Reform Party Asks Ventura To Resign
By Ron Fournier
AP Political Writer

Friday, Oct. 1, 1999; 7:02 p.m. EDT

Washington -- Reform Party chairman Russell Verney demanded Friday that Gov. Jesse Ventura resign from the party, saying the former wrestler "brought shame" to himself with a bombastic interview in Playboy magazine.

Verney's letter to the Minnesota governor reflects rising bitterness inside the Reform Party as its fractious members seek a 2000 presidential nominee.

The list of potential candidates is long and colorful, including Republican Pat Buchanan, New York tycoon Donald Trump, former Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker, Reform Party founder Ross Perot and Ventura himself.

The letter was released as a splinter group, American Reform Party, gathered in Washington. Their tiny convention attracted Trump and Weicker, as Ventura's political operatives scoured the landscape for any candidate who could block Buchanan.

The governor, whose frank talk got him elected in a November upset, told Playboy that organized religious "is a sham," the Navy Tailhook scandal was "much ado about nothing" and fat people "can't push away from the table"

On being governor, he said: "It's good to be king."

Ventura says his comments were taken out of context. He was not about to quit the party.

"I don't know why Russ Verney is concerned," Ventura spokesman John Wodele said. "He never supported the governor when he ran for office and he isn't supporting him now."

Verney is outgoing party chairman, soon to be replaced by a Ventura ally.

"In just one interview you have managed to severely damage the credibility and integrity of thousands of Reform Party members," Verney's letter said. "You have brought shame to yourself and disgrace to the members of the Reform Party."

At the American Reform Party convention, many of the 100 delegates jumped to Ventura's defense. "He's a straight-talker," said Louise Downing.

The former wrestler has promised to finish his term, which expires in 2003, but the delegates said they held out hope for a change of heart.

Ventura is trying to head off the possible candidacy of Buchanan, who may leave the GOP for a Reform Party bid. Ventura says Buchanan's staunch anti-abortion views are a poor fit for the Reform Party.

Ventura has urged Trump to run. His aides met Friday with Weicker, who addresses the American Reform Party on Saturday.

Independent candidates could run under the ARP banner or seek the Reform Party nomination and elicit the ARP's aid. Leaders of the splinter group said Friday they would be willing to rejoin the Reform Party to help the right candidate; they mentioned Weicker and Trump as possibilities.

Ventura and his allies defeated Perot's backers at the Reform Party's summer convention and installed Jack Gargan as chairman. They fear that Perot's backers are using Buchanan to regain control of the party.

Phil Madsen, director of Ventura's political operation, said Perot may be luring Buchanan in the race to create turmoil-allowing the Texas billionaire to jump into the race and call himself a unifying candidate.

"The overtures to the Buchanan camp could turn out to be a ruse," he said.

Perot has not ruled out a third presidential race. He and Buchanan are expected to talk soon by telephone about the conservative commentator's plans.

Buchanan plans to announce his intentions by mid-October. He must decide whether he has the stomach for a major fight that would not guarantee him the nomination.

The millionaire Trump has no political experience and is given little chance of winning, but he's looking more like a candidate every day. He is rushing to finish a new book to release it in time for a December announcement of his decision.

"I am seriously considering making a bid for the Reform Party presidential nomination," Trump told the American Reform Party in a draft of his remarks for Friday night. He promised to cut taxes for working Americans, negotiate better trade deals and reform campaign finance laws.

"The Republicans have gone too far to the right. The Democrats have gone too far to the left. I don't hear anyone speaking for the working men and women in the center,' he said.

Trump's political operatives roamed the convention seeking support.