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Reform Party

Timeframe: 1995 - 1995

The previous election year, in 1992, Ross Perot ran on an independent ticket, where he discovered overwhelming pockets of potential support from those disenchanted by the two established political parties. On September 25, 1995 Ross Perot announced on Larry King Live that he was determined to help form a new political party, in order to give those who supported him in 1992 a voice in future elections. Polls showed that nearly two out of every three voters wanted a new political party, including half of all Republicans and Democrats.

Soon thousands of concerned Americans began petitioning their state governments. Depending on state laws, the goal was to either form a new political party in each state or to place candidates on the November 5th ballot. The response from the public was unexpectedly in favor of starting the Reform Party. For example, in California, which had the earliest deadline in the nation, the requirement to put the Reform Party on the ballot was to get 89,007 voters to switch their party affiliation and join the Reform Party. It was not believed that the Reform Party could accomplish this goal, as it had never been done before. In only twenty days, more than 124,000 California voters joined the Reform Party. In North Carolina, more than 166,000 voters signed petitions. This was 100,000 signatures more than the 51,904 signatures the state required. In Texas, where 61,540 signatures were required, more than 161,000 voters signed on. In Florida, more than 110,000 voters signed Reform Party petitions even though only 65,596 signatures were required.

However, in trying to get ballot status in many states, the Reform Party had found need to challenge state laws to ensure the process is open and fair to all Reform Party candidates. For example, in Arkansas the Reform Party won an historic legal battle, becoming the first new party to be recognized by the state in more than twenty years. After the Arkansas Supreme Court denied the Reform Party ballot access for the election of officials at all levels of government, U.S. Federal District Court Judge George Howard ruled from the bench that Arkansas’ conflicting state laws were unconstitutional. Judge Howard granted the Arkansas Reform Party full ballot access and ordered the state to pay all costs for blocking the voters’ right of freedom of association.

Following the 1992 elections, candidates from both established political parties looked for ways to attract the "Perot voters"—now the "Reform Party voters." In the coming elections, there was much speculation about whom would make a try for the Reform Party presidential ticket in 1996. Richard Lamm, a former governor of Colorado, and party of a group of independents dubbed by the media as the "secret seven" who intended to try to make runs for independent candidacies, was first to declare his intent of running with his running mate, Ed Zschau. Richard Lamm had first shown interest in the party when he made a keynote speech at the party’s California convention earlier.

Ross Perot soon after entered the race as well, while Richard Lamm appealed to Reform Party voters to "pass the torch." Ross Perot easily won in a landslide, but Richard Lamm continued to press claims of unfair treatment in the primary process. Ross Perot chose Pat Choate, a prominent economist and protectionist, as his running mate. This time around, many more liberal voters stayed away from the Reform Party, calling its anti-NAFTA stance "right-wing." In all, Ross Perot lost support, as voters figured that he would not win the election. During this time, Pat Buchanan, a prominent Republican candidate, called Ross Perot and the Reform Party a "mortal threat the Republican Party."

During the election and in the aftermath, leaders of the Reform Party fought against an internal splinter group, called the "Shaumberg Group," after the city where they had a convention, who tried to wrest control of the party away by petitioning the FEC. However, the FEC decided that the Shaumberg group was only a small minority in the Reform Party, and refused. The Shaumberg group did succeed in alienating more voters from the Reform Party, who did not know what to make of the internal brawls in the party.

Reform Party grassroots efforts continued to mount in the fifty states in which the party established itself. However, attempts to reach voters by the media were quickly blocked by others. When Ross Perot, in 1997, attempted to buy air time for an infocommercial regarding campaign finance reform, the networks rejected him. During the previous campaign, Ross Perot was also shut out from the presidential debates, unlike the election before that when he did not have a party ticket.

The same year, many prominent members of the established political parties, fed up with the corruption and irresponsibility already imbued in the political system, stated potential support for the Reform Party. Representative James Traficant, a Democrat, stated on Washington Journal on the C-SPAN network that Ross Perot was right all along, and that since the two parties were alike, a third political party was needed. Traficant later released a press release that he would be the keynote speaker at the Reform Party of California convention. Others, such as former congressman David Boren, who had refused the offer of being Ross Perot’s running mate during the election to preserve his position at the university at which he worked, showed interest in the Reform Party.

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