By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The couple had been active within the Republican Party but had grown disillusioned and disenchanted with the George Bush presidency. They felt disaffected. Perot offered hope to end their discontent with the government.
To the Truaxes, Perot delivered. They remain loyal to him, yet vow to stay active within the reform movement under the new regime, distasteful to them though it may be.
"I'm unabashed -- I love Perot. I would walk on hot coals for him," says Paul Truax, who was re-elected the Reform Party's southwest regional representative during the national convention in Michigan last month.
The couple lives in a modest apartment in Addison, tastefully decorated with dark-stained wood furniture and mall-friendly art that suggest they shop regularly at The Bombay Co. Paul Truax, with white hair and large tortoiseshell eyeglasses, is a manufacturer's representative in the carpet industry. Donna Truax, a tad more blunt than her outspoken husband (it's close), is a substitute schoolteacher.
Neither will go so far as to say the party is dissing Perot, but they will say those who want the party to distance itself from its founder are naive and perhaps vengeful.
"Some people think that now that they have a political party, they can do anything they want," Paul Truax says. "So when Dallas [the party leadership loyal to Perot] tells local people that they can't do something because, say, it's against federal election law, that's viewed as dictatorial. But it's not."
A listing in the Dallas phone book for the Reform Party of Texas rings inside the Truaxes' Addison apartment. The couple routinely field calls from people suffering from a questionable touch with reality, asking to talk to Ross, please.
Paul Truax tries to have fun with it. "It's gotten to the point now where I'll say, 'Oh, you just missed him. He was here five minutes ago having coffee. He'll be so sorry he missed you.' You moron."
The last time the Truaxes spoke with Perot was in 1996, when he shook hands with them at a convention called to help establish the Reform Party. And the only time Perot ever called them was to thank them for the work they did on the petition drive to put him on Texas' presidential ballot in 1996.
"He'll know the name Truax," Donna Truax supposes, "but socially we're not in the same echelon as he is."
If people in the reform movement are upset with Perot, it's because they had unrealistic expectations of him, the couple say. "Everyone wants Perot to solve all of their problems," Donna Truax says before allowing her husband to finish her thought.
"They want him to write checks and shut up," he says.
Perot hasn't written a check to the Reform Party since 1996. But he spent perhaps as much as $100 million of his personal stash (estimated at $4 billion) to help fund his two presidential races and to get United We Stand America off the ground. He pays a salary to Verney, the outgoing Reform Party chairman, but it is a fee for being his consultant. The chairman position is voluntary. The Truaxes say that they never have seen a dime from Perot and that they have no problem with that.
Others, however, do have a problem with not cashing in on Perot's wealth. Near the top of that list is Gargan, the incoming chairman who ran for Congress in Florida in 1998 under the party banner.
"The Reform Party had 154 candidates that were running for office in 1998 at all levels of government," he says. "To my knowledge, neither the national Reform Party nor Mr. Perot gave a single one of them any help or any direction or any money at all. I found that puzzling."
Gargan tallied one-third of the vote against the incumbent Democrat in his congressional race (the Republican candidate dropped out). "It certainly was a disappointment for me" is all he will say about the personal snub.
Another Reform Party candidate who did not receive Perot's cash in 1998 was Jesse Ventura, the Minnesota governor. The Truaxes figure that chapped Ventura loyalists in Minnesota and thus fueled the shift of the party away from Perot.
Ventura declined a request for an interview for this story. Paul Moore, his spokesman, says he believes Perot and Ventura met only once. That was during the 1998 Reform Party convention in Atlanta, when Ventura asked Perot for financial support for his campaign. "Nothing ever came of it," Moore says.
Ventura has stated publicly that he appreciates all Perot has done for the movement, "but he cites the fact that Perot got half as many votes in 1996 as he did in 1992 [8 percent vs. 19 percent] as a downward trend he'd like to reverse, and that it was time for him to step aside for another presidential candidate," Moore says. Ventura is encouraging Lowell Weicker, a former senator and governor from Connecticut, to be the party's presidential candidate in 2000.
The Washington Post reported that Ventura's endorsement of Gargan as party chairman, as opposed to the candidate backed by Perot loyalists, came with a threat. The newspaper said Ventura posted an Internet notice: "If the convention delegates are not willing to elect and support the best person for the job, I'll remain reluctant to fully embrace the National Reform Party. I'll keep my national party options open."