That time Frank Zappa considered running for president with H. Ross Perot as his veep
Mother of invention: In 1991, music legend Frank Zappa was mulling an independent bid for the White House — and he wanted Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot to be his running mate.
H. Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire whose death at the age of 89 was announced Tuesday, ran for president in 1992 and 1996 as an independent candidate. His 1992 bid earned him 19 percent of the popular vote and Perot was blamed by some Republicans for helping to seal Bill Clinton’s victory over George H.W. Bush.
Perot’s two White House runs are well documented and have been recounted in his obituaries.
Largely overlooked is the fact that, in 1991, music legend Frank Zappa was mulling an independent bid himself for the presidency — and wanted Perot to be his running mate.
Zappa, who attended San Diego’s Grossmont and Mission Bay High schools in his teens, said as much in a June 1991 interview with the Union-Tribune. He cited Perot as a like-minded vice presidential candidate and named now-retired Harvard University professor and constitutional law expert Alan Dershowitz as his pick for attorney general.
“My main qualifications,” Zappa said at the time, “are that I don’t play golf, I don’t take vacations and I do think the U.S. constitution is one hell of a document and that this country would work better if people adhered to it more closely.”
Alas, Zappa had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1990 and was unable to further explore his White House aspirations. He died in late 1993 at the age of 52.
The intriguing question, then and now, is whether Zappa helped plant the idea in Perot’s mind of seeking the presidency on his own, rather than playing second fiddle.
Here is our 1991 interview with Zappa.
Zappa considering gig as candidate for U.S. presidency
By George Varga, Pop Music Critic / San Diego Union-Tribune, June 22, 1991
Frank Zappa, the controversial rock musician who once sang about the dangers of eating yellow snow, is turning his attention to the more fertile soil of national politics.
Zappa, 50, is conducting what he describes as a feasibility study to determine if sufficient public and political support exists for him to make an independent, non-partisan bid for the U.S. presidency next year.
“My main qualifications are that I don’t play golf, I don’t take vacations and I do think the U.S. constitution is one hell of a document and that this country would work better if people adhered to it more closely,” Zappa said from his Los Angeles home before starting a two-week trip to Europe.
“But if a miracle were to occur — and it would take just that — and I really ran for office, you can believe that I’d be serious about the job.” Survey says: yes
The notion of a Zappa presidency might seem unbelievable enough to make conservatives want to gag — with or without as spoon. But a recent survey by a Los Angeles TV station indicated a surprisingly high number of viewers would support a Zappa candidacy as more than a lark by a long-outspoken critic of U.S. government policy and the status quo.
KCAL, Channel 9, aired an interview with Zappa June 13 that prematurely identified him as a presidential candidate. (“I’m not a candidate,” he stressed. “I’m just exploring the possibility.”) The Disney-owned station followed the interview with a phone survey asking viewers if they would vote for Zappa for president.
About 1,800 viewers responded, said KCAL spokeswoman Jennifer Barrett, and 86 percent indicated they would vote for Zappa were he to make an official White House bid.
“The station’s publicist told me that they usually get a 50-50 split response to their surveys and that their median demographic age group of viewers is 30-50 and is fairly conservative,” said Zappa. “So the station was stunned (by the response). I was gratified.”
Zappa said he has received calls and letters of support from across the country since a recent interview about his political aspirations in Spin, a national rock music magazine. He recently received his first campaign contribution (unsolicited) — for $10, from an East Coast fan. Other supporters have been phoning Zappa’s Los Angeles hot line —- (818) PUMPKIN -- to offer their backing.
No federal income tax
Zappa’s presidential platform would center on eliminating federal income taxes, raising most state taxes except for those on staple food items, and “getting the government out of people’s faces.”
Asked how he would redefine the U.S. miltary’s role, Zappa replied: “The only thing the military should be used for is protecting the country, not bad foreign policy.”
The guitarist-composer, who led the pioneering Mothers of Invention rock band in the ‘60s, has not performed live since 1988. But this month he released three new double-CD albums of concert recordings. He would put his music career on hiatus should he run for office.
Zappa said his decision to explore a presidential run took root last year after he watched a C-Span TV symposium. The show, moderated by Leslie Stahl, featured several major Democratic and Republican political strategists discussing possible scenarios for the 1992 presidential campaign.
According to Zappa, one participant, veteran Democratic consultant Raymond Strother, concluded his remarks by saying that nothing would change in U.S. politics “until an outsider entered the (presidential) race.” Zappa said he contacted Strother to discuss the viability of a Zappa campaign and that Strother appeared interested until he began working as a publicist for Sen. Albert Gore, D-Tenn.
Zappa also contacted another Washington political consultant who, he said, expressed interest in his campaign but failed to meet with him as promised.
However, Zappa said: “It doesn’t seem to matter, because from the minute the Spin interview came out, I’ve gotten loads of calls from people in support, and a faxed resume from a longtime Republican Party policy writer seeking a paid campaign position on my staff.
“But it doesn’t matter, because that’s not enough to convince me to go through the BS of a campaign.”
Asked what would, Zappa said: “The way people could let me know if they thought this was a good idea would be to resign from the party they belong to — because I suspect neither of the two major parties have delivered the goods in tangible ways — and withhold campaign funds.
“If that took place to the extent that you’d read about it in newspapers and hear about it on CNN, I’d take that as a good sign of support for a non-partisan campaign.”
Zappa attracted national attention for his staunch support of the First Ammendment in 1985 when he testified in Washington against the Parents Music Resource Center’s attempts to censor rock music. He said he would leave it up to grass-roots supporters to get him placed on the presidential ballots in their respective states in time to meet deadlines, and that he had no plans to “raise millions” to underwrite his campaign.
While he stressed that he had not contacted them, Zappa said that if he ran he would like Texas industrialist H. Ross Perot to be his vice presidential running mate and — if elected — would name Harvard University professor and constitutional law expert Alan Dershowitz to be attorney general.
Zappa, who has recently worked as an entrepreneur in Eastern Europe, described himself as “a reluctant candidate” who was “volunteering” to run for the presidency.
“If there was anybody else who could walk in from outside and do this, I’d vote for them,” he said. “But I don’t see any other volunteers.”
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