Perot Activists Launch Splinter Group in Irvine

TIMES STAFF WRITER

California leaders of Ross Perot's now-aborted presidential bid on Monday launched a new group aimed at uniting dispirited Perot volunteers across the nation in a coalition to force governmental change.

Owners of America, an Irvine-based nonprofit group with a corporate-style structure, hopes to become the umbrella organization for thousands of Perot volunteers seeking a direction now that the Texas billionaire has decided not to run.

"We want to stay organized to become the most powerful voting bloc in the country," said Merrick Okamoto, regional chairman of the Perot Petition Committee in California and one of a half a dozen directors of the new organization.

W. (Bill) Myers, a Garden Grove refrigeration company owner and vice chairman of the statewide Perot Petition Committee, said the new group's intent is "to effect political change in America for all Americans. . . ."

"Our objective is to unite as many volunteers in America as possible and to continue what Ross Perot has started," Myers said in a news conference outside the storefront Irvine office where Perot's California organization began its work several months ago.

Money will be a key to building the organization, whose motto is "Government of the people, by the people, for the people." Myers unveiled a novel fund-raising approach: Owners of America stock certificates in denominations of at least $10.

"We can't have change in this country without funds," he said, ticking off the group's new Los Angeles-area telephone number: (310) 288-1992.

Owners of America has invited Perot to be the honorary chairman of the organization and help fund its effort.

"We're hoping he'll stay involved, just like (the Rev.) Jesse Jackson stays involved," said Debra Olson, Perot's civil rights coordinator in California and a director of Owners of America. "When Jesse Jackson calls senators, they see him, and they listen to his issues because he's developed a power base in the political system. We feel Mr. Perot would have the same ability because what he has done in the last few months has been phenomenal."

So far, Perot has not responded, said Olson, a real estate financier in Beverly Hills.

In Dallas, several people connected with Perot and his presidential effort said they had not heard of Owners of America or of its offer to the maverick Texan, who on Friday indicated that he would help his supporters mobilize as a political force.

"I'm not familiar with the group, but that doesn't mean they haven't contacted Mr. Perot directly," said Perot's press secretary, Sharon Holman. "There are groups springing up all over the country to carry forth the message. And that is a very powerful group of voters."

Okamoto said Perot supporters could lose their clout as they form separate factions in every state and major city across the country. "We're organizing now because we want to be the main splinter group," the 31-year-old Lake Forest stockbroker said.

It remains to be seen, however, whether such a group will have the staying power to affect politics from the national to the local level, as Owners of America members say they hope to do.

Without a figurehead in Ross Perot, the group is doomed to fail, said Eileen Padberg, a veteran Republican political consultant from Costa Mesa.

"Every organization needs a leader to keep people energized, directed, focused," Padberg said. "When you have (a) hundred nobodies running a group like this, well, it's a wonderful idea, but it won't work. It needs to have a leader, and unfortunately, it doesn't sound like (Perot) is willing to do that, other than contribute some guilt money."

Maureen Ridgway, executive director of the Democratic Party in Orange County, said her party will continue its efforts to woo Perot supporters. She also applauded Perot supporters for wanting to stay organized and have an impact on the political process.

"We welcome them with open arms," she said.

Kenneth Khachigian, campaign manager for TV commentator Bruce Herschensohn's U.S. Senate campaign, said talk of such alternative political movement confirms what he has found in polling for the Senate race: People are unhappy with Congress and want something new.

But Khachigian, a former speech writer for Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan, said it is too soon to predict whether they can deliver.

"I don't know if we are seeing a genuine populist uprising of the people," the San Clemente attorney said. "The dynamics of the 1992 presidential season have yet to be played out."

John Babich, a 71-year-old volunteer from Irvine who feels betrayed by the billionaire businessman, thinks change is needed but is skeptical of any group that wants to hitch its wagon to Perot.

"I sure hope they're not going to be hooked up with Perot," Babich said. "He's a dud for god sakes."

Lois Enzenbacher, for one, sees a spark of a chance where there was none just last week.

"I was really disappointed when I heard Mr. Perot was dropping out of the race," said the Perot volunteer between telephone calls to the Irvine office.

"But now I think, hey, if we can band together, we can make the government listen to us," said the 48-year-old inventory clerk from Orange who was laid off her job in May. "If we can stay together, there are enough voters here to make a difference."

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