By Pat Benjamin
A Time Magazine article published in January of this year stated that the fastest growing voting bloc in the nation is that of the unaffiliated voters. In more than a few states, independents now outnumber both Republicans and Democrats, creating a huge swing vote that could determine the outcome of this year’s election.
My book, The Perot Legacy: A New Political Path, shows how following the path to creating another candidate choice and alternative political party can–and did—turn ordinary people into street fighters, as they delve into the depths of dirty politics.
During his 1992 independent run for president, Ross Perot was invited to participate in the televised presidential debates watched by almost 100 million people, and he received nearly 20 million votes. Before the next presidential election in 1996, the Republican/Democrat-controlled Commission on Presidential Debates concocted requirements to prevent both independent and alternative party candidates from qualifying ever again. Perot’s resulting exclusion in 1996 lowered his vote count to less than 9 million votes.
Just how desperate the established parties were to prevent access to the debates and media by alternative party candidates, or any supporters of these candidates, is demonstrated in the following excerpt from the book. Donna Donovan, a volunteer from Connecticut and national Reform Party communications chair explained:
“When Ross Perot was excluded from the Presidential Debates his Connecticut supporters decided to stage a ‘Demonstration for Democracy’ in Hartford, the state capital, while one of the three debates was taking place on October 6, 1996. Our goal was to create a big enough media event to bring attention to the stranglehold that the two major parties and their accomplice, the bipartisan Debate Commission, maintained on the debates….We planned to march through the city to the park a block from Bushnell Theatre where the debate was taking place….That night, nearly 700 people…converged on the park…where we encountered police, who immediately herded us into a ‘corral’ constructed of a snow fence in the center of the park….They marched in military formation, eventually surrounding us completely….
“Police officers on horseback formed another ring around the riot squad. Then, unbelievably, National Guard forces arrived with tanks and took their places in the street around the park…
“A freelance cameraman was shooting footage for C-SPAN, but days later we were told it was too dark to use. And what about the rest of the media?…We later heard from some that police and other security told them there was no one in the park, and since the direct-access streets were closed off, they assumed it was true.”
Because of a charismatic leader with access to millions of dollars, the presidential campaign of Ross Perot and the newly created Reform Party were perceived by the major party leaders as a threat to their established two-party system. Rather than viewing this event through the eyes of the people as an exercise in democracy and an expansion of choice, the party operatives did all they could to prevent the establishment of a third option.
Some of the other attempts to exterminate the Reform Party influence included misuse of ballot access laws, attempts to gain control of any federal election funds available to the Reform Party after the 1996 presidential election, and the use of a politicized judicial system. All of this and more is detailed in The Perot Legacy.
In spite of it all:
• The Reform Party still survives.
• A new issues organization (ICAN—Independent Citizen Action Network) is being established.
• The number of independent voters in the United States continues to grow dramatically.
• A tell-all book is now published so that more people will know the facts, and can learn from our naïve mistakes while establishing new political organizations.
The Perot Legacy presents a model for a vehicle “that turns peoples’ anger into action.” The worst thing the American people can do is give up. Remember the quote by Winston Churchill that appears above the entrance to Ross Perot’s office complex:
Pat Benjamin is the author of The Perot Legacy: A New Political Path, and lives in Cherry Hill.