Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Is Bob Gammage Damaged Goods?

I 've been watching the viral marketing campaign online for former Texas Supreme Court justice Bob Gammage's "campaign" for Texas Governor unfold over the past two weeks, and I must say it's been an interesting and yet obviously choreographed demonstration, and a lesson for anyone who wants to create buzz about a candidate "considering" a run for office. Apparently, it worked, because Gammage is to declare himself a candidate next week, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

(In fact, we're seeing the same thing also happen with rumors now online around two other possible Democratic candidates for Governor, former Texas House speaker Pete Laney and Houston mayor Bill White, but that's fodder for a post I'll make should either or both decide to crowd into the water.)

The questions I pose below have been turning over in my mind since I did some Googling on Gammage -- his long experience in Texas politics predates my own quite short experience as an activist, so I went looking for some information in the public domain that might tell me what he's been up to since he retired from the Texas Supreme Court in 1995.

Not a lot, it appears, beyond earning a comfortable living as an attorney and working in the Wesley Clark campaign in 2004.

First of all, some self-disclosure is in order. It ought to be no secret that I'm an avid supporter of Chris Bell. Bell was my representative when he served in Congress; he's been a friend of my family's for quite some time, and I like him a lot personally. So there will be some who are going to carp about my bias, and I'll admit it straight up front so there's no misunderstanding. I'm on record as saying that a contested primary is not a bad thing. And so it ought be just as clear that my enthusiasm for Bell has nothing to do with the questions that surround Bob Gammage's departure from public service ten years ago, his reasons for doing so, and his political activism since that time. These are matters Gammage is simply going to have to clear up in order to run a successful campaign.

I hereby invite him to do so, here or elsewhere online (or in the MSM, if he so chooses).

Let me begin with the circumstances surrounding Gammage's departure from the Supreme Court in August, 1995:

At the time he resigned -- almost a year and a half prior to the expiration of his term on the Court -- Gammage stated that he intended to go to work with former Texas attorney general, judge, and gubernatorial candidate John Hill, who had announced plans to reform the judicial system in Texas. But Gammage did not do that; instead he accepted a position in then-Land Commissioner Garry Mauro's office.

This prompts two questions:

-- why did Gammage resign so early? He created a vacancy for Bush to appoint James Baker -- no relation to the former G. H.W. Bush Secretary of State -- and Baker was able to run as an incumbent, winning the 1996 election, strengthening the assimilation of increasingly harder-right-wing radicals to the Court, and paving the way for the GOP sweeps from that time up to the present.

-- why did Gammage say he would do one thing, but then do another? Was the pay in Mauro's office so great, or the calling greater than that of Hill's judicial reform efforts? Wouldn't a retiring Supreme Court Justice have better prospects than this?

Now as far as I can tell, Bob Gammage left Austin in 1996 and relocated from Houston -- where he had served in the US Congress before his constituents selected Mike Andrews instead to represent them -- to Arlington, began a law practice in Llano, and spent nearly a decade out of the political limelight ... until he got heavily involved in Clark's presidential campaign in 2004.

(More disclosure: I also worked on Clark's campaign, attending Meetups and writing letters to New Hampshireites and Virginians and making phone calls as well to voters in those states. I did not meet Gammage, or even hear of his name during that time. And I am sure he did not hear of mine. I daresay he has little to no idea who I am today).

According to people who would know, Bob had promised his wife Linda a quieter, more comfortable life after his years in governmental service, something to which they were both certainly entitled.

But according to other people who would know, Gammage had some murky implication in the scandal of the time: the tobacco-litigation kickbacks that eventually ensnared attorney general Dan Morales, forcing his resignation from office and resulting in his conviction and prison sentence (which as of this post Morales is still serving):

But if he enters the race, (Gammage) also may have to answer campaign questions about his own unwitting role in a major Democratic scandal, former Attorney General Dan Morales' attempt to obtain millions of dollars in fraudulent legal fees for a friend in Texas' anti-tobacco lawsuit.

Morales is about halfway through a four-year federal prison sentence stemming from the case, and his friend, Marc Murr, was sentenced to six months in federal prison. Both pleaded guilty in 2003 to federal mail fraud charges.

Gammage was one of three state arbitrators who recommended in 1998 that Murr, then an attorney, be paid $260 million for purported work that other lawyers in the tobacco suit said he never performed.

The arbitrators were selected by Morales and Murr after Morales had obtained a $17.3 billion settlement of a suit against tobacco companies over health care costs associated with smoking.

A national arbitration panel overturned most of the state award and gave Murr $1 million, which he later relinquished after Morales' successor, Attorney General John Cornyn, challenged the award in court.

Five other law firms hired by Morales to try the case shared in $3.3 billion in legal fees awarded by the federal arbitrators. The fees are being paid in installments by cigarette makers.

Gammage said Thursday that he and the other two state arbitrators "dealt with the evidence that was before us."

"There was a very detailed account of what he (Morales) said Murr had done," Gammage recalled.

No one, he said, presented evidence against the fees.

He also said the arbitration process had been approved by the federal judge presiding over the tobacco case and the panel's recommended award was conditioned on the judge's approval.

I'd simply like a bit more detailed explanation than so far has been made regarding this from Gammage.

And I make my request so that the voters of theTexas Democratic Party can select a candidate for Governor that has absolutely none of the same stench of corruption that the Republicans thoroughly reek of.

What say you, Mr. Gammage?

: Apparently Bob's been thinking about running for quite bit longer than the last couple of weeks.

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