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CAMPAIGN 2000: Political Profile

Hagelin Stokes 'Grass-Roots Brush Fire' in New Hybrid Party

The physicist and meditator now calls himself the candidate of the Reform-Natural Law Coalition.

August 20, 2000|MASSIE RITSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In almost all eyes but his own, John Hagelin lost the Reform Party's presidential nomination even before most voters knew he wanted it. Even so, Hagelin won something.

He ran for president in obscurity in 1992 and 1996, as the candidate for the uncelebrated Natural Law Party. But this year, when Hagelin announced he would challenge Pat Buchanan for the Reform Party's nomination, Reform loyalists who hate Buchanan rallied behind Hagelin, and reporters finally noticed the meditating physicist who wants to be president.

Buchanan maneuvered his only opponent out of the Reform Party at its convention this month, but Hagelin left Long Beach with a core of supporters larger than he has ever had.

With the Reform Party split, Hagelin now calls himself the candidate of the Reform-Natural Law Coalition and will be nominated by the hybrid group at Natural Law's convention Aug. 31-Sept. 2 in Alexandria, Va.

"I'm going to forget about Buchanan completely . . . and move forward to conduct a very positive campaign with the dynamic support of at least half the Reform Party," said Hagelin, who had accused Buchanan of election fraud and other rule-breaking.

Low-Budget Campaign

Hagelin, who obtained his doctorate in quantum physics from Harvard, advocates what he says is a holistic approach to government, where health care is preventive, education is innovative, agriculture is sustainable and energy is renewable. He will continue to warn of the dangers of genetically modified foods.

His is a "pragmatic, what-works philosophy," Hagelin said, and he has made room for the Reform Party's call for straighter government and its silence on many social issues.

"Government has been utterly lacking in knowledge or profound principles," he said. "Government has been ruled by those with the single skill of raising money."

Raising money would appear to be one skill that Hagelin lacks. His campaign had raised less than $700,000 through June 30, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. For Hagelin's low-budget campaign, nabbing the Reform nomination and its $12.5 million in federal funds would have been like winning the lottery. He and Buchanan--both newcomers to Reform--are petitioning the FEC for some or all of the party's pot.

With or without the federal money, Hagelin, 46, says he will continue to stoke his "grass-roots brush fire." He tapped as his running mate Internet entrepreneur Nat Goldhaber of Oakland, who describes his net worth as "less than hundreds of millions of dollars" and has offered his two airplanes for Hagelin's use.

His coalition includes anti-Buchanan Reformers Russ Verney, advisor to Reform founder H. Ross Perot; Jim Mangia, the party's former secretary; and Lenora Fulani, the liberal activist who was Buchanan's campaign co-chairwoman before quitting in June.

Though Hagelin has been most identified in the 2000 campaign with the Reform Party, his politics are most aligned with Natural Law, which he helped found in 1992. That same year, Texas billionaire Perot first ran for president and started the United We Stand movement that became Reform.

Natural Law claims to be America's fastest-growing political party, with about 600,000 supporters. In 1996, as Natural Law's presidential nominee, Hagelin received 113,670 votes--seventh place and 0.12% of all votes cast. This year, he expects to be on the ballot in 42 states.

Hagelin draws an $8,000-a-month salary as the Natural Law Party's platform chairman. He plans to establish a "very vibrant" policy think tank in Washington if his designs on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. go bust.

Until recently, Hagelin headed the physics department and a public policy program at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, the rural town of 10,000 where the Natural Law Party is based. The university, known as MUM, advocates "consciousness-based" learning through transcendental meditation. Goldhaber holds a bachelor's degree from MUM.

Hagelin's reliance on meditation--a daily practice since a serious motorcycle accident at age 17--initially struck even some of his supporters as wacky. But when one is running for president in the riotous Reform Party, "deep rest at will," as he calls it, sounds welcome. The party's sessions in Long Beach included a walkout by anti-Buchanan forces and assorted screaming and shoving matches.

"I find as a candidate for office, [meditation is] a very effective tool," Hagelin said.

Next to the booming Buchanan and his rough-and-tumble "Brigaders," Hagelin seems out of place in today's Reform Party. His voice is calm, even hypnotic, in an unusual cadence that cuts words into pieces. He is not particularly charismatic but can rouse an already supportive--if similarly sedate--crowd well enough.

Hagelin does not smoke or drink alcohol. He claims an IQ of 165. His doctoral thesis was titled "Weak Mass Mixing, CP Violation and the Decay of B-Quark Mesons." (Buchanan, the conservative commentator, wrote a book called "Right from the Beginning.")

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