention credentials committee.

The walkout took care of the uncertainties. With none of Mr. Buchanan's most ardent opponents in the room at the Westin, challenges proceeded smoothly. He won his majority, and Mr. Buchanan's sister and chief campaign strategist, Bay Buchanan, emerged to tell reporters: "We won. Pat has the nomination."

The convention, ostensibly, would make it official, but no one among the Buchanan supporters was quibbling.

Earlier, however, the meeting cemented the public image of the Reform Party as a bickering group more occupied by procedural matters than issues of interest to voters.

After hours of arguments over procedures and regulations inside the room, party members who were locked out began crowding the locked doors and screaming at security guards. Mr. Verney, who is not a member of the national committee, was kept out by security guards who ignored his pleadings, "The party is voting and I have every right to be inside."

Minutes after Mr. Verney and others were turned away, about a quarter of committee members inside burst through the closed doors and accused Buchanan supporters, including Mr. Moan, of subverting party rules to assure that Mr. Buchanan won the nomination.

"Moan won't listen to us," said Victor Good, a national committee member from Colorado who is supporting Mr. Hagelin. "He is ignoring the rules and the constitution. He's running a dictatorship."

As Mr. Good and other Buchanan opponents tried to explain their version of the meeting to reporters and camera crews, Buchanan supporters drowned them out, screaming: "Go, Pat, go. Go, Pat, go."

Both meetings proceeded the same way, with no real opposition or complaints at either. And both groups planned to begin the convention claiming to be the legitimate source of party power.

But today, no one could say how that might happen, or how looming conflicts might be resolved, not the least being whether the protest group would rally around Mr. Hagelin over Mr. Buchanan.

Never mind who gets the $12.6 million. "If we stay on these parallel tracks with two candidates, the F.E.C. will probably just flip a coin," Mr. Verney said. "Whichever side loses will go to court, so this will drag on and take some time."

Ms. Buchanan, who has been leading the campaign efforts to recruit delegates and voters, accused the protest group of undignified, divisive and sour-grapes behavior.

"They lost, and they're unwilling to accept it," she said, vowing that the Buchanan campaign would not need them in the fall. "Their walkout will not affect us, whatsoever."

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