Ross on the ropes

Ross Perot inspired his Reform Party followers to throw the hypocritical rascals out of politics. They did.

Perot returned as a candidate in October 1992, but without the help of Madsen. He voted for Bill Clinton that year.

"I got angry with Ross Perot when he got back in the race," he says. "I started to see him in a different light, as someone self-serving and unreliable."

Madsen says he felt as though Perot had abandoned him. Jim Welch, who heard the news in Sugar Land, says Perot simply caved.

AP/Wide World Photo
Perot spoke at the Reform Party convention in Minnesota , but his influence had clearly dwindled among those who had once considered him their political savior.
AP/Wide World Photo
Perot spoke at the Reform Party convention in Minnesota , but his influence had clearly dwindled among those who had once considered him their political savior.

"If he would fold over something so small, how could you ever support someone like that?" Welch asks. "How could anyone support a quitter?"

Welch actually cast his ballot for Perot, hoping against hope that Perot's action in July was a blip instead of a pattern. Welch stayed active with United We Stand America, Perot's attempt between his two presidential campaigns to force politicians to pay attention to issues of concern to the reform movement.

While Welch kept the faith that United We Stand could persuade politicians into acting more responsibly, he was fast losing faith in Perot. Welch, the same guy who sat in the late-afternoon Texas sun gathering signatures to get Perot on the 1992 ballot, ultimately concluded that the man was a fraud.

He watched Vice President Al Gore make mincemeat of Perot during a debate on the North American Free Trade Agreement. But the final straw for Welch was hearing Perot suggest that an effective way to fight crime in Dallas would be to cordon off high-crime sections of town and have authorities do door-to-door sweeps in search of guns and drugs.

"We have a Bill of Rights, so that worried me," Welch says. "I never heard Perot really offer any concrete solution to any problem. You know, he'd say, 'Let's lift the hood and look under it, get a committee together to try to fix it, test it, and then implement it.' And that was his solution for everything. It was always that canned answer, and it got so tiring."

The thrill and agony of Perot's 1992 presidential race a memory, Jim Welch and Phil Madsen concentrated on building a new third party in America. Both worked on that task within the organizational confines of Perot's reform movement. Frustrated with what they viewed as Perot's autocracy, they ultimately sparked uprisings within it.

United We Stand America, financed by Perot, was designed to pressure Republicans and Democrats to confront issues important to the people, such as campaign-finance reform, the national debt, and trade. Some United We Stand members, having little faith that Republicans and Democrats could be salvaged, and craving to support candidates of their own, pushed to turn the issues-advocacy group into a full-fledged political party.

The question of whether to form a party was to be discussed at the United We Stand national conference in Dallas in August 1995. Welch became chairman of a committee to draft bylaws and a platform for the prospective new party. He says it met weekly for about five months.

Then he got word from Perot operatives in Dallas that the decision already had been made not to push for a third party. Instead of debating the merits, the conference would feature prominent Republicans and Democrats addressing issues important to the group.

"Since Perot said United We Stand America belonged to the people, I came to the conclusion right then that Perot had sold us out yet again by bringing in the Democrats and Republicans," Welch recalls.

His committee continued until it finished drafting a proposed platform. He was ready to take the conference by storm by demanding the immediate creation of a political party.

"We thought we could take over," Welch says. "But Dallas got word of this uprising, and Perot's folks came down to Houston to meet with us. They said, 'Please don't do that; you'll embarrass Ross.' My attitude was, 'I don't really care. He's embarrassed us enough already.'"

Welch says United We Stand leaders agreed to let him introduce his proposal on the last day of the conference -- then gaveled it to a close without fulfilling that promise.

Welch says that on that same day, his wife marched into a room of 150 people, including Verney, who was United We Stand's executive director. "She went up to Verney, took off her membership badge, threw it at him, and told him to stick it up his ass, I think is what she said. We both resigned and walked away from it at that point."

Verney says those who sought to transform the organization into a third party had unrealistic expectations. The event was a conference, not a convention. There were no delegates or opportunities for floor votes and no false promises, Verney says. "What they had was a hope or aspiration that is being viewed four years later as a promise."

As Welch was trying to convert United We Stand America into a third party, Madsen was trying to get a new party off the ground in Minnesota. Two months after Perot's July 1992 withdrawal from the race, a committee met in Chicago that included Jack Gargan, Lowell Weicker, 1980 independent presidential candidate John Anderson, and Madsen. They discussed forming what became the Independence Party, an appeal to the fiscally responsible centrist.

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