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Los Angeles Times
June 29, 2000


Politics: Many third-party members do not want it turned into a right-wing organization. Candidate John Hagelin is more palatable to them.

By Massie Ritsch, Times Staff Writer

Karen Mountain proudly displays photos of Ross Perot in her living room, and a snapshot of another Reform Party founding father is on her refrigerator. She is not about to let Pat Buchanan take over Perot's party.

So Mountain, a Tustin resident who works for a political ad firm, went on the Internet last month in hopes of finding an alternative, in essence, to another alternative presidential candidate.

"I was looking around and saying, 'There's got to be somebody other than Buchanan.'"

Mountain discovered there is another man who wants the Reform nomination: John Hagelin, the three-time nominee of the obscure but growing Natural Law Party, which warns of the potential dangers of genetically modified foods and advocates, among other positions, the incorporation of transcendental meditation into health care. It all sounded a little wacky at first, Mountain said, but for now, Hagelin is the one . . . or at least he's somebody.

A physicist with degrees from Dartmouth and Harvard, Hagelin is campaigning for two nominations: the Natural Law Party's, which he has sewn up, and the Reform Party's, which comes with more exposure, nearly $13 million in federal funds for campaigning and a better chance than Natural Law of placing third in November's election.

More so than Natural Law's platform and his own personality, Hagelin has two things going for him in his pursuit to wrest the Reform nomination from Buchanan: 1) many of the Reform Party's old-timers can't stand Buchanan, and 2) the party lets just about anyone help pick its nominee....

"I don't think you can underestimate the anger of the Reform Party membership at Buchanan's efforts to turn it into a socially conservative party," said party secretary Jim Mangia, who opposes Buchanan but has not endorsed Hagelin. "I think Hagelin's going to be the Reform Party rank-and-file's candidate."

Truth is, no one knows for sure how the Reform Party's unique mail-in primary will turn out.

"I don't think anybody can look at a name on a mailing list and say, 'That's a Buchanan supporter. That's a Hagelin supporter.' Nobody knows," said Russ Verney, founding chairman of the Reform Party and the man on Mountain's fridge.

The Reform Party places few restrictions on who can vote in its primary-by-mail, but the deadline to request a ballot is Friday. Hagelin and his supporters have been frantically trying to persuade enough people--Reformers as well as the 600,000 or so Natural Law members they estimate are out there--to get on the Internet and ask for the forms....

The winner of the national primary becomes the Reform nominee, unless two-thirds of the delegates at the party's convention vote to throw out the result. Buchanan's delegation does not appear to be large enough for an override, but even if it were, a party that claims to be inclusive and populist would be reluctant to ignore the will of several hundred thousand voters, party members said.

At a forum last week on spirituality and politics, where Hagelin outlined the Natural Law Party's platform of sustainable agriculture, energy and preventive health care, the candidate exhorted more than 1,200 people at the Beverly Hills Hotel to send for a ballot.

"And if you want," the baby-faced physicist with a hypnotist's voice said, taking an almost apologetic pause, "tell your friends."

When Hagelin talks to a Reform audience, he appeals to their libertarian leanings by first talking about the failure of gun control laws to combat crime. With a Natural Law audience, Hagelin sticks to the party's core goals: further examination of genetically modified foods, for example, and the scrapping of a "disease-care system" that will reimburse for quintuple bypass heart surgery but not for a treadmill that could prevent heart attacks.

"It's a new concept," Hagelin said, "the idea that government should be based upon what works, not what is politically expedient."

Whether the concept will work for Hagelin is anybody's guess.

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