Ventura Will Quit Reform Party Today, Minn. Official Reports

Posted: February 11, 2000

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, the most famous and highest elected official from the Reform Party, is quitting the party today in a fight for control of the party with Ross Perot, the feisty Texas billionaire who founded it.

"Ventura's going to leave the Reform Party. He does not want us to be affiliated with the national party," said a high-level Minnesota Reform Party official who asked not to be identified. "We are done. We're gone."

Ventura's decision comes after months of tension with the party's old guard, which is loyal to Perot. Those members want to purge the leadership of the Ventura-installed chairman - in office only six weeks - and keep the party convention from being held in St. Paul. They are set to meet in Nashville tomorrow to try to regain control of the party.

In recent years, Perot has distanced himself from the organization he created in 1992, and Ventura had moved into the vacuum. Without its founder or colorful governor, experts say, the party is unlikely to survive.

Ventura is not the only high-profile name abandoning the Reform Party. New York billionaire Donald Trump is expected to announce Monday that he will not seek the party's presidential nomination, citing infighting between the party's Minnesota and Texas factions and the politics of some new party members.

Trump has been put off by David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan official who has since joined the Republican Party, who said this week that he was considering supporting Patrick J. Buchanan, a conservative commentator seeking the Reform Party presidential nomination. Lenora Fulani, a New York socialist, also supports Buchanan.

Trump originally was recruited by the Minnesota governor to explore a presidential run under the Reform Party banner. Their decisions to leave the party have fueled talk that the two men will run for president (Ventura) and vice president (Trump) on another third-party ticket.

But Rick McCluhan, chairman of the Minnesota Reform Party, rejected the possibility of a Ventura presidential run in 2000, citing the governor's pledge to keep his Minnesota job. "The governor made a promise to the voters of Minnesota, and he'll keep it," McCluhan said. Ventura's four-year term expires in 2002.

Ventura has scheduled a news conference for this afternoon at the governor's mansion in St. Paul. Officials say he will announce he is cutting his ties to the Reform Party and urge the state party to break away from the national party. The Minnesota organization is likely to call a state convention soon and revert to its earlier name, the Independence Party.

Former Reform Party chairman Russ Verney, closely aligned with Perot, said of the governor's intention to leave the party: "We were here before Jesse Ventura and we'll be here after Jesse Ventura."

Perot founded the grassroots third party and ran for president in 1992 under its banner. His plain talk about a broken two-party system and homespun aphorisms made him an attractive candidate to many voters. He earned 19 percent of the vote that year, but much of his personal appeal and the party's organization had begun to fizzle by the 1996 election, when he won only 8 percent of the popular vote.

Perot's group evolved into the Reform Party in 1997 and became a national phenomenon when Ventura, a former pro wrestler, was elected governor the next year on the Reform Party ticket.

Since then, Perot has let his surrogates run the party and has remained silent about the friction with the Ventura wing.

"All you have to do is look at history," said Ron Eibensteiner, state chairman of Minnesota's Republican Party. "The Bull Moose Party without Teddy Roosevelt was nothing. The States Rights Party without Strom Thurmond was nothing. The American Independent Party in 1968 and 1972 was nothing without George Wallace. These third parties are personality-driven, and when the personality moves on, the party implodes."

feel like wearing a paper bag over my head."

Gargan himself is upbeat, saying in an interview that he had opted at the last minute to go to Nashville and preside over the "illegal meeting" called to force him out.

"It'll be meaningless," said Gargan, a retired financial consultant from Cedar Key, Fla.

Elected last summer with the help of Ventura, Gargan took office Jan. 1 only to find himself the subject of a recall motion within weeks. The problem, he says, of the Texas faction, "was their refusal to give up control of this party." Gargan ordered that the party's presidential convention be moved from Long Beach to St. Paul, enraging the previous administration.

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