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Reform Party Essay, Research Paper

History of the Reform Party

In 1992, with Americans disappointed in the policy options and candidate choices offered by the two traditional parties, a self-made Texas billionaire named Ross Perot spent over $60,000,000 of his own money to run for President as an independent. Much of that money was spent by his organization, “United We Stand America,” to get Perot’s name on the ballots in all 50 states.

The candidate benefited from a demeanor that was unusually candid for television-age politics. He was a popular guest on the TV talk shows and actually announced his candidacy on CNN’s Larry King Live. At one point in June 1992, there were national polls which showed him in the lead in trial heats against the candidates of the traditional parties, Republican President George Bush and Arkansas’s Democratic Governor, Bill Clinton. That may have shocked both parties, particularly the Republicans, into taking the Perot candidacy seriously enough to undermine him with their tactics.

Nonetheless, after participating in the 1992 televised presidential debates, Perot won 19% of the vote in November (compared to Clinton’s 43%, and Bush’s 37%). It was the best third candidate showing in a presidential race in 80 years — since former President Theodore Roosevelt ran on the Bull Moose ticket in 1912.

After the 1992 election, Perot and “United We Stand America” set out to create the Reform Party, as a permanent force to create lasting change in the American political dialogue. Perot ran for President again in 1996, this time as the nominee of the Reform Party. In the midst of a strong economy, and without the opportunity to participate in the televised presidential debates, he still drew 8.5% of the November vote. That is better than one vote out of every 12 votes cast.

Both elections helped establish the Reform Party as a permanent force in American politics. The Perot showing in 1992 was strong enough to guarantee federal funding for his run in 1996. His showing in ‘96, by exceeding the 5% threshold fixed by federal law, was good enough to make candidates for the 2000 Reform Party presidential nomination eligible for federal matching funds — and to provide $12,600,000 in federal funds to the Reform Party nominee in 2000.

It is not easy to become an established political party. You must qualify for party status under the separate laws of each state. In 1996, the Reform Party qualified in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia; and its showing in November 1996 meant that it would automatically be on the ballot in 21 states in 2000. The Party must work to qualify in the other states — generally a matter of getting a significant number of petition signatures.

The distinction between having a political party and supporting someone running on his or her own for president is very important. Because of the hard work of hundreds of thousands of volunteers and Mr. Perot’s boundless energy and generous support, the Reform Party can now run candidates for offices up and down the ballot, not just for the top job.

In 1998, the Reform Party ran 184 candidates for the Senate, House of Representatives and state offices. And because Jesse Ventura was elected Governor of Minnesota on the Reform Party ticket, it is predictable that still more candidates will run on the Reform Party ticket in the future.

Don’t underestimate the significance of third parties in American political history. While their votes were small, innovative policy proposals of the Socialist and Progressive parties of the 1920’s became law under Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt and his “New Deal” administration elected in 1932. Many believe that Teddy Roosevelt’s third party run in 1912 helped defeat Republican President William Howard Taft and elect Democratic President Woodrow Wilson.

Indeed, the Republican Party itself began in the middle of the nineteenth century as a third party organized to overthrow the practice of slavery.

We have already had an enormous impact. It is likely that Ross Perot’s 1992 campaign stress on the need to reduce federal spending and balance the budget was a decisive factor in Washington’s subsequent action producing the first budget surplus in 30 years.

So third parties can write American history. And we intend to do so on a variety of issues. First and foremost, the Reform Party wants to break the lock that narrow special interests have on the Washington politicians and the political process throughout the country. We believe that one main cause of the problem is our current campaign finance system,. Who should be more able to influence policy — the millions of citizens who call or write Congress or the few citizens and corporations that donate millions of dollars to the political coffers? We want to ensure that the citizens are heard, not the special interests.

The Reform Party is dedicated to reconnecting citizens with their government. We believe in term limits and involving more people in the political process. That is one reason why the Reform Party is even changing the way presidential nominees are selected. In 1996 instead of having different primaries on different days, over a long period of time, the Reform Party allowed all party members to vote on the nominee. We mailed ballots to over one million members and allowed them to respond by mail, e-mail or to phone in their vote. In 2000 we look forward to allowing party members to select their nominee via the Internet as well.

Many commentators in the media have tried to predict whether the Reform Party’s presence in 2000 will help the Republicans or help the Democrats — by taking more votes away from one than from the other. The same speculation occurred in both 1992 and 1996, but most statistical analyses have not shown an advantage one way or the other.

We in the Reform Party think too much time is wasted trying to figure that out. Our goal isn’t to help or to hurt either of the two traditional parties. Our goal is to force both to change their ways by giving the American people an alternative choice.


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