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Perot poised to re-enter politics

Ross Perot said he thought of going up to Washington to "bang on some doors" to try to get a campaign finance bill passed but concluded it would be a waste of time.

"Facts and testimony don't mean anything there," Perot added, rolling his eyes and professing mock shock _ shock that such legislation is stymied in Congress. "It's who's paid off who that means everything."

The bipartisan campaign finance hearings in Washington are a total joke anyway, he said.

"This is like having Willie Sutton and Jesse James investigate one another for bank robbery," snapped Perot. And over all, he concluded, the nation is in a "Lawrence Welk mode," lethargically ignoring its real problems.

But lest anyone think that Perot, the two-time presidential candidate, has grown pessimistic about his role in the nation's public life, watch for him this weekend in Kansas City. That is the site of a national meeting of the Reform Party, the move-ment that he founded and bankrolled and whose presidential nomination he accepted last year _ and might just accept again in the future, if the call comes.

"I will sweep the streets, I'll sleep under a bridge," he said last week on CNN's Larry King Live, echoing almost exactly the language he used in 1996 when asked if he would run for the White House. "I'll do anything that I can do constructively to help this country."

For nearly a year, since garnering 8.5 percent of the presidential vote, the normally loquacious Perot has been curiously silent, and even some of his supporters have been wondering why he has seemed all but invisible as Congress has taken up campaign reform, an issue that is arguably the centerpiece of Perot's prescriptions for the nation's ills.

"I must say, a lot of us have wondered about this, about why he has not been more involved and more vocal," said Anne Merkl, chairwoman of the Reform Party of Georgia. "Whatever his reasons are, I'd like to know why, and maybe he'll come forth with that this weekend."

Over the last few days, Perot has begun speaking out, first on the Larry King show, his time-honored vehicle for getting his message out (his Oct. 20 appearance was his first this year), then in a lengthy interview in his office here. He will speak Saturday night at the Kansas City meeting, which Reform Party officials describe as the "founding convention" of the party. The meeting _ with delegations from all 50 states _ is intended to create a formal national committee, a set of party rules and a declaration of principles.

Perot, using a series of military analogies, said the whole point of the exercise is to "get organized, get in position, be prepared and wait for the opportunity."

That opportunity could be a scandal "that gets the American people so totally disgusted" that they demand a new party, or it could be an economic calamity, or it might even be a war, said Perot, adding, simply, "It will come."