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Mike Gravel, Unconventional Two-Term Alaska Senator, Dies at 91

By Curt Anderson
June 27, 2021 2:03 pm
Category: News
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He made headlines by fighting for an oil pipeline and reading the Pentagon Papers aloud. After 25 years of obscurity, he re-emerged with a quixotic presidential campaign.

In 2019, Mr. Gravel had one last political hurrah: He filed to run for president one more time, although he said he was running not to win but to qualify for the debates and “bring a critique of American imperialism to the Democratic debate stage.” He discouraged people from voting for him. His campaign was run by two teenagers, primarily on Twitter; Mr. Gravel himself had little involvement.

After not qualifying for the first two debates, Mr. Gravel ended his campaign in August 2019 and announced that he would use some of his remaining campaign funds to establish a progressive think tank, the Gravel Institute.

Into his later years Mr. Gravel held fast to his belief in direct democracy. He detailed his ideas for a fourth branch of the federal government, calling it the Legislature of the People, which would allow voters to pass new laws directly, circumventing in particular the Senate, which he saw as hopelessly corrupt.

“What you need to have, and what I seem to have, is unreserved faith in the people,” he told The New York Times Magazine in 2019. “There’s nothing else. And you can say: ‘Well, boy. That’s a stretch!’ You know what? The alternative is minority rule by the elites of society.”

One of the authors of the NY Times obituary (from which the above is excerpted) was the late Adam Clymer who died in 2018. Clymer is remembered for a comment that George W. Bush's hot mike picked up: Bush said to Dick Cheney, "There's Adam Clymer, major-league asshole from the New York Times." Cheney responded, "Oh yeah, he is, big time."

Mike Gravel is also known for starring in the most Zen-like political ad of all time which appears below.

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