Don't call it a comeback

After a 20-year political hiatus, former independent presidential candidate John Anderson will appear on the March ballot in California.

Published January 4, 2000 8:11PM (EST)

After the rebirth of disco and all things '70s, it was only a matter of time before the retro trend reached into the 1980s. Clubs in urban centers blare Flock of Seagulls tracks with alarming regularity and leg warmers are once again all over the runways in New York, Paris and Milan. So perhaps it is to be expected that John Anderson, a political relic from the 1980s, will once again be on the ballot in California as a candidate for president of the United States.

Anderson, the former Republican congressman from Illinois, ran as an independent presidential candidate in 1980, earning nearly 9 percent of the vote. He will join developer Donald Trump on the Reform Party ballot in California. But don't call it a comeback -- at least not yet. Anderson's future remains cloudy as jockeying for the Reform Party nomination continues.

California Secretary of State spokesman Shad Balch said Anderson's name was placed on the ballot at the request of the state party leadership. "They contacted our office and told us he is a viable candidate for the Reform Party," he said. "If he's a generally recognized candidate, then we'll place his name on the ballot. We rely heavily the dialogue between our office and the state party [to make that determination]," Balch said.

Jim Mangia, a member of the board of directors of the California Reform Party and the national party's secretary, said that there has been a lobbying effort to lure Anderson into the race. "A number of people in the Reform Party have been urging him to run," he said. "I assume that he's taking another step toward making that decision."

"He has not committed to run per se, he has allowed us to put his name on the ballot," said California Reform Party member Dick Porter, one of the people who took the lead in putting Anderson's name on the ballot in California. "There are a number of us who are interested in his candidacy, mainly as an alternative to the Trump and Buchanan efforts. I think there's a lot of frustration at what we have to choose from. We need a statesman that can lead the country toward real political reform."

But the announcement of Anderson's name on the ballot came as a surprise to some Reform Party leaders. "It's news to me," said Reform Party chairman Jack Gargan when told of Anderson's appearance on the California ballot. But Gargan, a close ally of Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura who described Anderson as "an old friend," said, "it won't mean anything. California is more of a beauty contest," noting that the Reform Party front-runner, Pat Buchanan will not even appear on the March 7 ballot in the Golden State.

The March 7 election will mean nothing in terms of deciding who the Reform Party nominee will be. Unlike Democrats and Republicans, the official primary dates are not significant for Reform candidates. The party's nominee for president will be chosen by mail ballots this summer, which will be sent to every person who is a registered member of the Reform Party, anyone who has signed a petition for a Reform Party candidate for president or any registered voter who calls and asks to participate, regardless of whether they've voted in another party's primary.

The Reform Party has automatically qualified for the November ballot in 21 states, including New York and California. Individual candidates are responsible for getting their name on the ballot in the other 29 states and the District of Columbia. Only candidates who have shown "a serious effort" to qualify for the ballot in most or all other 29 states will have their name appear on the official Reform Ballot this summer.

"We may have three people who meet that criteria," Gargan said, though he refused to speculate as to who those three may be. Pat Buchanan is all but guaranteed a spot on that summer ballot, as is Donald Trump. But Gargan's speculation that there will be a third candidate lends credence to the persistent rumors that either Jesse Ventura, Ross Perot or now perhaps Anderson, will make a serious run for the Reform Party nomination. But regardless of who wins the mail-in ballot election this summer, any candidate can seize the party's nomination if he or she receives support from two-thirds of the delegates at the party's national convention this summer, a rule Gargan has struggled in vain to change.

Gargan cautioned against making too much out of the fact that Anderson will appear on the California ballot. "It's a joke. Just because somebody throws their name out there doesn't mean a whole lot until they prove they're serious. They have to make an effort to get on the ballot in all 50 states," Gargan said. While the Reform Party chairman said he is obliged by the nature of his position within the party to avoid "taking sides," he said he had heard Anderson was considering running as a Reform Party candidate.

Calls to Anderson's office in Washington were not immediately returned.

By Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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