Texas billionaire Ross Perot was still basking in the popularity from his 1992 presidential run when he came to High Point in 1993 for one of his signature United We Stand America rallies.
The self-financed, and affable anti-establishment candidate who had gotten a whopping 19 percent of the presidential vote as a third-party candidate drew about 2,000 people to Showplace on the Park that March — many looking for someone who they too thought could still cure their ills.
“All we can do now is work and pay our bills,” said Deborah Kennedy, a furniture worker in the crowd that day who had came from Randleman to hear Perot’s message. “We’ve had Democrats and Republicans, and he’s neither one — he’s the change.”
Perot, who died Tuesday at the age of 89, was hoping to leverage that sentiment into a movement just over two decades ago.
In his visit to High Point, the businessman and philanthropist praised the audience for helping him send a message to the White House through his showing in the election and encouraged individuals to join the grass-roots group he formed during the election.
“We need to build the biggest citizen organization this world has ever seen,” Perot told the gathering. “Right now the people don’t have a voice.”
But “You think anybody would be interested in me without you? I’d be just another weirdo walking around.”
Garland Burton of High Point had voted for Bill Clinton, who was re-elected as president. He attended the 1993 rally, saying he thought Perot could still make a difference.
“I think Perot has some interesting points ... and he speaks in a plain clarity and earnest that most people understand,” Burton said at the time. “I didn’t think he was a viable presidential candidate ... but I think his job is to bring to the attention the problems the government has and to make (elected officials) do what they’re supposed to.”
Perot never reached the presidency, but he remained popular.
Referring to a recent trip to the nation’s capital as “going into never-never land” for the day, Perot told the audience that he grilled Washington on its $2 million retirement plans, a multi-million dollar congressional health club and even the $50,000-a-year maid who reportedly cleans the vice president’s quarters.
“On the health club they say: ‘But Ross, we work so hard.’ And I looked at them and I said, ‘Carpenters and brick layers and plumbers work hard, too.’ Then they say, ‘But we need to stay in good shape,’ and I say, ‘Why don’t you join a health club like ordinary people?’ “
“And then one said, ‘But what will we do with it (since it’s already built)?’ I said, ‘Close it and take tourists through to let them see how government used to be.’”
He got thunderous applause.