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Tennessee Reform Party bolts national party organization to form America First Party

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In a clear victory for the Pat Buchanan faction over Reform Party founder Ross Perot's faction, the Tennessee Reform Party has disaffiliated from the national party.

In a letter dated Monday from Tennessee party chairman John T. Fey to national chairman Gerald T. Moan, Fey told Moan that the Tennessee party was disaffiliating with the national party, effective Monday, and "will work with other state organizations to create a new populist political party that will put America First."

State party director Ray Howerton of Dyersburg said the decision to leave the national party was made unanimously during the Tennessee Reform Party's annual convention last month.

"We're going to be operating under a new name, the America First Party," Howerton said. "The split within the Reform Party resulted from philosophical differences between Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan supporters." Texas financier Ross Perot, who twice ran for president, founded the Reform Party in 1995.

In 1999 former Republican activist Patrick Buchanan was the party's presidential standard-bearer. Howerton said Buchanan better represents the original platform of the party and that Perot "sort of fell into the background."

"Pat Buchanan has been pro-life while many Perot supporters were middle-of-the-road and really almost pro-choice on abortion," he said. "The objectives of the Reform Party always have been to put a viable third-party candidate on the ballot."

He said the platform of the party and its Tennessee officers will be retained in the America First Party. Howerton said that nine other state Reform Party organizations, including Texas, Illinois, Colorado and California, also have disaffiliated with the national party.

We think as many as 35 state parties may disaffiliate as soon as they have their state conventions and authorize their officers to disaffiliate," he said. "We did not want to disaffiliate because we wanted to keep the platform we have, but the people on the national committee are finding it hard to work with national party officers because Perot people are running things.

"We're retaining legal rights to the name Reform Party of Tennessee, but will operate under our new name," he continued. "The America First Party will promote a platform which calls for tax reform, stronger immigration laws, non-amnesty for illegal aliens, fair as opposed to free trade agreements, restraint of the federal government to its constitutional powers and activities, rights guaranteed by the Constitution and Bill of Rights and a sensible pro-life agenda."

Howerton said he does not believe Buchanan will again run for national office. "I don't know who the national spokesperson for the America First Party will be -- I've heard the name (Arizona Sen. John) McCain from Perot supporters and (Texas Congressman Ron) Paul from Buchanan supporters," he said. "I've heard a lot of people say they intend to support Ron Paul for president because he has introduced legislation that would turn some of the party principles into law."

Howerton said the party will be aggressive in seeking state and local candidates. "Our first announced local candidate is James Edwards, who has announced he will run as an America First candidate for the 97th state House district in Memphis." Edwards is state treasurer of the party and a former Reform Party national committee member.

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