The headquarters of the Reform Party will be shifted on the first of the year from Dallas to Cedar Key, Fla.--a move described by allies of Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura as one meant to symbolize the breaking of ties with party founder Ross Perot.

Outgoing Chairman Russ Verney, a Perot loyalist, sniffed that the move away from Perot's home town would carry about as much significance "as filling out a change of address card at the post office."

The new chairman, Jack Gargan, a Ventura supporter who lives on the island of Cedar Key, campaigned on an "anti-Dallas" platform that included a promise to move the party headquarters.

Richard McCluhan, chairman of the Minnesota Reform Party and a Ventura backer, described the move as a "changing of the guard." He described the party under Perot and Verney as "coming on with a flash, and slowly deteriorating after that."

While the headquarters move may be of only disputed symbolic importance, a federal court in Minnesota today takes up what could be a more significant matter: McCluhan's request for an order barring Verney and other party leaders from making financial commitments to hold the 2000 Reform Party convention in Long Beach, Calif.

McCluhan contends that the lawsuit is a bid to "stop Mr. Verney from exercising any more poison pill authority than he has done so far." McCluhan said a majority of the national committee supports holding the convention in Minnesota.

Verney countered that the mail vote among national committee members was a "bogus meeting" without authority. The suit, Verney contended, is Ventura's attempt to control the nomination.

Ventura, Verney pointed out, is adamantly opposed to the nomination of current front-runner Patrick J. Buchanan, and if the goal is to have a "fair, open, democratic process," then "the last place it should be is Minnesota."

Buchanan last week won approval of his request to get federal matching money for the contributions he raised while still a candidate for the GOP nomination. He has applied for a total of $2.5 million, which he will be able to use in the Reform Party contest.

How the Candidates Compare on Health Care Coverage

Figuring out how to provide health insurance to the 44 million Americans who lack it is near the top of the political agenda going into the 2000 elections.

So how do the presidential candidates stack up on providing health benefits to their campaign staffs? Not bad, according to a study conducted for Community Voices, a health care advocacy group.

Three campaigns pay the total cost of health insurance premiums for their employees: those of Vice President Gore, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain. All three said their plans include dental and mental health benefits.

Former senator Bill Bradley also provides his staff with medical, dental and mental health benefits, but his campaign did not specify what percentage of premiums it pays. Conservative activist Gary Bauer provides medical and dental benefits and pays "at least half" of the cost of premiums. Publisher Steve Forbes is the only candidate offering medical savings accounts, a policy he touts on the stump.

Neither radio host Alan Keyes nor Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch provides benefits to their limited staffs, according to the study. Commentator Patrick J. Buchanan, seeking the Reform Party nomination, declined to participate in the survey.

Bauer Likens Court Ruling on Gay Couples to Terrorism

GOP presidential hopeful Gary Bauer compared Vermont's Supreme Court decision recognizing gay couples to an act of terrorism.

"I think what the Vermont Supreme Court did last week was in some ways worse than terrorism," Bauer told reporters yesterday at his New Hampshire campaign headquarters, according to the Associated Press.

Bauer praised federal authorities in Vermont for arresting a woman allegedly linked to a terrorist group, saying, "I think we all celebrate any time terrorism is thwarted."

But the religious activist said he strongly disagreed with the Dec. 20 Vermont Supreme Court ruling that the state must grant the same protection to gay couples as it does to married couples.

Bauer called it another example of "a judicial decision that attacks America's deeply held values." Accusing the other GOP contenders of surrendering their party's conservative agenda, he urged George W. Bush and Steve Forbes "to find their voices on these issues."

Forbes, however, had spoken out on the day of the decision.

"It was a flagrant example of judicial activism," he said then. "I believe in traditional marriage. The court overstepped its bounds. This, if anything, is a matter for the people to decide, not judges."

During a campaign trip to Vermont in October, Bush said he opposed legalizing gay marriage no matter what the court ruled. "My opinion is we should not have same-gender marriage," he said. "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman."

Spokesmen for Sens. John McCain and Orrin G. Hatch said their candidates objected to the Vermont high court ruling.

Staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.