California leaders of Ross Perot's 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 half a dozen directors of the new organization.
W. (Bill) Myers, a Garden Grove refrigeration company owner and vice chairman of the 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.
The group has invited Perot to be chairman of their organization and to help fund their effort.
"We're hoping he'll stay involved, just like 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 Thursday bowed out of the race and on Friday indicated 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."
There were other attempts to keep the Perot movement alive Monday. In Jefferson City, Mo., supporters turned in petitions to put him on the state ballot.
Secretary of State Roy Blunt, Missouri's chief election official, said it is "very likely" that Perot will be on the Nov. 3 ballot. He has qualified in 23 states. (In California, his petitions have been verified, but he has not qualified for the ballot because he is short several electors to the Electoral College.)
With Perot's name on the ballot, supporters said, President Bush and Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton will be forced to talk about issues such as the economy, health care and education.
The state requires 22,000 signatures by Aug. 3 to put an independent presidential candidate on the ballot. Blunt said his office has until Sept. 8 to verify whether there are enough valid signatures.
A campaign also must file a declaration of candidacy by the 11 electors and a statement from the candidate that he agrees to be on the ballot.
Blunt said he received a statement from Perot on Friday stating that his declaration and consent "are valid and still applicable." Perot signed a consent June 5.