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Perot supporters share a no-excuses philosophy

The fun of covering politics is not a ringside seat at a presidential debate or a scoop on something that will be announced to the whole world a few hours later. What keeps many of us working this beat for more years than we like to remember is the mix of remarkable, and usually unsung, people you meet.

For all the public scorn of politics, it attracts exceptionally energetic and lively individuals, who resist stereotyping and delight you by confounding your expectations. On a trip to Colorado, I saw two of them who exemplify what I mean.

Dave Simmons stood out among the 100 or so Ross Perot volunteers in a Vail hotel room, because none of the other men in the room had his shoulder-length hair and stubble beard. When we started talking, the Pueblo County Perot coordinator told me he works at a school for severely disabled youngsters and has been trying, without success, to start a jazz band.

An overage hippy of 31, I figured. But when I asked what had attracted him to Perot, he threw me a curve. "He spoke at the Naval Academy while I was a midshipman," Simmons said. And before I could recover, he added: "I was flying Cobras for the Marine Corps until I resigned my commission six months before Desert Storm" _ because, he said, the Corps had become "too bureaucratic" and had drifted too far, in his judgment, from its combat mission.

Needless to say, Simmons had my attention by this time, and on the drive back down the mountain, he explained _ with an articulateness I cannot begin to reproduce _ why he was working for Perot. In essence, Simmons said, he had become convinced that America was experiencing a "leadership crisis," not just in government but in all its major institutions _ from medicine to the military. Standards of honesty had been abandoned _ he mentioned his fellow Marine, Oliver North _ and individual goals had been elevated over professional and public responsibilities.

"We don't need change," he said, "I get so tired of everyone talking about change, I don't even ask for it at McDonald's. We need a revolution _ a peaceful revolution _ in standards. And revolutions only come from outside the system." Thus, Perot.

But this was no hero-worshiper. Although he signed up early and stayed with the Perot movement through the tough times between Perot's July 16 disavowal of candidacy and this month's revival of the race, Simmons was bothered, he said, by "the Messiah complex" he found among other early Perot volunteers.

"The worst thing possible would have been to elect Perot president on the assumption that he could take care of the problems. We have to tackle the problems ourselves. I'm glad he's an underdog in the race. People need to hear his message _ and understand the sacrifice it's going to require from everyone _ or they won't stick with him (as president) when the going gets tough. If he can't make the case in the campaign, there's no point in his being president."

A couple mornings after this remarkable encounter, I sat down for breakfast with Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, a tough, gray-haired, 63-year-old Democratic lawyer who took divinity courses at Yale and is an avid reader of the essays of Vaclav Havel. Romer is one of those politicians who seems to become more popular the more he challenges his constituents' preferences. In ballot referendums this fall, he is fighting for a sales-tax increase for schools, which is not popular, and battling a cap on state government spending and a proposal to expand legalized gambling, both of which the voters seem to want.

But Romer's preoccupation is the same as Dave Simmons' and Ross Perot's: the failure of leadership responsibility that has let the federal budget run out of control. No less than Simmons, Romer says, "You look at Washington today and it is frightening" for its lack of discipline and accountability.

Romer has more influence than most, because he is the current chairman of the National Governors' Association. With the backing of his vice chairman and successor, South Carolina's Republican Gov. Carroll Campbell, Romer has a plan to "bring the governors to the table in January with the leaders of Congress and whoever is president" to tackle the interlocked issues of the deficit, runaway health care costs, taxes, investment _ and the needed realignment of federal and state revenues and responsibilities.

To prepare the agenda on all these items, Romer will hold three meetings with his fellow-governors between Nov. 12 and Dec. 15. "There will be a window at the beginning of 1993 when we can move _ all of us in Washington and the state capitals _ if we have our act together," he said. "And there will be no forgiving any of us if we don't."

I told Romer I had met at least one of his constituents who fully shared that no-excuses philosophy. I'd like to be around when he and Simmons meet.

Washington Post Writers Group