SEASIDE, Calif. (AP) — Mike Gravel
, the former Alaska
senator who read the Pentagon Papers
into the Congressional Record and confronted Barack Obama
about nuclear weapons during a subsequent presidential run, has died at the age of 91.
Gravel, who served in the Senate
as a Democrat from Alaska from 1969 to 1981, died on Saturday, according to his daughter, Lynne Mosier. Gravel had been living in Seaside, California
, and was in failing health, according to Theodore W. Johnson, a former aide.
Gravel's two terms came during tumultuous times for Alaska, when the trans-Alaska oil pipeline
was approved and Congress was debating how to settle Alaska Native land claims and whether to designate vast amounts of federal land as parks, preserves, and monuments.
He found himself in the unenviable position of being an Alaska Democrat at a time when some residents were burning President Jimmy Carter
in effigy for his actions to protect large sections of public lands in the state from development.
On the land issue, Gravel clashed with Alaska's other senator, Republican
Ted Stevens, preferring to oppose Carter's actions and rejecting Stevens' advocacy for a compromise.
Finally, Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation
Act of 1980, a compromise that set aside millions of acres for national parks
refuges, and other protected areas, and it was one of the last bills Carter signed before leaving office.
Gravel's Senate tenure
was also notable for his anti-war activism; in 1971, he led a one-man filibuster
the Vietnam-era draft
, and he read 4,100 pages of the 7,000-page leaked Pentagon Papers, the Defense Department
of the country's early involvement in Vietnam, into the Congressional Record.
Gravel returned to national politics
decades after leaving the Senate to run for president twice. Gravel, then 75, and his wife, Whitney, took public transportation in 2006 to announce his intention to run for president as a Democrat in the 2008 election
, which Obama won.
As a critic of the Iraq war
, he began his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.
“I believe America
is doing harm every day our troops remain in Iraq — harm to ourselves and to the prospects for world peace,” Gravel said in 2006. He tied his campaign to a push to put all policy decisions, including health care
reform and declarations of war, to a direct vote of the people
Gravel drew attention for his venomous remarks at Democratic debates.
Gravel confronted then-Sen. Obama in a 2007 debate about the possibility of using nuclear weapons against Iran
. “Tell me, Barack, who do you want to nuke?” Gravel asked. Obama responded, “I'm not planning to nuke anybody right now, Mike.”
After being excluded from subsequent Democratic debates, Gravel ran as a Libertarian candidate.
In an email to supporters, he stated that the Democratic Party
“no longer represents my vision for our great country.” He added, “It is a party that continues to sustain war, the military-industrial complex, and imperialism — all of which I find anathema to my views.”
He was not nominated for the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination.
Gravel ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, criticizing American wars and vowing to cut military spending. His last campaign was notable in that both his campaign manager and chief of staff were only 18 years old at the time of his brief candidacy.
“There was never any... plan for him to do anything more than participate in the debates; he didn’t plan to campaign, but he wanted to get his ideas in front of a larger audience,” Johnson said.
Gravel did not qualify for the debates, but he did support Vermont
Senator Bernie Sanders
in the race won by now-President Joe Biden
On May 13, 1930, in Springfield
, Maurice Robert Gravel was born.
He was a state representative in Alaska in the mid-1960s, including a stint as House
In the 1968 Democratic primary
, he defeated incumbent Senator Ernest Gruening, a former territorial governor
Gravel served two terms before being defeated in the Democratic primary in 1980 by Gruening's grandson, Clark Gruening, who was defeated by Republican Frank Murkowski.