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Reform Party Moving To Florida

The faction-ridden Reform Party will move its headquarters from Dallas, the home turf of founder Ross Perot, to the Florida residence of the incoming chairman.

Jack Gargan, an ally of Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, takes over the chairmanship on Saturday from Russell Verney, a Perot loyalist who has headed the party since 1996.

Gargan and other Perot opponents say the headquarters move signifies the billionaire businessman's loss of control.

"The head of the party is where the chair of the party is," Rick McCluhan, the Minnesota party chairman, said Sunday. "The Dallas office has always been known as the headquarters. Now it will be known as the Florida office."

"What it really signifies, though, is the end of the staunch control that Ross Perot and Russ Verney have exerted over the party," McCluhan added.

But Verney discounted the significance of the move, saying the party's headquarters actually resides in cyberspace, on the Reform Web site.

"It's just moving a post office box," he said in a telephone interview Sunday. "There's no heavy lifting in this move."

Party members elected Gargan chairman earlier this year. He, McCluhan and others aligned with Ventura have jousted with Perot's supporters over control of the party.

Chief among the disputes is who will receive $12.6 million in federal matching funds as the Reform presidential nominee. Perot's faction has been courting conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, while Ventura's side has wooed New York billionaire Donald Trump.

But the infighting has magnified even logistical disputes into fierce struggles for symbolic control.

Where the party's August convention will be held, for example, is an ongoing issue of contention. Perot's supporters are pushing for Long Beach, Calif., while Ventura's people insist on a site in Minnesota. The executive committee of the Minnesota Reform Party met earlier this month and decided the convention should be held at RiverCentre in St. Paul if it is moved to Minnesota.

McCluhan filed a lawsuit last week to stop Perot's supporters from forcing the convention to go to California, and he said a federal judge in Minnesota is to hear the case Tuesday.

Gargan said the party will operate temporarily from his home on Cedar Key, an island on Florida's Gulf Coast. He said he plans to move the office to Tampa to take advantage of better communication links.

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