Ross Perot’s Reform Party Mounts A Comeback
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The Reform Party, founded in 1995, hopes to rebuild and relaunch during the 2024 election cycle. Union ForwardRead More
Twenty-seven years after its inception in 1995 under the charismatic leadership of Ross Perot, the Reform Party is charting a course for revival in the polarized political landscape of 2023.
The party has long sought to rebuild itself after it became riven by factionalism in the late 1990s. Major splits occurred in 1997 when a group which believed that the party’s 1996 primary was rigged in Perot’s favor left to create the American Reform Party and in 2000 when the party’s nomination of Pat Buchanan caused many Reformists to walk out of the Convention in protest.
Nicholas Hensley, who has served as the party’s Chair since 2021, wrote earlier this year that the party’s platform was a “patchwork quilt of ideas from different eras thrown together” which lacked resonance in modern American politics. The party’s branding, he admitted, was more than a decade old.
During their first in-person convention since 2012, held on October 7 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Reformists adopted fifteen new platform planks developed by Richard Kasa, the party’s Platform Chair, and Richard Walker, the party’s Northeastern Representative. Perot himself passed away in 2019.
The new platform is relatively light on details, outlining a governing vision based upon fiscal responsibility, restoring ethics in Congress, reforming U.S. elections, and streamlining government.
Government Ethics and Fiscal Responsibility
The Reform Party calls for strengthening rules of ethics in government. In particular, the new platform asserts that public servants, elected and appointed, “must not be allowed to take measures to profit” from non-public information which they are privy to as a result of their positions in government.
Members of Congress have faced significant public scrutiny and criticism in recent years for profiting from stock trades using non-public information. The Reform Party calls for increased transparency in and limitations to their investments.
A cornerstone of the new platform is fiscal responsibility. While 48 states have measures against unchecked deficit spending, the federal government currently lacks such restrictions. Reformists advocate ending deficit spending and even propose a Constitutional Amendment to constrain it.
The Constitutional Amendment proposed by Reformists includes exceptions during emergencies but would require a return to fiscal discipline upon the emergency declaration’s expiration. Overall, the party argues that government spending has increased “disproportionately” compared with population and productivity.
The platform goes on to criticize Congress’s habit of governing by massive omnibus bills, arguing that all bills “should focus on a single theme/purpose and contain minimal addenda.” A review process should be established in “all jurisdictions” to suggest the removal of laws which are outdated or ineffective, according to the new platform.
Reformists promote a number of different election reforms designed to improve the machinery of American democracy.
Ranked-choice voting, score voting, and none-of-the-above voting are named in the platform as alternative voting methods to the traditional first-past-the-post voting system, although the platform also affirms support for “other voting methods” that would better reflect the will of voters than America’s traditional first-past-the-post voting system. Reformists’ support for ranked-choice voting aligns them with the Forward Party’s flagship proposal.
The party denounces gerrymandering for inhibiting the “political expression” of communities and pledges to keep tabs on the redistricting process and “take appropriate action” when necessary to push back against gerrymandering.
Furthermore, the party calls for all candidates and parties to have “reasonable access” to state and local ballots and election debates. Members of the Libertarian and Green parties attest to the paramount importance of ballot and debate access in running viable campaigns, barriers which they have long struggled to overcome.
Justice System and Cultural Issues
The Reform Party proposes a shift in the priorities of America’s justice and penal systems. The platform recognizes the right of police to be safe while at work as well as the need for reforms to improve the fairness and impartiality of “law enforcement, court, and incarceration processes.”
Reformists want to ensure that prisons are a place of genuine rehabilitation, not a place to hide away those with addiction or mental health issues, and that people have access to job training while incarcerated and employment assistance upon their release.
In terms of social and cultural issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and end-of-life decisions, the Reform Party opts out of the debate. Instead of taking official stances, their platform simply acknowledges that many of these issues are intertwined with constitutional protections, which they commit to support.
Their decision to steer clear of the issues which sit at the center of America’s culture wars align with their overarching commitment to a streamlined, focused government that does not overstep its boundaries. In a sharply polarized environment, it remains to be seen whether voters will consider this to be a virtue or a flaw.
Energy and the Environment
The Reform Party calls for the use of a variety of energy sources depending on their availability and feasibility in different areas of the country, including renewables, carbon-based, and nuclear.
In terms of the environment, Reformists argue that it is “irresponsible not to consider” the environmental impacts of a growing population and industrial progress. They promise to preserve America’s natural resources and call for a balance to be struck between enabling Americans to thrive today and ensuring that future generations can also thrive.
America’s national security, the platform goes on to say, is dependent upon having “sufficient domestic production, reserves, and diversity of” energy resources.
Healthcare and Education
The Reform Party calls for “research and pilot programs” to improve public school outcomes and cautions against the over-standardization of education. Reformists pledge that every American child should have access to a quality education. The platform does not provide specific proposals other than suggesting that salary incentives may promote full staffing in schools.
Healthcare decisions should be left to patients and their doctors, Reformists argue. The party calls for patients to have “transparent access” to alternative treatment options and for a reduction in out-of-pocket costs for patients, but does not articulate policy objectives to accomplish these goals.
The Reform Party’s initial launch in the 1990s is the last major splash that an alternative party made in national American politics. The party faces an uphill battle to rebuild given its years of decline and history of infighting, but last month it took the first step to do just that.
For its next steps, the party is looking to gain ballot access in states where it is easy to do so, to revitalize its website and podcast, and to expand its core support. Its plans for the 2024 elections are not yet clear, although it promises a “hard relaunch” next November and is already planning its 2024 Convention.
2024 appears likely to be a strong year for independents and third parties, and the Reform Party is not alone in seeking to seize the current wave of anti-duopoly energy and potentially reshape American politics next year.
Environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s newly-launched independent bid for president is polling higher than any since Ross Perot in 1992. The Forward Party, founded in fall 2021, aims to pass ranked-choice voting and open primaries via state ballot referendums and win hundreds of local elections. No Labels aims to get ballot access and gather resources for an alternative presidential ticket as an “insurance policy” if the group decides that another option is necessary and viable. The Green and Libertarian parties appear likely to pursue a similar strategy strategies as they have in past years, nominating presidential tickets to help them retain ballot access and potentially expanding their ranks of local elected officials.
The Reform Party’s launch of a new platform is a promising sign after years of decline and the political environment in 2024 may provide them with an opportunity to get the revival they are hoping for.
Their ultimate success, however, depends on whether the words in their platform can be backed up by substantive organizing.
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