This Ain't No Party

Ross Perot launched the Reform Party as the voice of the American people. Eight years later, it's a shrill, staticky free-for-all, and the moderates can't get heard.

Furious with the Republicans, he ran for Congress as a Democrat in 1998 but lost the primary this time. "I told the wife, 'OK, that's it, no more.' The next thing I knew, I was getting calls from Reform Party people asking me to run. I talked it over with the wife -- she's a little bit irritated, she said, 'I will not go to any of these functions.' So I promised, this is the last time. If I lose, I'm gonna relax and finish out the rest of my life hunting and fishing."

A devout Christian, Kline closes political statements with the word "maranatha," Hebrew for "Jesus is coming." His favorite targets are the enemies of the homeowner: "Like Medicaid, that one just jerks my jaws," he exclaims. "You get old, you go on Medicare, you get slapped in a nursing home and you gotta go on Medicaid and spend down your assets and there goes your house." Next enemy: the personal-property tax, "an insidious tax that penalizes your accomplishments. You buy a little house, they tax you. You put a little picket fence around it, they tax you more. And if you don't pay, the state takes it away." He gropes for his own personal-property-tax receipt to read off percentages, then mutters, "Uh-oh. The wife said, 'Don't take that, or you'll lose it,' and I guess I did."

Regaining his composure, Kline warns of a "media blackout" on a "comprehensive annual financial report" that shows Missouri running a second set of books. "If you tell your editor you know something about the comprehensive annual financial report, he'll probably tell you not to print it, and that's a good test that he's been bought off," he warns. "Now, let's go to another subject, because people don't understand this and they'd never believe it. We are talking possibly a trillion dollars."

At left, Richard A. Kline, who wasn't going to solicit campaign donations at all — until 
gas prices made his solitary road trips across Missouri too expensive. At right, Ron Levy of Affton, a candidate for state representative.
Jennifer Silverberg
At left, Richard A. Kline, who wasn't going to solicit campaign donations at all — until gas prices made his solitary road trips across Missouri too expensive. At right, Ron Levy of Affton, a candidate for state representative.

Big potatoes indeed, compared with his Reform campaign's finances. "I've got $1,700 in my campaign fund right now," confides Kline, "and I'm having to solicit donations, which I didn't want to do, because of the gas prices. It cost $95 just to drive in my van to Kansas City! So to win against Jim Talent and Don Holden (Democratic candidate Bob Holden), I'd have to pull a Ventura." Asked for any final remarks, Kline says, "Yeah, just a second," then recites, "If you want more taxes, more government and less freedom, then vote for Jimmy or Donny. If you want less taxes and less freedom ... wait a minute. Read that back." Offered a different formulation, he accepts it gladly. "Yeah, that's it. If you want less taxes and more freedom, vote for me." Pause. "Obviously I'm not as articulate as some of the other candidates. Mr. Keller, now, he is very much more subtle in his speaking. If he chases the rabbit (goes off on a tangent), listen close, because that man is going to enlighten you."

Have You Read Procopius?

Shunning media interviews, 44-year-old ophthalmologist Joseph Keller offers enlightenment mainly on his Web page and by circulating his slogan on hundreds of hand-printed, photocopied half-page fliers that promise "REAL REFORM -- REAL RESISTANCE." (He prepared two versions, a "strong" one with two crossed swords at the top and a milder one without.) Variously described as "quiet," "revolutionary" and "a weird duck," Keller only joined the Reform Party this spring, but he's been campaigning since 1996, when he ran for Congress in the 3rd District Democratic primary against incumbent Richard A. Gephardt. (Keller lived in Ballwin, in the 2nd District, but promised to move the minute he beat Gephardt.) The next year, he ran for a seat on the Parkway School Board, stapling his flyers onto old inverted U.S. Taxpayers Party signs. District parents grew alarmed when, asked whether he was a member of the Missouri Militia, Keller replied firmly, "Everyone is."

In 1998, Keller ran against Gephardt again, this time with the U.S. Taxpayers Party, and garnered 1 percent of the vote. This April, he lost the aldermanic race in Ballwin, then declared his candidacy for governor on the Reform Party ticket. "Stop enforcing the military rifle ('assault weapons') ban," insists his campaign platform. "Take the U.N. flag off Mizzou.... Abolish all 'campaign finance laws.' Only taxpaying men may vote or hold office.... Segregate the prisons. White men should not be raped by black men."

He doesn't say whether the converse is acceptable. But he wants all income tax abolished ("Not only is income tax stealing, it's robbery, slavery and genocide") and all fluoride drained from the water. He says it was unconstitutional to give women the vote. He thinks the feds suppressed Oklahoma City bombing evidence, and he'd like to see the U.S. Treasury coin gold and silver. For insights on taxation and divorce settlement, he recommends Procopius' Secret History, written by the secretary to Emperor Justinian. He wants fathers to have automatic custody if there's a dispute over child support.

"Nah, that's not a family," says Kline. "Do you suppose he has a personal agenda in there somewhere?" Keller doesn't say much about his personal life, but he was born in Cincinnati, graduated cum laude from Harvard with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and received his medical degree from the University of Nebraska. He was certified as an ophthalmologist in 1984, but his office address isn't listed in the White Pages, and the office phone is usually answered by a recording suggesting that, if patients have an emergency, they go to the nearest emergency room. He lives in Ballwin and mentions no family, but in the back of the court file from a 1999 appeal against the state of Missouri (which had sued him for unpaid income tax), there is record of an ex-wife and a child-custody battle in Kansas.

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