By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"There's no question that this movement would have never gotten under way and we would not be where we are today without Ross Perot's commitment to it and his generosity to support it," says Verney. His office is on the 17th floor of a North Dallas mirrored-glass tower that houses Perot's business suites and the Reform Party's telephone and fax.
The disrespect afforded Perot is not entirely surprising. Many of the activists involved in the reform movement have no respect for politics or politicians -- that's why they are involved in the first place. They are quick to judge, faster to repudiate. They are, after all, the people who want to throw the hypocritical rascals out -- every danged one of them.
And now they've thrown out Ross Perot himself.
Don't feel sorry for Perot. He created this monster. He roused these rabblers by stirring up their discontent and setting them off to run wild across the land.
They call for fewer taxes. They want the liberties and freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution restored. They arm themselves with statistics on U.S. trade imbalances and the devaluation of the U.S. dollar. They denounce special interests and the politicians who are beholden to the lobbyists who finance their campaigns.
They keep talk radio in business.
Gargan, their new chairman, predicts anarchy will come to the United States when the current economic boom ends, according to an article in The Washington Post. He says he lives in Florida's Cedar Key because the island could easily be cut off during any uprising. "You could defend the bridge and only let in friends and relatives, or no one at all," he has said. A report in the Houston Chronicle said Gargan's official biography lists him as a "direct descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages, high king of Ireland from 377 to 404 A.D."
Ross Perot may be a major control freak, but even he couldn't keep these restless eccentrics caged up. And now the monster has turned on its creator.
Breathing on its own. Unbridled.
Where were you on the night of February 20, 1992?
For activists in the reform movement, that night stands as a defining moment in their lives: It's the evening Ross Perot told Larry King on CNN that he would run for president if the American people put him on the ballot in all 50 states.
"God, it was so electrifying," recalls Jim Welch, who owns a home-improvement business and lives in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land. "I found myself rising out of my chair. I said, 'Honey, I believe this man has a chance of doing it. Let's get involved!'"
He and Honey, better known as wife Sherran, drew up a series of signs relaying the message "The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing." They placed them along the southbound lanes of the Southwest Freeway, routing drivers to a folding table in front of a now-defunct Italian restaurant in Sugar Land.
Sherran staffed the table from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jim helped too, arriving in the late afternoon and working the night shift. They did it for as many days as it took to get more than 4,000 people to sign petitions to help get Perot on the 1992 presidential ballot in Texas.
"I'm 57 years old," Jim Welch says. "I would like to see the days when the average family is not paying out 41.7 percent of their income in taxes to support the government. The serfs in medieval Europe only paid one-third, and they were not considered free men."
Welch has a habit of laughing after saying things like that to underscore the absurdity of the situation your government and his government is in right now.
He's a constitutionalist who pledges allegiance to the free-market principles espoused by Thomas Jefferson. He reads books and articles about the Revolutionary War. When asked what bugs him about the country, he responds with a tutorial about the government's heavy-handed control of society, starting with a lesson about the onset of fascism in Italy in 1919.
"You have to understand, I love America," he says. "I love this country. I love it! What I don't like is what the politicians have done to it. I don't like the rape of the ideals that founded this country. I would love to have this country back to what it used to be.
"I got involved in the Perot movement because everyone looks for the shining knight who is going to lead this ragtag army of grassroots people who really want to see the basic things restored in this country."
For Jim Welch, Perot as shining knight lasted, oh, about five months.
In another Texas suburb, this one beyond the northern fringe of Dallas, Paul and Donna Truax were lying in bed watching TV during that defining evening of February 20, 1992.
"I've told this story so many times that I'll admit up front that it's been embellished," says Paul Truax, a former Texas chairman of the Reform Party and its precursor, United We Stand America. "When Ross Perot made his covenant with the American people that night on Larry King Live, my wife would have never believed it possible that a man could jump three feet into the air, levitate for 30 seconds, and scream, 'Hallelujah,' all simultaneously."