Ross Perot

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Henry Ross Perot (born June 27, 1930) is an American businessman billionaire from Texas best known as a candidate for President of the United States (in 1992 and 1996). Perot founded Electronic Data Systems (EDS) in 1962. He later left the company, and founded Perot Systems with a similar ethos.


Early life and career

Perot was born in Texarkana, Texas to Gabriel Ross Perot and his wife Luly May. His father was a cotton broker.

Henry Ross entered the United States Naval Academy in 1949. By the time he graduated in 1953 he was president of his class and battalion commander. By late 1954, Perot was made a lieutenant, junior grade. However, in 1955, Perot expressed great discontent with his life in the Navy in a letter to his father. He quietly served the remainder of his four-year commitment and was discharged.

Ross married Margot Birminham of Greensburg, Pennsylvania in 1956. Over the years they had five children (Ross Jr., Nancy, Suzanne, Carolyn, and Katherine). As of 2002, the Perots have nine grandchildren.

When he left the navy in 1957, Perot became a salesman for International Business Machines (IBM). He quickly became a top employee and tried to pitch his ideas to supervisors who largely ignored him. He left IBM in 1962 to found EDS in Dallas, Texas and courted large corporations for his data processing services. Perot received lucrative contracts from the U.S. government in the 1960s, computerizing Medicare records. EDS went public in 1968 and the stock price shot up from $16 a share to $160 within days. Fortune magazine called Perot the "fastest, richest Texan" in a 1968 cover story. In 1984, General Motors bought EDS for $2.4 billion.

Just prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the government of Iran imprisoned two of his employees in a contract dispute. Perot organized and sponsored a successful rescue. The rescue team was led by retired U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel Arthur D. ('Bull') Simons. When the team couldn't find a way to extract their two prisoners, they decided to wait for a mob of pro-Ayatollah revolutionaries to storm the jail and free all 10,000 inmates, many of whom were political prisoners. The two prisoners then connected with the rescue team, and the team spirited them out of Iran via a risky border crossing into Turkey. The exploit was recounted in a book, On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett, which became a best seller.

In 1984, Perot bought one of the original signed copies of the Magna Carta, one of only a few to leave the United Kingdom. It is now on loan to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where it is on display with the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

Ross Perot put up the majority of the venture capital for Steve Jobs' NeXT computer project in 1986. Also in 1986, after heavy criticism of General Motors, which had purchased EDS, he was bought out for 700 million USD. In 1988 he founded Perot Systems in Plano, Texas. His son, Ross Jr., succeeded him as CEO.

Early political activities

In the same year that Perot organized the rescue mission in Iran, the governor of Texas requested his assistance in dealing with the problem of illegal drug use in the state. Perot ended up leading the Texas War on Drugs Committee that proposed five laws to make Texas the least desirable state for illegal drug operations. All five bills were passed by the legislature and signed into law.

In 1982, he was called on again, in an effort by the new Texas governor to improve the quality of the states' public education, and ended up leading the effort to reform the school system, which resulted in major legislative changes. The best known of the proposals of Perot which were passed into law was the "No Pass, No Play" rule, under which it was required that students have passing grades in order to participate on sports teams. The intent was to prevent high school sports from being the focus of the schools funding, and of the education of the students who participated in those sports.

Beginning in the late 1980s and continuing in the early 1990s Ross Perot began speaking out about the failings of the American government. Perot asserted that the United States "had grown arrogant and complacent after the War" and was no longer the world's greatest nation. Instead of looking into what was to come, America was "daydreaming of our past while the rest of the world was building its future."

"Go to Rome, go to Paris, go to London. Those cities are centuries old. They’re thriving. They’re clean. They work. Our oldest cities are brand new compared to them and yet . . . go to New York, drive through downtown Washington, go to Detroit, go to Philadelphia. What’s wrong with us?"

Meanwhile, discontent was boiling over amongst regular voters. In Florida in 1990, retired financial planner Jack Gargan used his own money to pay for a series of "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" newspaper advertisements denouncing U.S. Congress for voting itself pay raises while regular people saw their wages stagnant. Gargan later founded "Throw the Rascals Out", which Ross Perot supported.

Although generally conservative in political ideology, Perot was not a fan of President George H. W. Bush and vigorously opposed the United States's involvement in the 1990-1991 Gulf War. He urged Senators to vote against the war resolution and began considering a Presidential run.

1992 presidential candidacy

On February 20, 1992, he appeared on CNN's Larry King Live and announced his intention to run if his supporters could get his name on the ballot in all 50 states. With such declared policies as balancing the federal budget and enacting electronic direct democracy via "electronic town halls," he became a viable candidate and soon polled roughly even with the major party candidates. Discouraged by a reinvigorated Democratic party ticket of Bill Clinton and Al Gore after the Democratic National Convention, and claiming that Republican operatives were attempting to disrupt his daughter's wedding, Perot announced his withdrawal from the campaign late in the summer of 1992. Nevertheless, in September he qualified for all 50 state ballots. On October 1, he announced his intention to start running again. He campaigned in 16 states and spent an estimated $65.4 million of his own money. Perot's running mate was retired Admiral James Stockdale.

One reason Perot was so much more successful than typical third-party candidates was that he was allowed to participate in all three debates, based on his standing of having over fifteen percent support in leading public opinion polls, which was (and is) the standard used by the bi-partisan Commission on Presidental Debates. Although his answers were general, Perot's wit, folkisms, and straight talking were so impressive that even many Democrats and Republicans conceded that Perot won at least the first debate.

One question Perot was continually asked was could he, as an independent, govern?

Perot responded:

"Can we govern? . . . I love that one. The 'we' is you and me. You bet your hat we can govern because we will be there together and we will figure out what to do and you won't tolerate gridlock, you won't tolerate endless meandering and wandering around, and you won't tolerate non-performance. And believe me, anybody that knows me understand I have a very low tolerance for non-performance also. Together we can get anything done."

Perot also called for a rethinking of basic American assumptions, including the Constitution.

"Keep in mind our Constitution predates the industrial revolution. Our founders did not know about electricity, the train, telephones, radio, television, automobiles, airplanes, rockets, nuclear weapons, satellites, or space exploration. There’s a lot they didn’t know about. It would be interesting to see what kind of document they’d draft today. Just keeping it frozen in time won’t hack it."

Perot denounced Congress for its inaction in ways that seemed not only to display more than the common contempt for the Washington process, but also an intolerance for democracy. Washington, Perot said,

"has become a town filled with sound bites, shell games, handlers, media stuntmen who posture, create images, talk, shoot off Roman candles, but don't ever accomplish anything. We need deeds, not words, in this city."

Perot called his 1992 campaign organization United We Stand America. Perot was late in making serious policy proposals, but most of what he did call for were intended to reduce the deficit. He wanted a gasoline tax increase and some cutbacks of Social Security. Perot also opposed NAFTA.

In the 1992 election, he received 19% of the popular vote (but no electoral votes), making him the most successful third-party presidential candidate in terms of the popular vote since Theodore Roosevelt in the 1912 election. Some analysts believe that Perot acted as a spoiler in the election, primarily drawing votes away from Bush and allowing Clinton to win many states with less than a majority of votes, though exit polling data did not confirm this position. Perot managed to finish ahead of one of the two major party candidates in two states: In Maine, Perot received 30.44% of the vote to Bush's 30.39% (Clinton won Maine with 38.77%); In Utah, Perot received 27.34% of the vote to Clinton's 24.65% (Bush won Utah with 43.36%). After his popular vote success, Perot was entitled to receive federal election funding for 1996.

Reform Party and 1996 presidential run

Perot tried to keep his movement alive in the middle 1990s. He tried to stay in the public eye by talking about the increasing national debt. He tried to block NAFTA, and even debated Al Gore on this issue on Larry King Live. Perot sponsored conferences which were attended by numerous high-profile politicians. Perot endorsed the 1994 Republican Contract with America and urged Americans to vote for Republican candidates that year.

In 1995, he founded the Reform Party and ran under their banner in the 1996 election. He received just 8% of the popular vote in 1996, still an unusually successful third-party showing by U.S. standards. Additionally, it should be noted that he spent far less of his own money in this race than he had four years before, and also allowed other persons to contribute to his campaign, unlike his prior race. Many people believe this decline was due to his exclusion from the presidential debates, based on the preferences of the Democratic and Republican party candidates (as documented thoroughly in the book Open Debates by George Farah), but the exclusion was also on the rationale that he did not have over 15% support in national opinion polls as he did four years earlier.

Later activities

Later in the 1990s, Perot's detractors accused him of not allowing the Reform Party develop into a genuine national political party, but rather keeping it a movement to support him, as people close to Perot's electoral campaign had still been in party offices. Perot did not give an endorsement during Jesse Ventura's run for governor of Minnesota in the 1998 election, and this became suspicious to detractors when he made fun of Ventura at a conference after Ventura had a fall-out with the press. The party leadership grew in tighter opposition to groups supporting Ventura and Jack Gargan.

In the 2000 presidential election, Perot refused to become openly involved in the dispute inside the Reform Party between supporters of Pat Buchanan and of John Hagelin. Perot was reportedly unhappy with how the party was disintegrating, and how he was being portrayed in the press, and chose to remain quiet on the election at that time. Despite his earlier opposition to NAFTA, Perot remained largely silent ( about expanded use of Guest Worker Visas in the United States. Eventually, Perot endorsed Republican candidate George W. Bush for president, and ended all ties between himself and the Reform Party, which is now largely defunct in most states. (Some state parties have affiliated with the new (Buchananite) America First Party; others gave Ralph Nader their ballot lines in the 2004 presidential election.)

Since then, Perot has been largely silent on political issues, refusing to answer most questions about politics from the press. Whenever a paper has secured an interview with him he usually remains on the subject of his business career and refuses to answer the more specific questions on politics, candidates, or his past activities.

The one break from this has been in 2005 when he was asked to testify before the Texas legislature about proposals to extend technology to students, through making laptops available; and changing the process of buying books, through making electronic books available and allowing schools to buy books at the local level instead of going through the state. Perot wrote an editorial ( promoting the legislation. In his latest interview ( Perot expresses despondence about the state of progress on issues he had raised in his presidential runs.

Notable quotes

  • "If you can't stand a little sacrifice and you can't stand a trip across the desert with limited water, we're never going to straighten this country out."
  • "Something in human nature causes us to start slacking off at our moment of greatest accomplishment. As you become successful, you will need a great deal of self-discipline not to lose your sense of balance, humility, and commitment."
  • "The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river."
  • "If someone as blessed as I am is not willing to clean out the barn, who will?"
  • "If you see a snake, just kill it - don't appoint a committee on snakes."
  • "Inventories can be managed, but people must be led."
  • "Can I finish? Can I finish?...Can I finish?"

Perot in popular culture

Perot remains a colorful figure, and is both admired and mocked for his somewhat eccentric personality. Editorial cartoonists and comedians often made light of his large ears, squeaky Texas drawl, and penchant for using pie charts to illustrate his points.

The American children's educational television program Sesame Street parodies Perot with the character H. Ross Parrot.

Preceded by:
Reform Party Presidential candidate
1996 (lost)
Succeeded by:
Pat Buchanan

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