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The Reform Party Looks for a Direction
By Martin Kaste
November 15, 1999
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Members of the Minnesota Reform Party spent the day Saturday discussing their political identity, and rewriting their party's platform, one plank at a time. There were indications that the party's members are beginning to polarize into right- and left-wing camps.

GOVERNOR VENTURA HAS never been fond of Party conventions. On Saturday morning, he gave a brief pep talk to the delegates, then headed off to see the Gophers' football game. On his way out the door, he waved off questions about what he thought the direction of the party should be.
Ventura: I'm not here to give specific advice, that's up to the party. That's why we have a party.
It's hard to begrudge the governor his early departure, given the long day of procedural wrangling that lay ahead. The more than 90 items for the party platform crossed the ideological spectrum, ranging from states' rights to the legalization of marijuana, and the debates would have become long-winded had it not been for the air horn wielded by the party's official time keeper.

The debates revealed some classic moments of old-fashioned left-right divisions. One young delegate said a proposal to make English the official language was "racist"; an older one responded by saying people who want to speak foreign languages should live in foreign countries.

The party's state chairman, Rick McCluhan, says he's worried about what he sees as extremists from both ends of the spectrum trying to overrun the party. As evidence, he points to Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan's recent conversion to the Reform Party, and the endorsement Buchanan has just received from left-wing New York politician Lenora Fulani.
McCluhan: Those people have no integrity. I mean, they can be totally at odds from a political standpoint. And what they're doing is they're saying they'll compromise all their integrity just to do one thing, and that's to overthrow the two-party system as we know it. And I don't think that's what the Reform Party is about.
McCluhan says he's not too worried about what he sees as the "socialistic tendencies" in some of the new platform proposals; he's confident they're a minority view. But he and other party leaders allied with Ventura are worried about Pat Buchanan. Already, a handful of Buchanan's supporters were lurking around the edges of the convention, even though they don't yet have delegate status or voting rights.

Long-time Republican and Buchanan supporter Greta Morrisson says McCluhan's fears are exaggerated; she says she has a lot in common with Reform Party activists, even the ones who favor the legalization of marijuana.
Morrisson: We're disgusted with what we consider the two-party system which is really what I consider a one-party system. I mean, I don't really see a difference between Bush and Bradley and Gore.
MPR: So that's what you have in common with other reformers, is sort of a disgust with the existing party structure?
Morrisson: Right, in other words, the grassroots effort of the Reform Party, I think, is what I have in common. We're just disgusted with the political insiders and the elitists.
People like McCluhan and Governor Ventura don't feel the same kinship, and on Saturday they hoped to change the party rules to make sure new arrivals, such as the Buchanan Brigade, would not be able to take part in the presidential nomination process next spring. But the party's more conservative, Perot-leaning faction used a procedural maneuver to keep them from changing the rules and freezing Buchanan supporters out. Former party chair Diane Goldman says McCluhan is taking the wrong approach to the perceived Buchanan threat.
Goldman: If we close the door to certain people being made delegates, then we possibly are losing potentially good people as well as maybe eliminating some people who maybe don't fit with the party, but that's just the nature of the party.
As the rules stand right now, Buchanan supporters are free to show up at local precinct caucuses early next year, and help push the Minnesota party toward endorsing their candidate in the summer. There's plenty of room for them: the party barely manages to fill 500 of the possible 4,000 delegate seats. If Buchanan can muster a few hundred supporters -- especially in rural areas -- his campaign could take control the state party. Chairman McCluhan says he still plans to head off that scenario: he says in the next few weeks, he'll ask the party's executive committee to change the rules to keep the newcomers from getting voting rights.