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Sen. Mike Gravel
Democratic Candidate for President, Former U.S. Sen. (D-Alaska)
Tuesday, October 16, 2007; 12:15 PM

The Concord Monitor, Cedar Rapids Gazette and washingtonpost.com will host a series of live discussions with Republicans and Democrats running for president to give readers the opportunity to share thoughts and questions directly with the candidates.

Sen. Mike Gravel will be online Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 12:15 p.m. ET to take your questions on the campaign and his vision for the United States.

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Gravel is a former two-term U.S. senator from Alaska, from 1969 to 1981. Prior to his election he was a two-term Alaska state legislator. Between his Senate career and his current presidential run, Gravel was a businessman and an activist working on direct democracy initiatives.

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washingtonpost.com: This discussion will be rescheduled.

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washingtonpost.com: This discussion has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 12:15 p.m. ET.

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Sen. Mike Gravel: Hope you vote for me. I think I'll be a great president, and I think I can bring about fundamental change, which I don't think is in the offing with any of the other candidates, hwo only offer politics as usual. That won't get us out of the mess that we're in -- representative government is broken. The American people should be able to vote on all the policy issues that affect their lives and be in partnership with their elected officials in the American government.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: You were under consideration for vice president in 1972 and received a lot of support to be vice president. I am wondering if you have spoken to George McGovern about your current race, and if so what advice he provided?

Sen. Mike Gravel: No, I have not spoken to George about my current race.

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Bozeman, Mont.: Given the recent relevations into the rampant corruption in the Alaskan Political Network, how do you expect non-Alaskans to trust you?

Sen. Mike Gravel: First off, I've not been a representative for Alaska since 1980, so why would you think the present corruption would have anything to do with me or carry over to me. I haven't been a resident of Alaska since the mid-1980s -- 30 years ago? And you're worried about a Republican corruption scandal? I'm an American, and because there's been corruption in American politics, would that mean you couldn't vote for me.

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Arlington, Va.: I have heard you speak about the total failure of the war on drugs. If elected President, how would you convince the American public that legalizing drugs is really in our best interests?

Sen. Mike Gravel: The parallel of that is of course, how would FDR have convinced the American people to do away with Prohibition? We all know that was a social failure in the '20s. Studies show overwhelmingly that marijuana is not addictive -- moreover it has healing properties. Why would we arrest people -- 800,000 last year -- for that. For hard drugs, we should allow users to get a prescription, get the drugs they feel they need, and that would allow us to identify them and prostheletize to them. This is a public health problem, not a criminal problem. We spend $50 billion to $100 billion a year on the war on drugs, ravages our inner cities and destabalizing foreign governments. It puts drug dealers in command. I just don't understand why the other people seeking public office don't have the guts to stand up and state the obvious -- that the war on drugs is a failure.

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Atlanta: Sen. Gravel, in the most recent federal elections of 2006, approximately 88 percent of candidates who outraised their opponents ended up winning their races. This could be the first presidential campaign with more than $100 million raised for candidates. In light of this, do you think that the current interpretation of money as a Constitutional right to free speech, as set by Buckley v. Valeo, is legitimate? And with this in mind, what should be done about our current election system?

Sen. Mike Gravel: First off what I would do is I think we ought to have public funding for elections -- and free speech is a problem in this regard -- but at this point in time it has been so abused, and almost everyone knows that the corrupting influence in government is money. Here we take the American media that anoints people to high office because they raise the most money, when intuitively we also know they're the most corrupt. Right now what the people have is not working, and it's not fair, and it's not going to improve the country, which is really in great difficulty. Representative government is broken, and the money is going to corrupt good people who run for office. That's the conundrum we're in. The only way is to empower the people to make laws, you cannot do it under the existing system.

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Austin, Texas: Actuaries tell us that if you or Sen. McCain were each nominated for President, the selection of the vice presidential running mates would be very, very important. Who would you select as your running mate?

Sen. Mike Gravel: I'm not prepared to release that information -- and you're quite right, but the actuaries are very much in my favor right now. I've got a better chance of living to 90 than you do. That's the way the actuaries work -- because I'm from French Canadian stock, I'll live in my 90s unless I get sick. I only intend to serve four years anyway. I won't use the office of the president to make money, I'll use it to help the American people become accostomed to their new role in making laws. It's unfortunate from a political point of view that we're unlike many other cultures in not revering experience and wisdom. At this point in life I'm not motivated by ambition or greed, I'm motivated to help the American people become partners in their government.

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New Haven, Conn.: Mr. Gravel, if you were elected president how would you go about enacting your national initiative? Is there a constitutional means for you to do so, or would it depend on the will of the Congress?

Sen. Mike Gravel: Excellent question, and I wouldn't depend on the Congress because they wouldn't do it -- they would not dilute their power. Also, the Constitution does not have the procedures for this. The closest is Article Seven, which says if X number of states ratify the Constituion it becomes the law of the United States. The framers never put those procedures in Article Seven because they didn't want people to vote down slavery. The standard the Democracy Corporation has established the standard, based on Article Seven, that if 60 million people vote in favor of a national initiative, it becomes the law of the land, unreviewable by the Supreme Court and with no duties by Congress other than funding the national initiative. If they refuse to do so, it becomes a Constitutional problem and the Congress will be fighting the will of 60 million constituents. Go to the Web site www.nationalinitiative.us and you can register and vote for it.

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Pittsburgh: How would you lead the federal government -- the executive branch? I feel federal employees do not get enough credit for the services they provide to citizens.

Sen. Mike Gravel: I think that's accurate, but that's at the level below, by and large, the appointed politicians. There are various studies that suggest we could much better train the bureaucracy of the country. Look at West Point and Annapolis, which trains military bureaucrats. We should have professional schools to train the elements of the bureaucracy, an elite school funded entirely by the government, that people could go to without paying for it. That would change the culture of bureaucracy and would reduce the need for political appointees. It's much closer to the British system, and I think there's a lot of merit in that. I think by and large the bureaucracy gets a bad rap of incompetence when they're led by the unbelieveably incompetent political appointees, who then get into the permanent civil service, worsening the political corruption. Good government bureaucrats are good professionals and should be treated as such with all the attendent educational opportunities.

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Acworth, Ga.: Many Americans now feel that the war in Iraq and the implied threats to Iran comprise an endless disaster for our contry's ultimate relationship with the Middle East. What do you think our long-term strategic view should be, and what is the best "next step" for achieving it?

Sen. Mike Gravel: That is a perceptive question, and they're quite right about the conclusion. We did not need to invade Iraq -- even Gen. Abizaid admits it was for oil. We do not need to invade Iran -- they are not a threat to the U.S., and wouldn't be a threat to the troops if we'd pull them out. 80 percent of Iraqis don't want us there. Get the troops out, admit we made a mistake, and develop a working relationship with Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia and really really work on a lasting peace for Israel and the Palestinians. We need to begin to treat other countries like we treat ourselves. We're not any better for they are. Being the imperialist of the world hasn't worked for any other empire and it won't work for us. This planet has the resources to provide for all of us, we just need a better system of management. The beginning of that is empowering the people to make laws.

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Chapel Hill, N.C.: Why are you so angry all of the time?

Sen. Mike Gravel: (laughs). Well, the reason why I'm angry, first, is that your tax dollars are being used to kill people. I hope taht would make you angry too, because it's tragic. I'm also very human and I hope you recognize at these debates where you see me that I"m getting an unfair proportion of time. If you didn't get treated fairly, you might get angry too. I'm trying to control my anger because it works against me, because I don't look presidential. When I become president, I will be presidential, but I will be angry when I see injustice.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hello Sen. Gravel. I'm a high school student at Montgomery Blair High School writing a piece about the upcoming presidential primaries for our school newspaper, Silver Chips. I was wondering what you would do as president (if anything) to change or amend President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act. Also, what steps would you take to provide students with more affordable college tuition? Thanks.

Sen. Mike Gravel: A very good question, and I can answer it this way. No Child Left Behind is a failure. Our whole system of education is in trouble. All of the stakeholders are all at fault -- a third of our children don't graduate from high school. That is appalling. The way to change that is to look at countries like Finland, Spain, Norway and others. Those countries educate children from start to Ph.D. with no charge to the children. If we're so powerful and rich, we should be able to do as well as them. I think it's an abomination that you have to pay for your higher education and I'll change the direction of this country to make the cost of higher education borne by society, meaning the government, at all levels.

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Westcliffe, Colo.: What do you think about the decision of the commissars in the Democratic party to disenfranchise the delegates of voters from Florida and Michigan simply because those citizens want to hold their party conventions when and where they choose to do so? Shades of Uncle Joe Stalin! Not very Democratic, is it comrade?

Sen. Mike Gravel: Well, I think there's some truth to that, and I know representations have been made that I signed papers -- I didn't. I'll be going to Florida and to Michigan later this week. I share this view. This is a very confusing electoral process. I don't know what's going on more than anyone else in this election. What does it mean with $100 million spent on one candidate. What does it mean when I'm one of the top three most-viewed candidates in the primary on the Internet but at the bottom of the polls? If the American people want fundamental change, they have to move away from politics as usual. The solution is to empower the people.

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New York City: Why haven't you submitted your FEC form yet?

Sen. Mike Gravel: We've already submitted it. It was submitted on time, on the 15th of the month, yesterday, by my accountant. We're raising money, but not in the millions.

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Reading, MA: Which of the other Democratic canidates are you most friendly with offstage?

Sen. Mike Gravel: Probably Joe Biden, because I served with him, and Chris Dodd because I served with his father and I knew him as a kid, and probably John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich -- I like both of them personally.

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Newport Richey, Fla.: You promise income tax reform -- will you go so far as to remove the federal reserve system and start giving us complete control of our finances and our wealth?

Sen. Mike Gravel: I don't know what I would do there, and he's quite right, I promised tax reform, but that doesn't necessarily mean federal reserve reform. I know what they're driving at -- there's a lot of people with no confidence in the reserve system, and I understand that. You've really got a conundrum when you don't trust either the politicians or the bureaucrats. I don't have a magic solution to convince you to vote for me. I will get rid of the corrupt income tax system, but only after you've been empowered with the right to make laws, which means you're going to have to vote for the national initiative.

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Newark, DE: I loved your opinion piece in the Huffington Post on Hilary Clinton, especially the last paragraph in which you said you would open all secret files related to the war in Iraq. If elected, would you consider doing the same for your files during the presidency? I feel that a huge issue is government (all levels) is a lack of transparency and this would help.

Sen. Mike Gravel: Oh, totally, totally, totally. I will reverse a lot of these practices. That doesn't mean I'll take the people inside detailed personnel negotiations -- there's some things that need to be private. But 90 percent of what the government holds secret needs to be made public -- in my or any other administration. This will help the people better understand their government and better make laws under the national initiative process.

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Reading, Mass.: Senator, you seemed flippant in a recent debate about your past history of bankruptcy. Why do credit card companies deserve to get stuck with your debt? You have lost my vote, senator.

Sen. Mike Gravel: Well, that's fine. I probably will lose a lot of votes. These credit cards are predators -- I received more credit card offers after I went bankrupt than before. I went bankrupt because I had a very bad year healthwise. You know, Harry Truman was bankrupt. So was Thomas Jefferson. I used the money not to buy a television set. I've never used my personal credit irresponsibly, I used it to keep the National Initiative alive, and when I fell ill I couldn't keep up with the payments and had to declare bankruptcy. If that irks you, don't vote for me and don't vote for the national initiatitive, because that's what that money was used for.

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Fort Worth, TX: Given that money breeds corruption in Washington, why do you want to put more money in Washington's hands through Universal Healthcare?

Sen. Mike Gravel: First off, you don't know my health care plan -- that's not it. Go to my Web site and look up the Healthcare Security System. You've got me confused with Dennis Kucinich.

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Vader, WA: Could your proposed health care vouchers be used for alternative medical treatments, such as naturopathy, homeopathy, acupuncture, or other treatments not recognized by the mainstream medical establishment?

Sen. Mike Gravel: Totally, totally. And preventive medicine. I'm very very much in favor of holistic health care.

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Washington: What steps would you take to prevent nuclear proliferation and encourage disarmament?

Sen. Mike Gravel: I would could lead by example, cut back unilaterally and encouarage others to do the same. We have more than we need to defend ourselves and can't identify any enemies we need to defend ourselves against.

I'm out of time, but thank you all for participating in the discussion today.

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