America has lost one of its most legendary — and controversial — political giants. Henry Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who ran two disruptive independent campaigns for the U.S. presidency in the ’90s, died on Tuesday after a five-month battle with leukemia. Perot was diagnosed in February and the month after nearly died from a secondary infection.
Perot is best remembered for winning 19 percent of the popular vote as an independent in the 1992 presidential election — better than any third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.
The 5´6˝ businessman, known for his drawl and implacable personality, focused largely on fiscal issues in his bid against President George H.W. Bush and then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton.
Among Perot’s most prominent platforms was his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which during the 1992 race had yet to be ratified.
He famously condemned the agreement during the second debate in 1992: “If you’re paying $12, $13, $14 an hour for factory workers and you can move your factory South of the border, pay a dollar an hour for labor, … have no health care — that’s the most expensive single element in making a car — have no environmental controls, no pollution controls and no retirement, and you don’t care about anything but making money, there will be a giant sucking sound going south.”
Along with stopping the transfer of American jobs overseas, Perot believed in balancing the budget, reducing the national debt, and giving tax breaks to new businesses. He also opposed U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf War.
The two-time presidential hopeful supported gay rights, abortion access, and stricter gun controls such as bans on assault weapons, though his campaigns placed less emphasis on social issues.
One of Perot’s most ambitious, albeit controversial, proposals was the establishment of electronic direct democracy via “electronic town halls,” in which voters would see issues presented to them on television and vote on them directly through telephone or an electronic device.
Perot’s anti-establishment and working-class appeal made him popular with voters who considered themselves moderate. At the peak of his popularity in June of 1992, he led the race, with polls placing his support at 39 percent, versus 31 percent for Bush and 25 percent for Clinton.
In July, however, Perot dropped out of the race, claiming that he did not want the House of Representatives to decide the election if the results ended in an electoral college split.