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  Ventura Leaving Reform Party

By Rochelle Olson
Associated Press Writer
Friday, Feb. 11, 2000; 2:37 p.m. EST

ST. PAUL, Minn. –– Gov. Jesse Ventura said today he is leaving a "hopelessly dysfunctional" Reform Party, branding it "unworthy of my support and the support of the American people."

Ventura, the party's highest ranking elected official, said he wanted the Minnesota state party to reclaim the name Independence Party and join him in breaking all ties to the national organization.

Ventura portrayed the national party as an albatross on the ambitions of independent-minded candidates and said he was vexed at prospects that conservative Pat Buchanan could become the party's presidential nominee.

In making his decision, he conferred with New York developer Donald Trump, who has been considering a presidential run as a Reform or independent candidate.

"Based on what I have seen in prior years and especially in recent months, I have come to believe that the national Reform Party is hopelessly dysfunctional," Ventura said.

"It is unworthy of my support and the support of the American people," he said, standing outside the governor's residence.

"Stay and fight? There comes a time when you have to cut bait and go. I believe very strongly this is the time."

Ventura, the former wrestler who became the face of the Reform Party when he was elected governor in 1998, suggested the national organization was so riven by internal strife that it was hurting efforts by the state party and others to build a strong independent political movement.

"The Minnesota Reform Party's success stands in stark contrast to the national Reform Party," Ventura said, citing persistent infighting between the national party and state organizations like his.

"I believe that we are losing a lot of good people. We have seen defections to other parties."

Ventura's move comes a day before a meeting in Nashville, Tenn., at which followers of Reform founder Ross Perot plan to try to oust national chairman Jack Gargan, an ally of the Minnesota governor.

Born as a gleam in a billionaire's eye, the third-party movement now represented by Reform was founded by Perot as his vehicle in the 1996 presidential election.

The Texas businessman won 8 percent of the votes in 1996, down from 19 percent in 1992 when he barreled on to the scene as an independent voice agitating for balanced budgets, a tough stance on trade and campaign reform.

Fractures opened almost immediately after Perot's mediocre showing in 1996 and the party has been struggling ever since not only to settle on leadership but to find a unifying set of beliefs apart from a common disenchantment with the two established parties.

In a letter to Reform Party members, Ventura ally and state chairman Rick McCluhan said he had given up hope of a compromise with national leaders on the site of the 2000 convention. He plans to ask the state central committee Saturday to call a convention March 4 to vote on disaffiliation.

McCluhan said the national party only detracts from attempts to recruit members and candidates in Minnesota.

"In fact, it makes us look inept by even being affiliated with some of the misfits and malcontents that continue trying to control this party," McCluhan said.

For months, Ventura has expressed displeasure with the direction of the national Reform Party's presidential contest. Ventura, a liberal on social issues, doesn't like Buchanan, the conservative former Republican now seeking the Reform nomination.

Ventura has been more interested in Trump.

Ventura has never been warm to the national Reform Party. Perot provided no help in Ventura's win, and the Ventura and Perot factions of the party have consistently disagreed.

Even as governor, Ventura has never shown much interest in building the Minnesota or the national Reform parties. Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier doesn't think he would work very hard at building a new party, either.

"He's not a party person at all. He's a Jesse person. He is the head of a political party of one," Schier said.

But Schier calls Ventura the "face" of the party nationwide and believes a departure would be a blow to party recruitment and organization.

Gerry Moan, vice president of the Reform Party's national committee and a Perot loyalist, dismissed the significance of a departure.

"We've been here before him and we'll be here long after him. ... A lot of people are tired of that kind of act," Moan said.

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EDITOR'S NOTE – AP Writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report from Washington.

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© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press

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