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Scott McConnell's Buchanan Diary: Long Bash at Long Beach
Aug 14, 2000.
Monday 2:15 AM, LAX. Trying to sleep on a bench at the airport, but not too deeply, because I haven't checked my bags in yet. It's been an exhausting and exhilarating week, seven straight nights with only three or four hours sleep. The campaign has booked me a money-saving 5:30 a.m. flight back to Washington, and checked me out of the hotel the morning before. So, for one night I get to experience homelessness, as one of about a dozen folks sprawled on the benches by the USAir ticket counters.
Should be all over now but the handing over of the $12.6 million, a slam-dunk case according to former reform Party veep Pat Choate.
August 8, Tuesday. At the crucial pre-convention national committee meeting - a meeting whose outcome would determine the make-up of the credentials committee and thus the fate of the 38 challenges leveled against the Buchanan delegate slates - the Buchananites had the numbers. Seventy-five sure votes (if they showed up); 20 more considered friendly by political director Tim Haley. A clear majority of the 164-member national committee, though Haley was up counting deep into the night on Monday.
Incredible tension as people gathered in the hall outside the large conference room at the Long Beach Westin. Intense social forces were boiled down into the names on a two-page list, published August 1 on the then-official Reform Party web site. A list agreed upon by acting chair Gerry Moan and "wrecking crew" co-pilot Jim Mangia, then the RP secretary, who has been calling the Buchananites "brownshirt" for the past three months. Seventy-four out of our 75 national committee members arrived on time.
Kara has to take one of our guys aside and get him to stifle the profanity in front of the press. Otherwise the Buchanan folks are incredibly well behaved, considering the provocations they endure.
Perhaps thirty or forty of theirs showed up. Mangia arrived with rump session of the executive committee - he has six or seven of the twelve with him, though two were ex-com members, having been recalled the previous month. They stand in a circle before the television cameras and pass resolutions. (The Washington Post's Tom Edsall, who had heretofore been incredibly unfriendly to the Buchanan campaign, seems to be the only reporter who picked up on this - posturing for the media, pure and simple). Lenora Fulani worked the press outside, attended by two bodyguards.
Russ Verney moves around with a high-tech earpiece outside the hall, surrounded by guards with Perot Security system insignia on their shirts, trying to direct the meeting inside. He had been voted out of his seat on the national committee several months ago, at the Texas convention.
Once the meeting began, initial reports were scary. Gerry Moan, the avuncular and plump chairman of the party, whom we trusted to give us fair process, was according to first reports, just letting Mangia dominate the meeting. "He's just sitting there like a lump" was one of the comments I heard. Soon one of the Mangia/Hagelin guys stuck his head outside and announced "looks like there's not going to be a quorum" - an incredible statement after at least 120 people had filed into the meeting and had their names checked. But the press dutifully writes it down.
But after two hours Moan had enough, finally making clear that he was going to call a vote - that is, let the people in the room vote on the challenges that Mangia and his folks were making to the individual national committee members. The wrecking crew's strategy, apparently, was to try to tie up the national committee meeting and break it down under the weight of continuous challenges - Mangia was going back on his agreement with Moan that the August 1st list comprised the national committee. But voting would begin to work through the challenges.
As soon as Moan readied the first vote, Russ Verney hurled himself towards the door, demanding to be allowed in. As a Perot operative and former Party chairman, he still had some weight - perhaps he could dissuade Moan from allowing the Natcom to vote. But as Verney reached the door, Mangia and his crew burst out, shouting "illegal meeting" for the benefit of press. Thirty, give or take five or ten, of their Natcom members stormed out, voicing contrived expressions of outrage about Buchanan "bullying tactics" and then repaired down the street to another hotel, having already rented the room. There started the parallel rump convention, to nominate Natural Law (transcendental meditation) candidate John Hagelin as the "Reform Party" candidate. Hagelin, by our count, had one exactly one delegate in the six previous months of Reform Party state conventions.
We had arrived at the convention with a majority of the delegates - very close to two thirds - picked up by the Buchanan forces at the state conventions which Pat had attended almost every week beginning in late fall. The old Reformers weren't always pleased to see fifty or sixty new faces show up at their party conventions and ask for a role in the party. As Gerry Moan explained at Tuesday's press conference, in some states the Reform Party consisted of nothing more than three or four people. And they would have preferred to keep it that way. Soon they began to look for ways to stop the process - not holding state conventions; or rewriting the rules to say that newcomers could not vote.
In any case, we showed up at the national convention with the delegates. The danger was that the old guard would behave like the Democratic Party in the Deep South in the early 1960's, contriving ways not to seat our delegations. The first credentials committee, to which Verney had been appointed, had announced that 38 of 50 state delegations would be challenged. Then you would have 300 legally elected delegates, all of whom had paid their own way to Long Beach, locked outside the convention. A possible riot, and the wrecking crew's wet dream.
After the rump faction walkout, the conventions and the rump convention proceeded smoothly - few in the press noting that Hagelin mini-convention was about half the size of ours.
August 10, Wednesday. After our 7am morning meeting, Kara and I go down to the Renaissance Hotel to check out the wrecking crew's press conference. We wear our Buchanan identification badges, no effort at disguise. We ask if we can come in. Great consternation among the Haglenites, who ask to consider it. One old Reformer begins to harangue us - that Pat is a fascist, that Gerry Moan held a closed meeting the day before. (Moan had closed the initial session of yesterday's meeting, to minimize disruption.) We wait outside.
Verney comes walking by - and I say "Russ, can we go to your press conference." Of course he says - the picture of conviviality. Verney is a pro, his motives a genuine mystery to me. Could Perot pay him enough to do this?
We enter, and stand at the side while Jim Mangia explains to the press that Pat Buchanan has been disqualified from the Reform Party e-ballot for some sort of technicality, and that therefore his rump convention will select John Hagelin, the Reform Party's only remaining candidate, as its nominee. The press dutifully scribbles away. Mangia introduces his new version of the national committee, which includes some of the people he had fought with in the infamous Reform showdown in Nashville. Now there is "unity" amongst about thirty of the Old Reformers, who applaud for an incredibly long time at the return of Sue Harris De Bauche to their ranks. They are folks in late middle age, and I've never been able to figure out their ideology.
Earlier in the campaign, when we had a reasonable working relationship with some of these folks, Bev Kennedy, the Party's "parliamentarian," sat in my office for forty five minutes and explained that property tax was illegal, and that all the Supreme Courts which had sat since 1808 or something were misinterpreting the Constitution. Or whatever.
Anyway, these are the folks, old, white and angry, who are pissed as hell at losing their little sinecures in the Reform Party. For a moment, at this rump convention press conference, they feel powerful - the press has come to watch them, and the old feuding factions are united. They applaud themselves again and again.