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REFORM PARTY '96

For Reform Party, an Uncommon Muster

August 12, 1996|JEFF LEEDS and DOUGLAS P. SHUIT | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

This was one political convention whose delegates brought their own pizza to the kickoff party, held on the deck of the Queen Mary Saturday night. Then they listened to a brief lecture on the history of the national anthem--given by a party supporter in Colonial garb--before one conventional touch: a fireworks display.

And so it was again on Sunday at the Long Beach Convention Center as the Reform Party presidential convention officially convened. There were no balloon drops or black-tie cocktail parties. And the attendance did not compare with that of Bob Dole's coronation down the coast in San Diego--or even a Jehovah's Witnesses gathering at another Long Beach Convention Center building next door.

"We are not bound by what the other parties do. We don't have to be all stuffy. We are who we are," said Dean Barkley of Plymouth, Minn., who "only decided to come three days ago" but who even had a moment on the stage. He helped introduce former Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm, the lone challenger to party founder Ross Perot in the nomination contest.

Outside the convention hall, Bob Mullally of North Hollywood was selling blood-red $5 "Lamm for President" T-shirts as the 2,600 Reform Party faithful streamed into their first-ever national convention.

Mullally, a loyal Democrat for years who held jobs in two gubernatorial administrations, was typical of many in his one key respect: As he scans the nation's presidential prospects, the management consultant says, he sees the two major-party candidates to be more interested in sustaining themselves than in planning for the nation's future.

Near his table of T-shirts and buttons, delegates also browsed among commemorative handbags and buttons, lunched on $5.25 barbecue sandwiches and plugged their ears as two dozen men clad in the garb of Revolutionary War soldiers fired a volley into the summer sky. Everyone paid their own way, and some brought their own brown-bag lunches.

Inside, Perot and Lamm courted the crowd, then retreated to await word of whose name will appear on the November ticket--a decision to be determined by voting that goes through Saturday and is to be announced Sunday in Valley Forge, Pa., at the second phase of the party's convention.

In interviews, convention-goers expressed hope that independent parties can thrive in an era when presidential elections frequently hinge on the decisions of the middle-of-the-road voter.

Hal Weber, a retired engineer who maintains the World Wide Web page for the Glendale chapter of United We Stand, America, Inc., the grass-roots organization that blossomed after Perot's 1992 presidential bid, said he hadn't decided which Reform Party candidates to support but praised Perot for mounting the effort to qualify the party in all 50 states.

Sandy Ross, who came with a busload of delegates from Palm Springs, said she was drawn to the Reform Party by her rising concern with the federal debt and the costs of Social Security.

"I want the America I knew here for my grandchildren, and I am worried that it won't be here when they get older," she said.

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