The Ventura way: 'If it isn't fun, I quit'
At the Reform Party Convention, it's Ross Perot vs. Jesse. Guess who wins
By Tamala M. Edwards/Dearborn, Michigan
August 2, 1999
Web posted at: 11:46 a.m. EDT (1546 GMT)
Reporters were promised high jinks at the Reform Party National
Convention. "Bring your asbestos suit," chortled Phil Madsen, an
aide to Jesse Ventura, relishing a skirmish between his boss and
Ross Perot, the party's founder. "Its going to be hot."
But a leisure suit would have been more appropriate. First of
all, Ventura, the party's highest-ranking elected official and
the repository of its presidential urges, didn't show. Bad
weather and a bad back kept him in Minnesota. When they got him
on speakerphone, instead of taking on Perot, Ventura promised not
to run for President; his grab for power was more a wink and a
nudge. He pitched Jack Gargan, a retired financial consultant, as
party chairman, but then swaddled the endorsement in
protestations that he wasn't telling the fiercely independent
delegates how to vote. The room, which had sparked with applause
at other points in the speech, went silent as Gargan sat in the
last row staring at his shoes. I thought old Jack was done for,
but Saturday there was a proliferation of Gargan buttons. Many of
those who were undecided said the Body had won their vote.
But it wasn't all about Jesse. The two Perot-blessed chairman
candidates had problems of their own. Thomas McLaughlin, a quiet
man known for doing the party chores, seemed too retiring in a
party where more than a few delegates think the presidency should
be filled by Donald Trump. And the other candidate, Pat Benjamin,
the sitting vice chairman, was busy tamping down a war between
members of her New Jersey delegation. Accusations swirled that
Benjamin had kept delegate contact information away from Gargan.
"Such lies," she hissed. Not a great backdrop for a woman
promising to be a unifier.
Gargan's strategy, if he had one, was to play the reluctant
warrior. His shock troops were made up of three befuddled senior
citizens who swooshed around the ballroom wearing GARGAN'S
GEEZERS T shirts. He compared the chairmanship to captaining the
Titanic. "I don't want the damned job," he said. "But I'm not
about to let this ship go down." Proof that he was a hard worker?
He used to drive live chickens to market, a job that meant
stopping every few minutes and beating the sides of the truck to
keep the birds flapping and alive. During his speech, he listed
his credentials as loving poker, pool and motorcycle rides and
having an eye for the ladies. "And those are my good qualities,"
he told the hooting crowd.
One imagined that somewhere the elusive Perot, a man used to
having the last laugh in this party, was not having much fun. In
his speech he never mentioned Ventura. And he and Gargan, once
friendly, haven't spoken in years. Gargan intends to move party
headquarters away from Perot's home roost of Dallas to Gargan's
nest in Florida's Cedar Key. He and patron Ventura made clear
they're not interested in a third Perot run for the presidency.
"We are going in a whole new direction," Gargan said.
Getting the party to follow him there will be challenging because
Reformers like being, as they say, "individuals." These are the
people to whom society doesn't listen much. But here they can be
heard--and heard and heard, making the debate, with its shouts of
"point of inquiry," its endless amendments and its glacial
balloting, seem mad.
And is the yuckster Gargan serious enough to attract voters and
good candidates? Or will the Reformers fail to get at least 5% of
the vote, thus losing their $12.6 million in matching funds for
2004, and go the way of the Bull Moose Party, which evaporated in
1916? In a party where one vice chairman candidate served beer
out of his hotel bathtub, where its only Governor plans to
referee this month's WWF SummerSlam wrestling match, concerns
about being serious may miss the point. "Jesse rejects that
notion. He's always said, 'If it isn't fun, I quit,'" says
Ventura aide Madsen. "Serious enough? That's a negative term
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Cover Date: August 9, 1999