From Mark Preston, CNN Political Unit
Former Sen. Mike Gravel (D) likes to boast that when he first arrived in Alaska in 1957 he didn't have enough money to buy a pack of cigarettes. A dozen years later the Massachusetts-born Gravel was elected to represent The Last Frontier in the United States Senate.
After serving 12 years, Gravel failed to win a third term and faded away from national politics just as quickly as he entered. The 75-year-old Gravel re-emerges today as he files papers to seek the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2008.
"I am extremely angry with the direction the nation is going and the lack of leadership in the Congress and what I would call terrible leadership in the Executive Branch," Gravel said in an interview with the Grind. "I am ashamed there is no leadership in the Democratic Party and the Republican Party is worse."
Gravel is number 1653 of the elite club of 1885 people who have served in the Senate. But unlike most of the Senators who failed to distinguish themselves and are now footnotes in history, Gravel did make a mark by using the protections of his office and a bit of showmanship to express his opposition to the Vietnam War. Gravel filibustered the draft and he released the Pentagon Papers in 1971 by using his position as a subcommittee chairman to insert them into the public record. Gravel intended to read the full content of the papers in this dramatic late night hearing, but emotions overcame him.
"I was exhausted," Gravel said. "I probably hadn't slept for three days and I started crying. All I was thinking is my country is making a terrible mistake in Vietnam. I asked unanimous consent to put the Pentagon Papers into the record."
Why did he do it? "I took my position as a United States Senator and said they got no reason to lie to the American people," he said.
Gravel has similar thoughts about the Iraq War, an issue he said "angers him the most" and vowed to remove U.S. troops immediately if elected.
"This is a mistake we made and it is absolutely immoral to hang onto the mistake when we are killing Americans and killing Iraqis," he said. "I would pull back the military and concentrate on aggressive diplomacy."
While Gravel embraces the concept of being a dove, the former Senator
said he is not a liberal. He points to his Senate record of championing the
Alaska Pipeline and opposing the Alaska lands bill, as well as his current
support for a national sales tax and a desire to reform Social Security.
He also wants to see the power to make laws put into the hands of the voters --
in essence diluting the power of the legislative body he once served.
Gravel was described in an August 28, 1980 Washington Post story as having "earned a reputation as one of the Senate's heavier hands in campaign fundraising, shaking the Washington money tree for all its worth." For his presidential bid, the former Senator predicted he would raise $40 million to $50 million. But he has yet to hire a professional campaign staff, and said he would follow Howard Dean's example of reaching out to donors through the Internet.
"If my message resonates with the American people, the money will
be there," he said.
At the very best, Gravel is a long shot for the nomination but he is following a similar path blazed by the likes of former Sen. George McGovern (D-South Dakota) and the late Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minnesota), who sought the Democratic presidential nomination after leaving the Senate.