SEASIDE (AP) – Mike Gravel, a former U.S. Senator from Alaska who read Pentagon papers in Congressional minutes and confronted Barack Obama with nuclear weapons during a later presidential election, has died. He was 91.
Gravel, who represented Alaska as a Democrat in the Senate from 1969 to 1981, died on Saturday, according to his daughter Lynne Mosier. Gravel lived in Seaside and was in poor health, said Theodore W. Johnson, a former employee.
Gravel’s two terms in office came about during turbulent years for Alaska, when construction of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline was approved and Congress decided how to settle Alaska’s land claims and whether to classify enormous amounts of state as parks, nature reserves, and monuments should be.
He held the unenviable position of Democrat in Alaska when some residents burned President Jimmy Carter as a likeness for his efforts to protect large swaths of public land in the state from development.
Gravel feuded with Alaska’s fellow Senator, Republican Ted Stevens, on the land issue, preferring to combat Carter’s actions, and opposed Stevens’ advocacy of compromise.
In the end, Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, a compromise that allocates millions of acres to national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and other protected areas. It was one of the last bills Carter signed before he left office.
Gravel’s tenure in the Senate was also notable for his antiwar activities. In 1971 he led a one-man filibuster to protest the Vietnam-era draft, and in the Congressional Report he read 4,100 pages of the 7,000-page document known as the Pentagon Papers, the Department of Defense’s history of early engagement of the country in Vietnam.
Gravel re-entered national politics decades after his tenure in the Senate, to run twice for president. Gravel, then 75, and his wife Whitney took public transport in 2006 to announce that he was running for President in the 2008 election, which Obama eventually won.
As a critic of the Iraq war, he began his search for the 2008 presidential candidacy of the Democrats.
“I believe America does damage every day when our troops stay in Iraq – damage to ourselves and the prospects for peace in the world,” Gravel said in 2006 through a direct vote, including health care reform and declarations of war.
Kies attracted attention for his fiery comments on democratic forums.
A debate in 2007 raised the question of the possibility of using nuclear weapons against Iran, and Gravel confronted the then Sen. Obamas. “Tell me, Barack, who are you going to target with atomic bombs?” Kies said. Obama replied, “I have no plans to destroy anyone with atomic bombs right now, Mike.”
Gravel then ran as a libertarian candidate after being banned from later democratic debates.
In an email to his supporters, he said the Democratic Party “no longer represents my vision for our great country”.
“It is a party that continues to uphold war, the military-industrial complex and imperialism – all of which I find reprehensible for my views,” he said.
He didn’t manage to get the libertarian nomination.
Gravel briefly ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. He again criticized the American wars and vowed to cut military spending. His last campaign was noteworthy as both his campaign manager and chief of staff were only 18 years old at the time of his short-lived candidacy.
“There was never any… plan that he would do more than take part in the debates. He had no intention of running a campaign, but he wanted to bring his ideas to a wider audience, ”said Johnson.
Kies did not qualify for the debates. He supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the competition that was eventually won by today’s President Joe Biden.
Gravel was born Maurice Robert Gravel on May 13, 1930 in Springfield, Massachusetts.
In Alaska he served as a state representative in the mid-1960s, including as speaker of the House of Representatives.
He won his first term in the Senate after defeating incumbent Senator Ernest Gruening, a former territorial governor, in the Democratic primary in 1968.
Gravel served two terms until he was defeated in the 1980 Democratic primary by Gruening’s grandson Clark Gruening, who lost the election to Republican Frank Murkowski.