Mike Gravel is a former Democratic United States Senator from Alaska, who served two terms from 1969 to 1981, and a former candidate in the 2008 presidential election. He is chiefly known for his efforts in ending the draft following the Vietnam War and for putting the Pentagon Papers into the public record in 1971.
Born in 1930 to immigrant parents in Massachusetts, Gravel enlisted in the Army in 1951 and served in West Germany. A self-stated dyslexic, Gravel was educated at Columbia University%u2019s School of General Studies in New York, where he drove a taxi to support himself. Gravel's first steps into politics were in the Alaska House of Representatives, before he won his party's nomination to the U.S. Senate in 1968. During the 1980s, after Gravel lost his senate seat, he worked as a real estate developer, consultant and stockbroker.
Gravel is a strong supporter of direct democracy, and specifically, the National Initiative, which refers to proposals to allow for ballot initiatives at the federal level.
Question: What is your position on earmark spending?
Mike Gravel: I would really look at this whole area. First off I’m ashamed of what happened in Alaska with Ted Stevens and Don Young. You know they changed the word that we use to call “boondoggle”. Now it’s called “the bridge to nowhere”. Thank God the governor up there has just scotched the whole thing, because the money was there to still do it even though it wasn’t earmarked that particular way. And she’s a Republican, and she just wiped the whole thing out. Now it’s a little more unique. I would think that the . . . There wasn’t that much when I was in the Senate 30 years ago. It just developed because it’s made committee chairmen a lot more powerful. Because when they’re sitting on the floor carrying a piece of legislation, and a member comes up to them and says, “Well, can I slip this in the bill?” And of course they’ve never been to any hearings on it. Look at the Lieberman amendment, which is essentially setting the stage to go to war in Iran. Look what it does. It was put in as an earmark. Nobody had any notice. Senator Webb from Virginia . . . And incidentally I live in Virginia now. I’m a resident of Virginia, but Alaska is my first love. But what happened? He was standing up saying, “Nobody knows what this is.” There was no discussion of it in the Armed Services Committee; no discussion on the floor to speak of, and poor Webb was a little reluctant to filibuster. Had I been there, I’d have filibustered. He could have bought a couple days for the public to weigh in and see the shenanigans that were going on giving Bush the power to take this country to war again. And so that was an earmark, and of course what you do . . . Now I don’t understand Senator Levin who I admire was the Chairman of the Arms Services Committee. Hilary was on the Armed Services Committee. She voted for it. Levin voted for it. Reed voted for it. Now how . . . how did the whole democratic leadership, and of course the Republicans . . . how did they know that they were gonna vote for this when it just came up just like that as an earmark? Does it make you wonder maybe there was something behind the scenes going on to get all these people lined up like a row of ducks to vote to give George Bush the power to take this country to war? There’s a resolution right now in the House that does even worse, and it’s cosmetic. If you read the top of it, oh it looks like you’re not giving Bush any power. I’ll tell you, when you look at the exceptions, my god. A captain, or a field grade officer, a major, or colonel could cause a war with Iran, and that’s what is in the House. Will it pass? I don’t know; but this is something . . . There needs to be a change. There needs to be accountability in our system of government. It is not working, not working at all.
Recorded on: 10/23/07