Save us, Ross

The New Jersey Reform Party chairman resigns in disgust over Pat Buchanan, and waits for Ross Perot.

By Jake Tapper

Published June 14, 2000 10:13AM (EDT)

On the eve of the New Jersey Reform Party convention, state party chairman Ira Goodman, 52, resigned on Tuesday, saying he'd "had enough of this nonsense going on with [presidential candidate Pat] Buchanan."

Goodman, who had been part of the party since 1992, is now heading a movement to draft party founder H. Ross Perot to "save the party." Goodman is the latest party activist in the growing ranks of those who went to bed with Buchanan as a candidate last fall and are now finding themselves waking up with the hangover and pangs of regret that often come with political compromise.

Due to the late hour, no one from the Buchanan campaign could be reached for comment.

In an interview with Salon, Goodman said there were two reasons for his resignation. First, Buchanan has "escalated" his anti-abortion, anti-gay rhetoric to the point that he is now planning to write a preamble to the Reform Party platform that will address all the social issues that the Reform Party as a matter of policy avoids addressing on a party basis.

"The Reform Party does not believe in making social issues the agenda of our political organization," Goodman says. "We always knew that those were his issues as a candidate, and any candidate is permitted to say what he thinks about them." But Buchanan is bringing them front and center, which changes what the Reform Party is supposed to stand for, claims Goodman.

Second, Goodman alleges that Buchanan has brought an ugly element into the party. "Extremists, white supremacists, people who are anti-black" are joining the party -- and wresting control of it from the old guard. It's not just that they yell "lock-and-load" or that "they're very aggressive, very belligerent, very intimidating and tend to be of the extreme right," Goodman insists.

"Take a look at what happened [at the Reform Party convention] in Texas this past week," he says. The Buchananites "got control of the credentialing process and they ... excluded minorities. They excluded blacks, Hispanics and Jews," misinterpreting Texas Reform Party law and refusing to recognize such individuals as members of the party even though "all you have to do is attend a meeting" to be a member.

In Goodman's own organization, he found a new member, a Buchanan-backer, who was a member of the racist Council of Conservative Citizens. "I went to Bay" Buchanan, Pat Buchanan's sister and adviser, "and I went to Tim" Haley, Buchanan's political director, "and I told them about this guy in my group who I'd checked out, and who was with the CCC, and they just sort of laughed it off. They said, 'Jeez, I didn't think they [the CCC] went all the way up to New Jersey.'"

Buchanan, Goodman says, "is creating a right-wing Republican party, which will be a cash cow."

Goodman's thoughts were stated in an interview Monday with former Reform Party national chairman Russ Verney. He says that Buchanan and his allies "have concluded that they don't have a chance in the 2000 election. Everything they're doing is counterproductive to the 2000 election, and these are not stupid people ... When someone extends a warm, welcoming hand to you with $20 million and a ticket to the big leagues, you don't start tearing off the fingers. Elections aren't about division."

Thus, Verney says, "What they're about is purging the Reform Party of all those who created it so that they can prepare themselves to present themselves to the right wing of America as an ideologically pure right-wing party. The Christian Coalition sold out its principles when it endorsed George W. Bush over Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes. So they try to offer a replacement for the Christian Coalition in the form of a political party -- one that can take soft money. That's what this is about."

Goodman's disillusionment with Buchanan came in steps. After joining the Reform Party movement in 1992 -- he was one of the co-founders of New York's United We Stand America -- Goodman was invited, along with other Reform Party insiders, to hear various candidates for the 1996 presidential election as they came down to Dallas to kiss Perot's ring, among other things.

GOP presidential nominee Sen. Bob Dole showed, as did his veep, former Rep. Jack Kemp. President Clinton sent his friend and former White House chief of staff, Thomas "Mack" McLarty. And Buchanan showed, too.

"We practically booed Bob Dole and Mack McLarty out of there," Goodman says, "but Pat Buchanan delivered the most stirring speech. He was right on with our principles on NAFTA, GATT, reforming the government, term limits ... We believed that he really believed in the principles of the party."

Last fall, when Buchanan jumped ship, Goodman "assumed he would help grow the party. But they're just knocking us out left and right, taking over the organization we built."

There was controversy with Buchananites bullying Perotistas in California, Goodman said. A similar pattern followed in Maryland, Wisconsin and Colorado. Since making plans with Bay Buchanan and former party chairman Pat Choate last October, Goodman had hoped to hold a fundraiser for the state party, featuring Buchanan, Wednesday evening. He says the event would have raised $25,000 for Buchanan's Garden State efforts. But after hearing "over and over again" about the Buchanan "marauding Mongolian hordes" -- as well as his "proclamation about the social issues" -- Goodman decided to cancel the fundraiser.

There was growing disenchantment with the pugilistic former co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," Goodman says. The Connecticut Reform Party passed a resolution condemning Buchanan. The Colorado party followed.

Soon Goodman decided not to attend his own state party's convention. After hearing about the Texas convention over the weekend, he decided to resign altogether. Though he wasn't running for reelection, he believed that Wednesday's convention would bring a huge change to his party. Already vice chairman Carmen Zarrelli was disappointed that he'd been opposing Buchanan. (Zarrelli did not return a call for comment.)

"I was going to be a lame duck operating in a sea of Buchananites," Goodman says, "and nothing productive could come of that."

"I pray that, for me, the only hope is Perot," Goodman says. "And I think people are starting to recognize that. He's the founding father; this organization is his baby. And given that this organization is his child, he would never let his child die. If we get Perot into the primary, Buchanan can't get his hands on the $12.6 million, and then we can keep the party and get it back on track."

But will that happen? Will Perot come in, deus ex machina, and save his baby from the Buchanan brigades? Goodman has no idea. "The last time I saw Perot was 10 minutes in 1995 in Maine." In fact, he says, "that was the only time I've ever spoken to him."

Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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