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Perot's Fed-Up Activists Aim to Reclaim Democracy

May 26, 1992|GERALDINE BAUM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TRUMBULL, Conn. — A stack of unopened ledgers next to an unused exercise machine in Dennis Shrauger's kitchen seemed to say it all. So did his green, glassy eyes.

Shrauger, 45, is a regular family man, the kind with ancient American values who owns a business, works hard, pays his taxes and is damn proud of his two boys--one in college, one in the Army. But lately he admits he's gone a little off the deep end for Ross Perot.

Take last Sunday, for example.

By early afternoon, Shrauger was standing in front of a Stop & Shop in this small southern Connecticut town amid a knot of clanking grocery carts.

"Would you like to see Ross Perot on the Connecticut ballot?" he quietly implored shoppers as they maneuvered carts in and out of the automated doors. Suddenly, carts gridlocked, elbows were flying and there was a struggle over the pen to sign his petition.

"Gee," Shrauger deadpanned as he surveyed the chaos, "you can really feel the enthusiasm out here."

In fact, there is almost a fever among Perot people, particularly among organizers like Dennis Shrauger. These normal people have left their golf clubs in the closet and their spouses and kids at home and are spending their own money to get a billionaire they know mostly by legend to run for President of the United States. Their aim: to reclaim democracy.

People like Shrauger and Kurt Koenig of New York City, Marge Scherick of Los Angeles, Ed Hubbard of Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., and Pat O'Neil of Princeton, N.J., are spending more time madly phoning, faxing, videotaping--even evangelizing--for Ross Perot than they are on their real jobs.

They explain this frenzy by saying they've plunged in to lance a boil--a long-festering frustration with government and politicians and everything that goes on in Washington. They want to be heard and they're startled that someone has popped up who expresses their thoughts.

These are, in fact, savvy people, the types who own small businesses or are consultants or have quit big companies on some sort of principle. They're also the type who take on their local zoning board if they don't like a regulation, or refuse to get cable because they think the company charges too much for installation.

But beyond certain moderate values, it's nearly impossible to categorize them by ideology: They're Democrats, Republicans, independents--and, to a person, appalled by the big-party leaders.

"I've had some frightening discussions about the future of this country with friends," said Shrauger, co-coordinator of the Connecticut effort to place Perot on the ballot. "And then this alternative came along, and it doesn't seem like we're making such big sacrifices. We might even make history."

For her part, Marge Scherick said she has long had "a visceral feeling that our leaders do nothing but lie to us. We're all sort of shrinking into ourselves, and all of a sudden we see this man talk and we believe it's the truth. Whether it is the truth or not, we know he's sincere. And we want to reach out and grab him."

Then, for whatever reason, she felt it necessary to explain herself: "I'm not some sort of nut who goes off crazy for causes. Don't get me wrong."

Once Scherick heard that Perot might run, she took it upon herself to make up flyers about how he might be a solution to the nation's problems.

"I made 10,000 copies of this flyer at a print shop and started handing them out to my friends, who put them in little shoe shops and beauty shops," said Scherick, who describes herself as "a woman who's never been active in anything political" and who doesn't even vote regularly. She works on movie projects with her producer husband, Edgar.

Many of Perot's key people have no experience in politics.

Typically, they happened to hear the Texas billionaire on CNN's "Larry King Live" in late February--the first time that Perot offered himself up as a presidential candidate if voters would get him on the ballot. They called his office in Dallas to see what they should do.

"Dallas told me, 'It's up to you guys to do something,' " recalled Ed Hubbard, a motivational speaker from Florida who spent 35 years in the Air Force. "Nobody was going to do anything in Dallas, and at some point it became apparent I would be in charge if something was to be done in Florida."

Before Hubbard knew it, he was receiving 600 calls a day, going to meetings of regional coordinators across his state and getting involved in the type of political strategizing he couldn't have imagined a month earlier.

"My wife thinks I've gone crazy," said Hubbard, 54. "She asks me every day if I'm having fun yet, if I'm ready to throw in the towel. But I tell her we're writing an ownership manual here for our government, and I am convinced that we can solve these problems if the American people get involved."

Many people say they were elated, if not relieved, to mobilize for Perot. Pete Hoffmann, one of Hubbard's regional coordinators in South Florida, says he was fed up with voting for "the best of two poor choices."

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