Early Years Edit
Maurice Robert Gravel was born on May 13th, 1930, in Springfield, Massachusetts. However, his parents, Alphonse Gravel and Marie Bourassa, always called him Mike. Mike’s father and mother were working-class French Canadian immigrants, and they lived in a working-class neighborhood. His father was a painting contractor, and when Mike wasn’t helping with the house painting and construction business (along with his brothers), he volunteered in local Springfield politics. His political involvement as an adolescent initiated a life-long interest in politics and government.
As a young man, Mike studied at the American International College in Springfield for one year, and then, in 1951, he enlisted with the United States Army. In the army, he served in West Germany as both a Special Adjutant in the Communication and Intelligent Services and as a Special Agent in the Counter Intelligence Corps. Mike ended his tenure in the army in 1954. He headed back home to the United States to attend college at Columbia University’s School of General Studies in New York City. To support himself while in college (which much have been much cheaper back in the 50’s), he drove a Taxi Cab, a classic checkered cab. The difficulty of working his way through school was probably added to by the fact that he was dyslexic.
Starting a Political Career in Alaska Edit
After Mike graduated from Columbia University in 1956 with a Bachelor of Sciences in Economics, his avid interest in politics had evidently endured, for he moved to Alaska, without any money and without any job, seeking to be a candidate for political office. In Alaska, he worked several different jobs while trying to get his big break in Politics: he worked as a brakeman for the Alaska railroad, he tried his hand at the business of real estate sales, and he became a successful property developer on the Kenai Peninsula (a beautiful area on the Southern Coast of Alaska).
On April 29th, 1959, Mike married Rita Jeannette Martin, who had been Miss Fur Rendevous in the 1958 Anchorage Fur Rendevous Festival. They had two children: Martin Anthony Gravel, who was born in 1960, and Lynne Denise Gravel, who was born in 1962. During this time, Mike continued his quest for public office: he ran unsuccessfully for the territorial legislature in 1958, and he ran unsuccessfully for the Anchorage City Council in 1960. He also went on a speaking tour concerning tax reform in 1959, sponsored by the Jaycees (the United States Junior Chamber, which is a leadership training and civic organization for people between the ages of 18 and 40).
Finally, in 1962, Mike was elected to political office, fulfilling the dream that he had no doubt nurtured ever since he was first interested in politics as an adolescent. He ran for the Alaska House of Representatives, representing Anchorage, and won. He served as a Representative from 1962 to 1966, winning reelection in 1964 and becoming the Speaker of the House from 1965-1966. As a Representative, one accomplishment of his was his authorship of legislation that established the structure and budget for a regional high school system for rural Alaska. This action permitted native students to receive their education near their homes rather than travel to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ schools outside Alaska.
Mike’s time as Anchorage’s representative ended in 1966 because, instead of running for reelection, he challenged incumbent Democrat Ralph Rivers of Alaska for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. Mike lost the election: he had gambled, taken a risk, and he had lost. Although it must have been devastating, he recovered quickly enough and renewed his political ambitions. These ambitions caused him to challenge Incumbent Democrat Ernest Gruening, one of the “Founding Fathers” of Alaska, for a seat in the United States Senate.
Senate Career Edit
The Democratic Senate Primary in 1968 was a very close race. Mike’s youth gave him an advantage against the ancient Gruening, as did Mike’s heavy use of well-produced television advertisements and his deliberately ambiguous position on the issue of Vietnam. Alaska was then a very Democratic State, so, once Mike won the primary, it would be smooth sailing from there. When Election Time rolled around, Mike unexpectedly beat his Democratic opponent in a tight result, and then he went on to defeat the Republican Elmer Rasmuson and Gruening (running as an Independent) in the General Election.
So, Mr. Gravel finally went to Washington. His position on Vietnam was ambiguous no longer: he came out in full opposition to the war. As Senator, he had a fantastic record: he fillibustered (in 1971) an end to the military draft in the United States, he halted nuclear testing in the North Pacific, he used his office to organize citizen opposition to nuclear power, and he was responsible for the creation of the Alaska Pipeline, in addition to many other smaller achievements. But what Gravel is most known for is his role in the 1971 release of the Pentagon Papers.
The Pentagon Papers were a top-secret government report regarding the policies and lies of several presidential administrations in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Daniel Ellsberg (a former Defense Department Analyst), had possession of the Papers and leaked snippets of them to the New York Times. When some of the content of the Pentagon Papers were published on June 13, lawsuits and controversy ensued, because the U.S. government did not want the Papers to be made public. Daniel Ellsberg asked Mike Gravel to release the Pentagon Papers onto the Senate record, suggesting the Papers’s use in Gravel’s ongoing fillibuster of the draft, so that Gravel’s office as Senator would shield Ellsberg, and others involved, from the government. Ellsberg also hoped that making the contents of the Papers public would bring about an end to the unjust Vietnam War.
Gravel agreed to Ellsberg’s request (despite the risk of prosecution from the U.S. government), and he released the Papers on June 29, 1971, onto the record of his Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds, declaring that his constituents and the American people had a right to know the truth about Vietnam. When Gravel determined to publish the Pentagon Papers shortly afterwards, a constitutional battle with the U.S. government ensued. The case went to the Supreme Court. Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution states that “for any speech or debate in either House, they [a Senator or Representative] shall not be questioned in any other place.” So, the Senator could not be prosecuted because of anything said on the Senate floor, or, by extension, because of anything released upon the Senate record, as was ruled in the landmark Supreme Court decision in Gravel vs. the United States Government. This Supreme Court decision allowed Gravel to publish the Senator Gravel Edition Pentagon Papers, which has provided invaluable insights into our Southeast Asia policy during the 20th century.
Loss of his Senate Seat and Life Afterwards Edit
Gravel won reelection to the Senate in 1974 (with 58% of the vote), but, by the time of the 1980 Senate election, the conservative “Reagan Revolution” was in full swing. Gravel lost the Democratic primary to Clark Gruening (the grandson of Ernest Gruening), and then Gruening went on to lose the General Election to Republican Frank Murkowski. Gravel attributed his 1980 defeat to the fact that he had not built a solid support base in Alaska. To date, Gravel is the last Democrat to represent Alaska in the U.S. Congress. Lisa Murkowski, widow of the former Senator Frank Murkowski, is the current occupant of Gravel's former Senate seat.
The 1980 defeat completely devastated Gravel. As he said, “I had lost my career. I lost my marriage. I was in the doldrums for ten years after my defeat.” He and his wife divorced in the early 1980s, and she now recieves his full Senate pension. Gravel married his second wife, Whitney Stewart Gravel, in 1984. He, after losing his job as Senator, was forced to look for other work: he worked as a real estate developer in Alaska, a consultant, and a stockbroker. One real estate venture, a condominium business, was forced to declare bankruptcy. During the years after his 1981 defeat, he also founded The Democracy Foundation and worked to develop a program of direct democracy which could be applicable to the United States. In 2004, Gravel had a bad health year and was forced to declare personal bankruptcy, and today, he himself has said that he has ‘zero net worth’.
After his defeat in 1980, Gravel disappeared from public life for over twenty years. During that time, he began putting together a proposition, called the National Initiative for Democracy, which would empower the American People to make laws in partnership with their elected officials. In 2008, he has returned to the political arena to run for President of the United States.
2008 Presidential Campaign Edit
Gravel’s presidential bid is very different from his 1969 Senate bid. Mike Gravel is now 77 years old, although he has hearty French-Canadian health, and he promises to serve only one term as President. He hasn’t enough money for flashy television advertisements, and he cannot afford for people not to know about his positions on the issues. However, his campaigns of yesteryear helped to form the very progressive ideas that Gravel promotes today, in his 2008 Presidential campaign.
The centerpiece for Gravel’s current campaign for the presidency is the National Initiative for Democracy. The National Initiative for Democracy would be a federal ballot initiative which would allow the people to make laws, directly, in partnership with their elected officials. Another major issue of the campaign is the War in Iraq. Gravel was one of the few who spoke out against a war with Iraq in 2002, on a major news network (MSNBC), and his opposition has remained steadfast: he supports immediate and complete military and corporate withdraw from Iraq. He passionately decrys the continuation of this Iraq War, comparing it to Vietnam and asserting that the only thing worse than a soldier dying in vain is more soldiers dying in vain.
Also in his 2008 Presidential bid, the former Senator supports the Fair Tax, an end to the War on Drugs, diplomacy with Iran and all other countries, Universal Healthcare Vouchers, a carbon tax (to combat climate change), full and equal marriage rights for all citizens (homosexual and heterosexual), a woman’s right to choose, and full and unambiguous funding for our Veterans (including Post-Traumatic stress disorder treatment). He would also like to restore our civil liberties to us, greatly lessen government secrecy (which he fought against regarding the Pentagon Papers in 1971), and combat the influence of the military-industrial complex in our government and culture.