TALLAHASSEE -- Rival Reform Party factions reached a last-minute deal yesterday that ensures Pat Buchanan will be on the Florida ballot for next month's presidential election.
The deal came just before a Tallahassee-based judge was scheduled to hear arguments in a legal battle about whether Buchanan should appear on the ballot. Buchanan opponents agreed to the deal because they were given control of the state party.
"It's a peace accord until after this election is over," said Carl Owenby, a member of the party's state executive committee and Buchanan opponent.
Buchanan, a political commentator who switched to the Reform Party after unsuccessfully seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 1992 and 1996, sued the state last month to try to get on the ballot.
Clay Roberts, director of the Florida Division of Elections, said the state knew the Reform Party was entitled to a spot on the ballot. But with different factions of the party fighting for control, he said it was unclear whether Buchanan or another candidate, John Hagelin, should be the party's nominee.
Hagelin supporters, who were among state party leaders that Buchanan tried to oust this summer, intervened in the lawsuit. That helped lead to yesterday's deal, which Circuit Judge Terry Lewis approved during a brief hearing.
Hagelin, an Iowa physicist, will still appear on the ballot, though he will represent the Natural Law Party.
The Florida fighting mirrors Reform Party battles across the country, as Buchanan tries to reshape the party founded by Texas billionaire Ross Perot into a socially conservative movement.
Buchanan has won many of the battles, including receiving $12.6 million from the Federal Elections Commission as the party's candidate. But he has remained stuck in the low single digits in polls, trailing Republican George W. Bush, Democrat Al Gore and, at times, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader.
Florida's Reform Party splintered in August, when the rival factions held competing conventions and elected different groups of leaders.
But yesterday's deal names a Buchanan opponent, Pauline Klein of Key Largo, as party chairwoman, while requiring that the Buchanan faction's chairman, David Goldman of Sarasota, step aside.
It also ensures that other Buchanan opponents, including Owenby, hold leadership posts. And it requires that the Buchanan faction drop lawsuits against the other side and pay legal fees. …