ANCHORAGE - Former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel, who hasn't been seen much in Alaska in the past quarter century, brought his presidential hopes to Anchorage on Monday along with a call for changes in how America is governed.
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Gravel, 77, the last Democrat sent by Alaskans to Congress, wants U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq, a "corrupt" tax system replaced with a national sales tax and a government levy on coal, oil and other carbon fuels as a step toward curbing global warming.
No matter who is elected president, Gravel said, change is not possible without making Congress share its power to make laws. So his most fundamental issue is putting lawmaking into the hands of the electorate through a national initiative process.
"Then I would provide the leadership and put issues before them," he said.
Gravel spoke at luncheon gathering of Commonwealth North, a group that discusses and seeks solutions to Alaska public policy issues.
Gravel, missing from the Alaska scene political scene since 1981, was never short of unconventional solutions while in office.
Gravel served two terms as a state representative, including one as House speaker, in the mid-1960s. In 1968, he defeated incumbent Ernest Gruening in the Democratic primary on his way to a U.S. Senate Seat.
Gravel served two terms until he was beaten in the 1980 Democratic primary by Gruening's grandson, Clark Gruening. Gravel afterward moved out of state and currently lives in Virginia.
He served in Washington, D.C., during the tumultuous years for Alaska when Congress was deciding how to settle Native land claims and whether to classify enormous amounts of federal land as parks, preserves and monuments.
Gravel had the unenviable position of being an Alaska Democrat when some Alaskans were burning President Jimmy Carter in effigy for his Alaska land withdrawals.
Gravel feuded with Alaska's other senator, Ted Stevens, on the land matter, preferring to fight land withdrawals and rejecting Stevens' advocacy for a compromise.
Gravel worked to end the military draft. He read the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record. And he was not shy about promoting big ideas.
After his ouster by Alaska voters, Gravel barely returned to his adopted state. But as a presidential hopeful, he has reinvigorated his reputation as a maverick, asking questions that make other Democrats squirm.
Gravel said he's often asked about a solution for Iraq.
"There is no solution," he said. "The mistake was made the day George Bush invaded Iraq."
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