Meet Mike Gravel
Mike Gravel, United States Senator for Alaska (1969-1981) is an American hero and a true example of what can be done with one’s life when you work diligently and never give up. Senator Gravel may best be known for The Pentagon Papers, and his efforts & role played in bringing the War in Vietnam to an end.
After also spending years as a staunch advocate of marijuana and the medicinal benefits of the plant, Mike is now launching an initiative to amend the US Constitution to deschedule cannabis, and ultimately legalize marijuana in America.
The Senator’s illustrious career and amazing life is chronicled in his personal bio and legislative accomplishments, both of which can be found below.
“With my knowledge of the Constitution and the current cannabis industry, I believe an Amendment to repeal the War on Drugs could easily secure the two-thirds vote needed in the House” stated Senator Gravel. “If the Senate fails to pass the legislation, we would use the power of ratification by individual states to achieve the goal, just as was done to repeal alcohol prohibition.”
My father, Alphonse, received a very modest education in Quebec, Canada, where the agrarian Catholic culture dictated large families. Children were expected early on to contribute to the economic well being of the family unit. My siblings and I owe our work ethic to our father’s prodding and adherence to that Canadian culture.
My mother, Maria, also from French-speaking Canada, was fortunate to have received a high school education, and with great pride and sacrifice was intent on her children getting a proper education. Both parents migrated separately to Massachusetts in the early 1920’s, where prospects for employment seemed bright. They met, courted and married in South Bridge, Massachusetts.
I was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on May 13, 1930, third of five children. I attended French-speaking Catholic grade school and was held back in the third grade because of poor reading skills. It was only when my son in his teens was diagnosed with dyslexia that I learned that I suffered from severe dyslexia; the flipside to that disability was a focus on memory development and a talent to speak extemporaneously.
My two older brothers and I worked with our father from our early teens in house painting and general construction/rehabilitation business. During the same period, I became interested in civic affairs and worked on numerous local and state political campaigns. Because of my mother’s influence within the family, I was able to attend Assumption Prep, a boarding high school in Worcester, Massachusetts. I attended my freshman year at Assumption College by working full-time doing janitorial work and caddying at a local golf course. For my sophomore year, I attended American International College in Springfield, living at home while working full-time as a clerk for Buxton, Inc.
In 1951, I enlisted in the United States Army (1951–54) serving as Adjutant in the Communications Intelligence Service in Germany and as a Special Agent in the Counter Intelligence Corps in France.
Following military service, I finished my last two years of college at Columbia University’s School ofGeneral Studies in New York City, receiving aBachelor of Science degree in economics. During my junior year I worked full time as a clerk at Bankers Trust on Wall Street. During my senior year I worked as a taxi driver. Many years later I was awarded four honorary degrees in law and public affairs.
I went to Alaska in 1956 with the dream of running for public office. Immediately after my arrival I started to work in real estate sales, which gave me the discretionary time to plan my run for office. My first winter was difficult because of the decline in property sales, so I took a job working as a brakeman on the Alaska Railroad. In the spring I became a broker and opened my own real estate office. In 1958 I first ran for the Alaska Territorial Legislature and lost. In 1959 I ran for the Anchorage City Council and again lost. After statehood in 1959, I was elected to the Alaska State House of Representatives, where I served for four year’s (1963–66) and as Speaker of the House (1965–66). I am most proud of greatly expanding Alaska’s educational system, reorganizing the legislature, and bringing political awareness to the Alaska Native community.
I ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966 and lost by a close margin in the primary. I then ran for the U.S. Senate in 1968 and won an upset victory in the primary. I went on to win the general election, representing Alaska from 1969 to 1981. Twelve years after my arrival in Alaska –– broke, I was sitting in the United States Senate. I credit my success to hard work and being lucky.
My Senate committee assignments included: finance, interior, environment and public works. I chaired subcommittees on buildings and grounds, energy, water resources, and environmental pollution.
After losing office in the primary election of 1980, I stayed away from electoral politics, though I followed politics and civic affairs nationally and globally. In 1984 I married my second wife Whitney Stewart – the love of my life. In the same year I incorporated a short-term apartment rental business. As a result of rapid expansion, the business became undercapitalized, and I was forced into personal bankruptcy because I had naively personally signed on for 3% of the corporation’s liability. Subsequently, I collapsed the operations of the company and turned it over to employees who operated the business at a smaller level for the next decade.
I went to consulting and began to focus on my true area of interest:political governance. In 1990 I came to the conclusion that the solution to the governance dilemma lay with the People rather than with the government. I immersed myself in constitutional issues related to direct democracy, including studies in American and European history and the ancient histories of Greece and Rome.
Whitney and I moved to California where she became a dean at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and I pursued my quest of direct democracy.
In 1992, I incorporated two California non-profit corporations: Direct Democracy and Philadelphia II, both dedicated to the establishment of direct democracy in United States by the enactment the National Citizens Initiative for Democracy (NCID) a legislative package that can be enacted by American voters rather than by government in a manner similar to the process used in 1787-88 that ratified our Constitution and created our federal government. Article VII of the Constitution is the precedent enabling voters to enact NCID without the government.
In 2002, I secured financial support to convene a two-and-half- day conference of scholars and experts in Williamsburg, Virginia, to address the theory of direct democracy articulated in the NCID and the legality of its political enactment by a privately held national election. The conference was a great success, however, a pledged sum to cover part of the cost of the conference did not materialize, forcing me to use one of my credit cards to finance the $50,000 shortfall. In the summer of 2002 my health deteriorated precipitously necessitating three operations in course of nine months. Fearful of my passing and leaving Whitney with the burden of the credit cards that were being used to finance the ongoing operations of Direct Democracy, I filed for bankruptcy, affecting only the four credit cards in question. I kept my personal credit card out of the proceedings. In both bankruptcy experiences the filings were not caused by any personal abuse of my credit.
In 2006, a close friend and political supporter of direct democracy suggested I run for president, using the celebrity nature of the run to focus voter attention on NCID. After being away from electoral politics for a generation and at 76 years of age I thought the suggestion ludicrous. However, after a few months reflection, I came to the conclusion the suggestion had merit. I filed my candidacy for president as a Democrat in 2006.
In view of my Senate record and the national attention garnered by my role in the release of the Pentagon Papers it was impossible to exclude me from the race. I participated in seven presidential debates and reportedly “won” two of them. Blind polls taken on the issues without mention of any candidate repeatedly identified the issues I was raising. As I travelled the nation one reference to me, repeated over and over regardless of location was that I was “a breath of fresh air.”
My conduct and rhetoric in the debates threatened the Democratic Party’s conventional wisdom. I was denied access to the MSNBC debate in September 2007. Since the Democratic Party sanctioned the debates, I tried to protest to the chair of the Democratic Party Howard Dean. He refused to even accept my calls. A friend in India at the time protested my exclusion to General Electric (GE) the corporate owner of NBC and MSNBC. Rather than pass the protest on to the television affiliate, a PR official of GE responded to the email from India, stating that Senator Gravel did not meet their standards to participate in the presidential electoral process. In the course of the debates, I had been very critical of the corporate enrichment of the Military Industrial Complex, in which GE is a prominent member.
After the labor movement subsequently excluded me from their debate, my political fate was essentially sealed and mainstream media treated me as a nonperson. Not being a sitting Senator left me without leverage.
I have authored two books: Jobs and More Jobs and Citizen Power. And I co-authored, with Joe Lauria, A Political Odyssey: The Rise of American Militarism and One Man’s Fight to Stop It; and with Dr. David Eisenbach, The Kingmakers: How the Media Threatens Our Security and Our Democracy. Beacon Press, the publication arm of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, published the Pentagon Papers in 1972 as The Senator Gravel Edition of the Pentagon Papers. I lecture and continue to write about governance, foreign affairs, economics and monetary policy.
My two older brothers, Lionel Gravel and Bernard Gravel are deceased. I have two younger sisters: Marguerite Gravel and Marie Lombardi. Whitney and I continue to live in Northern California, close to my daughter Lynne Mosier and her two daughters, Madison and Macenzie. My son Martin Gravel and his wife Michele live in Colorado. His grown children Renée, Alex also live in Colorado.
Mike Gravel’s Legislative Accomplishments
THE ALASKA PIPELINE
In 1973, following years of study and judicial delay, Senator Gravel introduced an amendment to empower the Congress to make the policy decision about the construction of the Alaska Oil Pipeline. Initially, the amendment was opposed in all quarters, by state and federal officials, the labor movement, and the oil industry. Alone at the beginning, Mike Gravel built support and gained allies who, in the end, helped secure the amendment’s passage in the Senate by a single vote. This accomplishment placed Alaska on a new economic footing. The pipeline has been responsible for 20% of the U.S. oil supply, has contributed substantially to the nation’s balance of payments, and has yielded economic benefits that dramatically improved the quality of life across Alaskan society. A recent retrospective analysis has revealed that, absent Senator Gravel’s amendment, the pipeline would probably not have been built, relegating the nation to greater foreign dependency and environmental pollution.
CANNIKIN NUCLEAR TESTS
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Pentagon was performing five calibration tests for a nuclear missile warhead that, upon investigation, was revealed to be obsolete. Yet the tests, involving the detonation of nuclear warheads under the seabed of the North Pacific at Amchitka Island, Alaska (an earthquake prone area) were scheduled to continue. These tests created large caverns under the seabed, encapsulating nuclear wastes with life-threatening properties that would last more than a thousand years. These caverns could rupture during an earthquake, spewing contaminated wastes into the food chain of the North Pacific, thereby compromising one of the planet’s major sources of food. Mike Gravel fought the tests in Congress, but he also went beyond his role as a Senator to organize worldwide environmental opposition to the Pentagon’s plans. He succeeded in halting the program after the second test, limiting the expansion of this threat to the marine environment of the North Pacific.
“THE PEACEFUL ATOM”
In the decades of the 1950s and 1960s, nuclear fission was considered an environmentally clean alternative for the generation of commercial electricity and was part of a popular national policy for the peaceful use of atomic energy. Mike Gravel was the first in Congress to publicly oppose this national nuclear policy in 1970, and he used his office to organize citizen opposition, successfully persuading Ralph Nader’s organization to join the fight. Senator Gravel’s initial efforts, and later those of the environmental movement that had coalesced in opposition, contributed to making the production of commercial electricity through nuclear fission uneconomical. The wisdom of this change in policy, was confirmed by the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters. Mike Gravel had applied the brakes to a headlong policy that was threatening the global environment by producing nuclear wastes and proliferating bomb-grade nuclear materials.
In May 1971, Senator Gravel began a one-man filibuster that continued into September, forcing a deal to let the military draft expire. The drafting of the nation’s youth had been defense policy since 1947. In order to save face and break the Senator’s filibuster, the Nixon administration agreed to let the draft expire in 1973 if given a two-year extension in 1971.
THE PENTAGON PAPERS
Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon analyst who helped write the secret Pentagon Papers, attempted to secure the Papers’ release through a member of Congress in order to provide legal protection for the release of this highly classified historical study that detailed how the United States had ensnared itself in the Vietnam War. After congressional leaders Ellsberg initially approached failed to act, he turned to the New York Times and Washington Post, which then published excerpts of the study in June 1971. The Nixon Justice Department sought an injunction against the newspapers, and a Supreme Court decision that was due at the end of June put the publishers at risk. The day before the Supreme Court decision, in an effort to moot any action that might intimidate the newspapers, Mike Gravel officially released the Pentagon Papers in his capacity as a Senator communicating with his constituency. As it happened, the Supreme Court did not rule against the Fourth Estate, but Senator Gravel continued to press for release of the full text of the Pentagon Papers by publishing the papers in book form. He was turned down by every major (and not-so-major) publishing house in the nation, save one. Beacon Press, the publishing arm of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, faced down the Nixon Administration by publishingThe Senator Gravel Edition, The Pentagon Papers.
The Justice Department next brought legal action against Beacon Press and against the Senator’s editor, Dr. David Rotberg. Mike Gravel intervened in the case, using his Senate office as a shield for Beacon Press and Rotberg. Decisions at the District Court and the Court of Appeals protected the Senator from prosecution but left Beacon Press and Rotberg at risk, so, against the advice of his attorneys, Gravel took the matter to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court rendered a landmark constitutional decision in the spring of 1972, narrowly defining the prerogatives of an elected representative with respect to the “speech or debate” clause of the constitution. Senator Gravel’s defeat before the Supreme Court placed him at risk of prosecution, along with Beacon Press and Rotberg. With Watergate afoot, the Nixon Justice Department lost interest in the prosecution of Ellsberg, Gravel and Rotberg. However, the Court’s decision did set the stage for its later decision on the Nixon Tapes, forcing Nixon’s resignation from the Presidency.
A GREEK RELATIONSHIP
In the 1970s, Elias Demetracopoulos, an exiled Greek journalist living in Washington, D.C., recruited Mike Gravel to use his position in the U.S. Senate to speak out against the Nixon Administration’s support of the Colonels in Athens. Both the Greek Junta and the Nixon Administration were trying to silence Mr. Demetracopoulos’ effective leadership in building American opposition to the military dictatorship in Greece. Senator Gravel was an outspoken ally in this effort and gave Demetracopoulos personal succor. The Senator also counseled with Merlena Mercouri and her husband, Jules Dassin, in their opposition to the Junta, and used his influence, publicly and privately, to side with the Greek national position on the Cyprus Question.
The decade of the 1970s saw the awakening by federal and state legislatures to the need to control environmental pollution. Mike Gravel ’s service on the Environment and Public Works Committee throughout his Senate career placed him in a leadership role on every major piece of environmental legislation dealing with air, water, waste, and energy that emerged from the U.S. Congress during this period.
LAW OF THE SEA
In the mid-1970s, the United Nations was moving toward the codification of a legal regime for the oceans that cover two-thirds of the earth’s surface. Senator Gravel worked with UN leaders and committees, the Secretary of State, our UN ambassador, and other agencies of government to advance the UN’s adoption of the Convention on the Law of the Sea — despite the opposition of the fishing industry in his home state of Alaska. The momentum behind the UN effort was undermined by legislation introduced by the powerful Senator Warren Magnuson and his Alaskan colleague, Senator Ted Stevens — legislation that permitted the U.S. to unilaterally take control of the 200-mile waters bordering its land mass. Senator Gravel successfully delayed this legislation for two years in the hope that the UN would act first, but his opposition ultimately failed to stop its passage. Efforts at the UN lost momentum, and agreement was not reached until 1982. Shamefully, the U.S. is the only nation in the world that has failed to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention.
Six months before Henry Kissinger’s secret mission to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Senator Gravel introduced unpopular legislation to recognize and normalize relations with the PRC, in the hope of bringing about a re-examination of our outdated policy towards the Chinese people.
NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was the first major political settlement of aboriginal claims, which were customarily dealt with what came to be recognized as a biased process. Senator Gravel co-authored the legislation and provided outspoken leadership for some of its important, but less popular, land-use features in the Settlement Act. He was responsible for removing the federal government’s paternalistic role in the management of native economic affairs once the settlement had been approved by Congress.
In the early 1970s, Senator Gravel pioneered satellite communications through a demonstration project that established links between Alaskan villages and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, for medical diagnostic communications. He then developed a proposal for the Alaska Legislature for a satellite communications and video transmission system, which has since been implemented, making Alaska’s system the most advanced in the U.S.
In an effort to broaden the ownership of capital in our society, Senator Gravel authored and secured the passage into law of the General Stock Ownership Corporation (GSOC), Subchapter U of the Tax Code. With the hope of first using this law in Alaska, he brought about a ballot initiative in the state’s general election of 1980 on the creation of an Alaska General Stock Ownership Corporation (AGSOG). As part of this effort, he negotiated a tentative agreement with the British Petroleum Company to sell its interest in the Alaska Pipeline to the AGSOC. The electorate failed to approve the AGSOC initiative. BP now considers its pipeline interest to be one of the most profitable of its Alaska holdings. Had the AGSOC been approved and the purchase consummated, it would be paying out dividends of several hundred dollars annually to every citizen/shareholder in Alaska.
The Inuit peoples populate the Arctic regions of the globe. At Senator Gravel’s instigation, and with a private grant he secured, the Alaskan North Slope native leadership organized a circumpolar conference attended by Inuit representatives from Canada, Greenland, and Norway. Their periodic convocations on culture, environment, and other regional concerns now include representation from Russia.
RECORD IN ALASKA STATE LEGISLATURE
Mike Gravel served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1963 to 1966, and as Speaker from 1965 to 1966. Among his accomplishments at the state include:
ALASKAN HIGH SCHOOL SYSTEM
Authored legislation that established the structure and budget for a regional high school system for rural Alaska, permitting native students to receive their education near their homes rather than travel to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ schools outside Alaska.
LEGISLATIVE AND OTHER REFORMS
He effected legislative reforms, securing budgets to provide staffs for members and to expand research and support facilities, initiated electronic voting, and developed an intra-session hearing process throughout the state that fostered citizen participation.