Ross Perot is facing an increasingly vocal group of opponents - some within his national organization, United We Stand America - who do not believe the Dallas billionaire should create a new political party.
About 30 disaffected United We Stand leaders, representing about 12 states, met last weekend in Las Vegas and approved a resolution telling Perot that he was “fired” as their leader.
“He’s the one who split. We’re still interested in doing what we’ve been doing,” said Marilou Stanley, a former state director in Arizona. “He took the paid personnel, abandoned United We Stand, and said, ‘You will work for me.”’
Perot’s new party faces only two more state deadlines this year to get on the ballot: Ohio and Maine.
His troops in Ohio, where Perot spoke to a Columbus audience Friday, insist they will meet their goal of 33,000 signatures by Nov. 20.
Perot supporters dismiss the suggestion of dissent within the ranks, saying the opposition is limited to a handful of people.
“We did a survey of our membership earlier this year on the question of whether a third political party is good for the country and what role United We Stand America should play,” said Russ Verney, executive director of United We Stand. “Seventy-seven percent said it’s good for the country, that United We Stand America should facilitate it.”
Third-party opponents acknowledge Perot sought members’ input on forming a party - and that some of their peers wanted a new ticket.
But some unhappy critics complain that “white shirts from Dallas,” which is how they refer to paid staff, are calling all the shots.
“We have a bad taste in our mouth because Perot has unfinished business,” said Al Montag, a United We Stand coordinator in Cincinnati. “The unfinished business is United We Stand is a wreck. He couldn’t run United We Stand; how’s he going to do a third party?”
He and others complain that United We Stand is effectively shut down while Perot and paid staffers campaign for a third party.
Some critics have written to the Federal Elections Commission asking for a ruling about whether United We Stand is using its funds legally when paid staff rove the country organizing support for a new party.
“They have brought in the paid staffers from all over the country to do this,” said former state chairwoman Deborah Taylor of Youngstown, Ohio. “There is very little volunteer support from what I have seen.”
Ken Stewart, 21, says that the infighting about a third party has been overblown.
“I do think a lot of these people have an ax to grind,” said Stewart, a college senior who supports a third party. “They started to lose sight of what the purpose of the organization was. The purpose was to set the agenda and change the way Washington works.”
Verney said that the third-party movement is gaining momentum, noting that the organization apparently got thousands of new registrants in California on short notice.
“108,000 people changed their voter registration” to the new political party, Verney said. “That’s like asking someone to change their religion in 20 days.”
Third-party opponents say that would not have been possible without help from paid staff. They say that membership in the organization has fallen sharply.
Perot officials acknowledge that they have moved some of their paid staff to states that need help getting on the ballot.