About 14 percent of the county's registered voters have joined the statewide drive to put Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot on the ballot as a presidential candidate this fall.
County petitions, signed by 12,916 voters, were given to election board officials at 8 a.m. Monday. Petitioners had until Aug. 3 to collect 63,000 signatures statewide. By Monday, they had gathered more than 130,000.
"Howard County led the state and people are still calling who want to be on on the petition," said Henry C. Marshall, a local coordinator of the petition drive. "Now we're going to go after voter registrations.
"In talking with over 1,000 people, they wanted two things," Marshall said. "Change and more choice. Constructive change."
Marshall said the reason for the high percentage of Howard signatures was because he and co-coordinator James Oglethorpe worked harder. Also, Marshall has experience with petition drives.
"We told people, 'Don't go door-to-door,' " he said. "Concentrate on volume -- barbershops, liquor stores, beauty parlors. I got over 500 signatures in one barbershop alone."
Local Republicans and Democrats were not surprised by Perot's success here.
"It's pretty clear," said Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st. "People are mad as hell and are not going to take it any more. I wish I didn't have to take him seriously, but he's a serious candidate."
Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, explained the Perot phenomenon by saying "people are looking at a way to express " their dissatisfaction with the times. The president did so well at first they're expecting miracles. I expect Perot to take a nose-dive by the end of July. Once people learn about him, they are less likely to take him seriously."
Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, said Perot signers are "expressing unhappiness with what has gone on nationally in the last 12 years. Their standard of living has declined and domestic problems have gone unattended because of a lack of national leadership. They are looking for dynamic, vigorous leadership."
Allan H. Kittleman, vice chairman of the local Republican Central Committee, agrees that Perot supporters are "upset with the way government is being run," but disagrees with blaming the president. "We, of course, think it's the Democratic-controlled Congress that is upsetting them."
Kittleman also thinks many of the petition signers are not necessarily Perot supporters. He says some may have signed out of a spirit of fair play. "Most people believe everyone has a right to be on the ballot," he said. "Some people feel the more the merrier."
If only the people who signed the Perot petition had voted for him in 1988, Perot would have finished a distant third behind President Bush and Democratic challenger Michael S. Dukakis. The president polled 44,153 votes locally to Dukakis' 34,007.
Perot will be in Annapolis today to join supporters in a symbolic presentation of petitions to the state election board.