WASHINGTON - No limousines or motorcades for Mike Gravel.
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Short on campaign cash and barely known, the former Democratic senator from Alaska and his wife, Whitney, took public transportation Monday to a news conference announcing his long-shot bid for president.
Gravel, a 75-year-old self-described maverick, established himself during two terms in the Senate as a critic of the Vietnam War and government secrecy. His campaign will use those themes and a plan to give voters power to make laws.
"Our three branches of government have become like an unstable chair, a three-legged chair," said Gravel, who left the Senate in 1981 after losing the 1980 Democratic primary. "The founders could not have envisioned how much money and special interests would corrupt the political process. Giving us Americans legislative power will put forth the fourth leg of our stool and make it stable."
The last time Gravel held elected office Jimmy Carter was in the White House, Saddam Hussein invaded Iran and Post-It notes made their debut. Nearly three decades later, Gravel entered the race focused on doing away with representative democracy, the IRS and income taxes.
He hitched his campaign to an effort that would give all policy decisions to the people through a direct vote, including health care reform, social security investments and declarations of war.
"I believe America is doing harm every day our troops remain in Iraq - harm to ourselves and to the prospects for peace in the world," Gravel said. "I would remove our troops expeditiously, without contingency. President Bush's mistake is not worth the life or maiming of more American soldiers."
His Senate tenure was notable for his anti-war activity. He led a one-man filibuster to protest the Vietnam-era draft, and read into the Congressional Record 4,100 pages of the 7,000-page leaked document known as the Pentagon Papers.
Gravel, never one to shun party politics, nominated himself for vice president at the 1972 Democratic National Convention; delegates rejected his candidacy. He was among the first Democrats to speak out against the war in Iraq while others supported the president.
Gravel has spent the last 15 years studying reforms at his Virginia-based think tank, the Democracy Foundation.