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.

Keller nearly always loses in court, but he makes full use of the system he rages against. In the past few years, he's used St. Louis County's small-claims court to sue a developer, a car-repair company, a casino, a mortgage company, Blue Cross Blue Shield (over a $22.60 remittance, with a filed complaint about a 1-cent surcharge), three individuals, the state of Missouri and the U.S. Taxpayers Party. When he appealed the income tax, he was amazed that the court would not grant him a jury trial. In his motion to reconsider, he cited the U.S. Constitution, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, the Spitcaufsky opinion of 1944, ancient Greece, Richard the Lionhearted and the Doomsday Book. Then he showed up in court and, according to official records, "left courtroom as trial began."

In the end, the state garnisheed his earnings for more than $10,000 in back taxes -- but not before Keller had a chance to remind them that only "a few independent men remain, mostly skulking about, evading taxes in the underground economy, because income tax, with its unlawful audits and seizures, made it impossible for them to prosper as honest sole proprietors with no corporate overlord." Meanwhile, he continued, "American women's logical career move has been to join the harem in the glass-box tower, the gilded cage of our modern version of the Byzantine sultanate; there they are tended by corporate eunuchs."

Of Phosphorus and Smoke Alarms

Pledging various allegiances at the Missouri Reform Party candidates' forum last Friday at the St. Louis County Library's Tesson Ferry branch. Senate candidate Hugh Foley stands at the far left, lieutenant-governor candidate George "Boots" Weber at the far right.
Jennifer Silverberg
Pledging various allegiances at the Missouri Reform Party candidates' forum last Friday at the St. Louis County Library's Tesson Ferry branch. Senate candidate Hugh Foley stands at the far left, lieutenant-governor candidate George "Boots" Weber at the far right.

The Reform Party's mildest gubernatorial candidate is Kent A. Benson, a Kansas City boy who took off his tie and moved to the Lake of the Ozarks in 1987. There he developed a liking for local politics, the kind where "you know all the players. I hung out last night with one of the county commissioners; he's not just an image on the TV screen. Washington, now, there's a reason they call it Disneyland. Nothing is real."

Benson used to lobby in D.C., and he still remembers watching a freshman congresswoman attend her first cocktail-party fundraiser: "She was there 27 minutes and walked away with $350,000 in PAC money." Then there was the time a VA broker sold a house down at the lake. Benson says that a few weeks after the new owner moved in, she received a parcel, postmarked Mexico, with $13 shipping fees -- and inside was a $7 smoke alarm provided by the VA.

"How many jobs did NAFTA cost the state of Missouri? Seventeen hundred in the first month," he exclaims. "We do have low unemployment, but people lost a $17-an-hour job for a $9-an-hour job, and they lost their dreams." He sighs heavily. "Somewhere along the line, 'protect' became a dirty word. If I ran as a protectionist, people would stone me. What is wrong with protecting what you should be protecting -- like jobs, or your family? When did it become socially irresponsible to take care of your own people?"

Benson thinks education in Missouri is a travesty; he'd like every child to be funded with the same amount of money, and he brought in motivational speaker Zig Ziglar to rev up Camdenton's schoolkids. He says the Missouri Highway Commission is inept and that the Department of Natural Resources needs overhaul -- "The James River is so full of phosphorus you can't eat anything out of it." He also wants a systematic reversal of the tax system and the elimination of the federal departments of education, housing and so on.

Like most of the Reform candidates, Benson's using all his own money to campaign, and like most of the Reform candidates, he doesn't expect to win. He enjoys the process -- "It's fun to debate career politicians; they get frazzled quick!" -- and he firmly believes that, elected or not, "anyone can make a difference. When you can get your message across, get people thinking, it will happen. It may not be with me, but it will happen."

Plucking the Imperial Vulture

In the Missouri Reform Party's August primary for U.S. Senate, Hugh Foley, a moderate, tolerant and temperate businessman eager to end political elitism and broaden economic opportunity, will face off against his two Reform Party opponents: quiet James M. Hall of Republic, Mo., who doesn't even list a Web page or show up at most candidates' forums, and Martin Lindstedt, who's anything but quiet.

Lindstedt lives on Rabbit Track Road in Granby, down in the southwest corner of the state. "I've always been interested in local politics," he says, "'cause most of 'em around here are just a pack of crooks. Their little police people were pretty mean to my dad, so I'm pretty much wantin' payback. My common-law wife, Roxie, I have her running for sheriff." He pauses to silence screaming children. "Someday this whole country's gonna go revolutionary civil war," he resumes, "and people like me's gonna get to settle old scores. It'll be a war of each against all, fought on racial, religious and class lines -- and it'll probably be fought with biological weaponry, too."

As a member of the U.S. Army's 42nd Field Artillery, Lindstedt says, he helped run a tactical-nuclear-missile system in Germany. Then he earned a business degree from Missouri Southern State College in Joplin. "Now I drive a truck, mainly," he says. "I've got a small inheritance, $7,000-$8,000 a year, and I've got a computer." He used these resources to run for state representative in 1994, governor in 1996 and U.S. senator in 1998 -- all with the Libertarians, whom he now calls "LibberToons" and vilifies as moral degenerates.

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