A former Democratic senator from Alaska and outspoken critic of the Vietnam War announced on Monday his long-shot bid for the presidency in 2008 and a plan to reshape U.S. democracy.

Mike Gravel, a 75-year-old self-described maverick, said he wants to give citizens the direct power to make laws based on popular votes, not exclusively through elected members of Congress.

"Our three branches of government have become like an unstable chair, a three-legged chair," Gravel said. "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."

Gravel advocates giving all policy decisions to the people through a direct vote, including health care reform, eliminating the IRS and income taxes, and declaring 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."

Gravel and his wife, Whitney, took mass transit to the news conference, a reflection of the shoestring campaign budget.

His two-term 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.

In 1972, he nominated himself for vice president at the Democratic National Convention, but delegates rejected his candidacy. Gravel left the Senate after losing the 1980 Democratic primary.

According to Federal Election Commission records, 39 candidates already have filed their candidacy for the presidency. Most are unknown and are likely to remain that way.

Gravel's news conference is believed to be the first official campaign announcement.