FORT WORTH - When Bob Gammage retired as a Texas Supreme Court justice in 1995, he capped a nearly quarter-century career in public service, with stints in the Texas House and Senate, U.S. Congress and Texas Court of Appeals.
Gammage, who lives in Llano, returned to practicing law and taught college courses. He planned to write books.
But he says recent corruption scandals in Washington and Texas inspired him to get back into politics as a Democratic candidate for governor.
"This takes precedence over every other priority I had," Gammage, 67, said before a recent fund-raiser in Fort Worth. "My ego doesn't need this. I don't need the title 'governor.' I care about getting the job done."
He faces former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell and Rashad Jafer, a Houston convenience store manager, in the March 7 Democratic primary.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry seeks re-election and faces minor opposition in his party primary. State comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who decided not to run as a Republican, and author-musician Kinky Friedman are trying to get on the November ballot as independents.
When Gammage was in the Texas House in 1971, he was part of the group known as the "Dirty 30" who rallied against the speaker of the House and other officials investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The speaker, Gus Mutscher, was later convicted and sentenced to five years' probation for conspiring to accept a bribe.
Gammage said "people rose up in outrage" against corruption 35 years ago and demanded reforms, but he hasn't heard that message lately from other Democratic candidates.
"I'm not just running against Rick Perry; I'm running against George Bush, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Tom DeLay," said Gammage, who represented DeLay's Sugar Land district when he was a congressman in the late 1970s. "We've got to change the leadership from the top down."
Thomas Phillips, a Republican and Texas Supreme Court chief justice from 1988 until 2004, said Gammage is gregarious and people-oriented, with a knack for working with those with whom he disagrees.
Phillips, who is not endorsing Gammage because of his political party, said Gammage will stimulate debate as a gubernatorial candidate.
"Bob's pretty fearless and says what he thinks. He's never toed the party line. I think it'll be a good thing he's running for governor," said Phillips, now an Austin attorney. "He's not going to tailor a message to what some political consultant says. With Bob, he'll tell you where he stands."
But Gammage isn't without critics.
Last month, a dozen women abortion-rights advocates put their support behind Bell and criticized Gammage for voting against government-financed abortions for poor women when he was a congressman.
Gammage said he has always supported a woman's right to choose and that his votes were about government funding, although he said he would vote differently now.
In his gubernatorial campaign, Gammage has largely ignored his Democratic primary opponents and targeted Perry - especially on school finance, calling the governor a weak leader who has not forged a plan to fund public schools.
Gammage even totes to campaign events a large painting of a yacht that he says resembles the one Perry cruised on in the Bahamas in 2004 with wealthy campaign donors. Perry has said he discussed school finance on that trip, which he paid for with campaign donations.
As a 3rd Court of Appeals justice from 1982-91 and a state Supreme Court justice from 1991-95, Gammage dealt with school finance several times. Under the current system, nicknamed Robin Hood, more than $1 billion in property tax revenues collected from property-rich school districts are redistributed to property-poor districts.
Gammage and others on the high court ruled in 1995 that system was constitutional, but "we warned them very clearly" that it wouldn't be for long. He said then-Gov. George W. Bush and Perry should have found ways to fix the problem but didn't.
The Texas Supreme Court declared the system unconstitutional last fall and gave the state until June 1 to fix it.
Gammage said the state should fund more of public education rather than putting the burden on individual school districts.
"Texas children are being robbed of their birthright, but that's not going to happen if I have anything to do with it," he said. "Education is vital to everything in society, and we're not doing it right."