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Mike Gravel on Government Reform

Libertarian for President; Former Democratic Senator (AK)


Secrecy makes democracy a sham

[In releasing the secret Pentagon Papers in 1971, I said]: “Free and informed public debate is the source of our strength. Remove it and our democratic institutions become a sham. The American people should not be expected to offer their support merely o the word of a President.”

[In a 1972 speech, I said], “Our nation was founded at town meetings, where all citizens had a voice in the decisions of government. But the center of decision-making has escaped the people, and has even moved beyond Congress. With its ability to define state secrets, the executive has assumed unprecedented power. The widespread and uncontrolled abuse of secrecy has fostered distrust and division between the government and its people. Separated from the public by a wall of secrecy and their desire for power, leaders have failed to heed the people. The barriers of secrecy have allowed the national security apparatus to exclude those who question dogma. The result has been a failure to give serious attention to alternatives.

Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p. 37-38 May 2, 2008

Presidents often tend toward monarchy, especially during war

The United States was founded after a violent rebellion and insurgency against a repressive kingdom and empire. The revolution wasn’t just against the British kingdom, but against monarchy itself.

Some presidents, like Nixon & Bush, have found it hard to resist the temptation toward monarchy. None have dared conjure an emergency to suspend the Constitution. They have just worked around it.

There’s a long tradition of accusing presidents of acting like monarchs: Andrew Jackson was called “King Andrew the First,” and Dubya’s been dubbed “King George.” But the worst executive abuses have naturally come during war.

The people’s representatives have let us down, representing not their interests but their elite backers instead. The people are without the kind of Congress or a press it would need to defend itself. Both have been hijacked. Just look at how poorly Congress, the courts, and the media confined George W. Bush to his constitutional role.

Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p. 44-45 May 2, 2008

1972: Senate presented evidence for 1st time in Gravel case

[During Gravel’s 1972 defense before the Supreme Court for releasing the Pentagon Papers], for the first time in history, the US Senate represented itself in the Supreme Court chamber. Sam Ervin (D-NC) and William Saxbe (R-OH) both made it clear they weren’t there to defend me, or my cause. Ervin said, “The US Senate takes the position that the Constitution’s ‘Speech or Debate’ clause says to the other branches of the government, ‘You must keep off this legislative grass.’ Senator Gravel is not accountable to the judicial branch. Even if Senator Gravel may have violated Senate rulings and acted improperly, that is a matter for the judgment of the Senate.“

Saxbe suggested that the Senate, but no other branch, could investigate who gave me the Pentagon Papers. He even said the Senate could turn me in if it determined I’d committed a crime. Saxbe was engaging in fantasy. The Senate never investigated me.

Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p. 57-68 May 2, 2008

1972: Lost Supreme Court case, United States v. Gravel

The Court’s ruling in United States v. Gravel came down June 29, 1972, a year from the night I read the Pentagon Papers into the record. The Court would essentially answer the question: Was publication by Beacon Press a legislative act or not?

We had maintained that informing constituents is a protected legislative act. But we lost, 5-4. The real stinger was that the decision also said both [my Senate aide] Rodberg and I were liable to be criminally indicted. I lost the case.

But all 9 justices reaffirmed that under the Speech and Debate Clause I could say whatever I wanted, even read a top-secret document, as long as it was part of a legislative act. But the minute I stepped out of the Capitol grounds onto the street and uttered the same words in an act not related to legislative procedure I could be indicted if it were deemed a crime. Both Rodberg and I were on the hook. We were only saved by the gravity of Nixon’s crimes [in Watergate, which came to light that same summer]

Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p. 58-63 May 2, 2008

Senators can & should reveal secret war plans with impunity

The significance today of my 1972 Supreme Court case could not be greater. In April 2007, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, said about Iraq WMD evidence, “In the Intelligence Committee we were sworn to secrecy. We can’t walk out the door and say, ‘The statement made yesterday by the White House is in direct contradiction to classified information that’s being given to this Congress.’ We can’t do that.”

Durbin is dead wrong. If his staff had only researched my case he could have indeed walked out that door and onto the Senate floor and spoke his mind about the lies the administration were weaving about Iraq. Had he and other senators done so, a catastrophe may have been averted. Instead, as Durbin said: “I listened to this heated debate about invading Iraq, thinking the American people are being misled. I didn’t feel at the time that the American people knew the real facts.” If only Durbin had recognized his rights and dared to act.

Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p. 64-65 May 2, 2008

I hate government secrecy; it only protects government

I hate secrecy in government. The Constitution mentions secrecy once and it refers to Congress, not the executive: “Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy.” For the most part, government officials classify information “secret” because they screw up and need to cover their butts. It is especially unconscionable if the screw-ups led to millions of deaths, the chemical defoliation of rainforests, and the obliteration of billions of dollars of someone else’s property. It rarely has anything to do with the security of the nation. The term “national security” which has been so bandied about, especially since the Nixon era, is a canard. It really depends on whose security we’re talking about.Mostly it’s job security for government officials and politicians.
Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p. 66 May 2, 2008

Use political power to accomplish something

I was very aggressive from the start [after being elected to the Alaska legislature at age 32]. I fought ferociously on the first piece of legislation I ever wrote, a medical reform bill. But a doctor’s group lobbied against it and I was defeated. The Speaker of the House gave me a simple piece of advice: before you fight, count the votes. If you don’t have them, don’t fight. I never took the advice, but I thought it was interesting. Most people believe if you spend political capital, you lose it. I found the more you spend the more you get. You have to risk capital to accomplish something, and once you do, people look to you to lead. Power wasn’t something to accrue for its own sake. It was to use to achieve things.
Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p.143 May 2, 2008

FISA was created to check abuse of power

The 1968 Senate Church committee estimated that more than half a million Americans had an intelligence file. At the urging of his Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, and Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, Western Union, RCA, and ITT participated in the spying but didn’t have to testify to the committee.

“Domestic intelligence activity has threatened and undermined the Constitutional rights of Americans to free speech, association and privacy,” the Church Committee’s final report said. “It has done so primarily because the Constitutional system for checking abuse of power has not been applied.“ The Congressional investigations resulted in laws prohibiting the assassination of foreign leaders and the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The executive branch is supposed to get permission from this special court before it can engage in surveillance. We saw how effective this law was after September 11, 2001: not very.

Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p.195-196 May 2, 2008

Public taxpayer funding for federal candidates

Source: Presidential Election 2008 Political Courage Test Apr 22, 2008

Incumbents blocking FEC matching funds for other candidates

The White House and Senate are caught up in a cynical game of who blinks first when it comes to making appointments to head the Federal Election Commission, said Senator Mike Gravel. The FEC is the federal agency tasked with enforcing campaign laws and investigating violations.

“This is politics as usual,” said Gravel. “The FEC has been effectively neutered with respect to policing the entire 2008 election cycle.” More precisely, added Gravel, Sen. Barack Obama is one of the senators who has a hold on these appointments. With only two members, the six-member commission is two votes short of the quorum it needs. As a result, the FEC is unable to certify public funding for presidential candidates. The agency is also unable to investigate allegations of campaign finance violations.

“The two major parties in Washington could resolve this impasse,’ said Gravel. ”But it now appears that their power is being abused to prevent any other presidential candidates from getting a fair shake.“

Source: Press release, “Power Politics As America Burns” Apr 2, 2008

Public empowerment appeals to progressives & libertarians

His “National Initiative for Democracy” forms the core of Gravel’s politics. Gravel declares, in language to set many a progressive heart beating: “The central power of government in a democracy is lawmaking--not voting. Governments throughout history have been tools of oppression; they need not be.” He then, however, adds this caveat: “American citizens can gain control of their government by becoming lawmakers and turning its purpose to public benefit, and stemming government growth.”

It’s this kind of rhetoric that is winning Gravel fans among libertarians. The idea of direct democracy might have broad appeal to an electorate sick of a political system mired in soft money, corporate cronyism, and partisan gridlock. Nearly half the states already have procedures for initiative, referendum, and recall, and California citizens are fiercely attached to their ballot box veto power. In one sense, then, Gravel is just trying to spread this already popular concept to the federal level.

Source: The Contenders, by Laura Flanders, p.195-196 Nov 11, 2007

National Initiative criticized as public opinion bureaucracy

The system Gravel proposes to create as a result of the Constitutional amendment suggests its own bureaucratic quagmire. For example, Gravel would have people propose a law through petition, or have it brought forward by a state legislature.

However, he also added the idea of considering laws backed by a public opinion poll. But opinion polls can easily be manipulated by the people who pay for them.

Gravel insists the initiative process is “not intended to replace existing government, but to supplement it.“ Gravel’s National Initiative would be carried out by an Electoral Trust, with one member elected at large from each state and a director appointed by the board of trustees. This Electoral Trust in effect creates a new political bureaucrac of people who can draft laws, operate a communications system, set up committees and run hearings. Like the Federal Reserve System, it lies outside the federal government structure, and is not appointed by or beholden to the president.

Source: The Contenders, by Laura Flanders, p.196 Nov 11, 2007

Americans are getting fatter & dumber; must get empowered!

Q: Since 1980, the percentage of Americans who are obese has risen steadily to an all-time high, and things were getting worse. In addition, SAT scores have declined and 38% of 4th-graders aren’t able to read. Would you be willing to tell Americans that they’re getting fatter and dumber?

A: Well, first off, I am prepared to tell you that Americans are getting fatter and dumber. I have no problem saying that. I’ve also said that the Americans are going to get the government they deserve. And so, if things are going bad, just remember who put these people in power. What I’m trying to say to you Americans, and that is you have to become empowered. You’re too busy trusting your leaders, thinking they’re going to do the job for you. They’ve proven they cannot do the job, whether it’s war, whether it’s education, whether it’s health care. Please go to NationalInitiative.us and vote to empower yourself. Because that is the only answer. Representative government and our government is broken.

Source: Huffington Post Mash-Up: 2007 Democratic on-line debate Sep 13, 2007

Asks candidates to pledge to use existing public finance law

My colleagues have all said that they want public financing. They can do this right now. I asked for a pledge from all of them to immediately obey the law we have on the books to use public financing. They can store their money, their millions, for the general election. But right now, in the primaries, why can’t they say what they promised and they said they’re for? Otherwise, it means there’s a little hypocrisy abroad here.
Source: 2007 Democratic primary debate on “This Week” Aug 19, 2007

When you use political capital, more capital flows your way

On my first piece of legislation, I fought hard, I used political capital. And what I learned is that when you use political capital, more capital comes to you.

I was a state representative. And that first year, as a freshman, when they say, “Oh, I can’t use my capital, because I’ve got bigger things to do.” I’ll tell you what I found out in life as a political leader -- use your capital, because more is going to flow your way. Because when you win, then more capital comes over the side for you.

Source: 2007 HRC/LOGO debate on gay issues Aug 9, 2007

Obama avoids PAC money, but takes lobbyists’ bundled money

OBAMA: [to Gravel]: We don’t just need a change in political parties in Washington. We’ve got to have a change in attitudes of those who are representing the people. And part of the reason I don’t take PAC money, I don’t take federal lobbyists’ money is because we’ve got to get the national interests up front as opposed to the special interests.

GRAVEL: Barack Obama says he doesn’t take money from lobbyists. Well, he has 134 bundlers. Now, what does he think that is? And, besides that, he has received $195,000 from the head of a foreign-owned bank who has lobbyists in Washington.

OBAMA: Well, the fact is I don’t take PAC money and I don’t take lobbyists’ money. And the bundlers--the reason you know who is raising money for me, Mike, is because I have pushed through a law this past session to disclose that. And that’s the kind of leadership that I’ve shown in the Senate. And that’s the kind of leadership that I’ll show as president of the United States.

Source: 2007 YouTube Democratic Primary debate, Charleston SC Jul 23, 2007

Without paper ballots, they’ll steal the next election too

Q: What would you do to ensure that all Americans are able to cast a free and unfettered vote and that that vote be counted?

A: We can talk about voting rights, but the basic power you have is the power to vote and I have fear right now that when we go into the general election, that they’re going to steal it one more time. Pass all the laws you want. They’ll still steal it. We have to got to get paper ballots for this next election, period. Forget all these machines.

Source: 2007 NAACP Presidential Primary Forum Jul 12, 2007

Congress is Constitutionally more powerful than President

How do you get [bills] passed over a presidential veto? What we have to do is show that the Congress, under the Constitution, is more powerful than the Executive. We have not seen that for a long time. Only the Congress can make law. What the Congress should do, is introduce legislation. It’ll be filibustered in the Senate. Fine; call up a cloture vote on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday, and you keep calling up a cloture vote every single day, until you override the opposition. It’ll take 20 days--
Source: Take Back America 2007 Conference Jun 19, 2007

Congress is Constitutionally more powerful than President

you’ll watch these people turn in front of you--they’ll wither on the vine.

It’ll be vetoed by the president. We expect that. You’ve got to get 2/3 in the House and 2/3 in the Senate. Generally what you hear is, you have an override vote, “oh, we can’t override it,” so we quit. No way. You have on override vote on Monday, on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday Friday Saturday. and no weekends off, and no vacations, they just stay there. I guarantee you, in 45 days, [any bill] would be passed into law.

Source: Take Back America 2007 Conference Jun 19, 2007

People protest because they cannot participate in power

You want to Take Back America? It’s not just taking power for us, the activists; it’s taking power for the people. It’s a shift of power from the elites. You hear “Take back the power,” but Americans never had it. The Constitution is not a very democratic document. Because of slavery, we pushed the people aside, so they don’t have lawmaking power today. In 24 states, over half the American population makes laws at the state level. Why not at the federal level?

Source: Take Back America 2007 Conference Jun 19, 2007

People protest because they cannot participate in power

We need a system where the people can make laws [by national ballot initiative]. That will free up the representatives to do a better job on the day-to-day operations of government.

Freedom is participation in power, but the American people cannot participate except once every 2 years or 4 years. In the meantime, they go protest. Whenever I see a protest, I see that our democracy is not yet fully mature. Freedom is sharing power, and we don’t have enough power.

Source: Take Back America 2007 Conference Jun 19, 2007

Institute healtharereforms by people’s National Initiative

Q: How would you institute healthcare reform without Congress?

A: I’m talking about using the National Initiative. I’ve copied the procedures that are used in the Congress and every legislative body in the world and I’ve put them into a law called the National Ballot Initiative. And that is to equip every single American to become lawmakers--to come into the operation of government as lawmakers and partners with their elected officials. We trust the people, rather than the politicians who say “I’m going to do the job for you.“ I’ve got news for you, can’t be done that way. And we have historic precedents to show it. And if that doesn’t convince you that we’re not going in the right direction electing various personalities president and thinking that’s going to make the change, I’ve got to tell you, the change lies with you, not the leadership. The leadership has been screwing up by the numbers for the last 50 years. Haven’t you had enough yet?

Source: SEIU Democratic Health Care Forum in Las Vegas Mar 24, 2007

I’ve got no money; of course I’m for campaign finance reform

Q: Is it time to come up with a public financing system that will ensure candidates are not selected solely based on how much money they can raise?

A: My God, he’s asking me that question? Of course! There’s nobody running in this race that’s got less money than I have. Make no mistake about it. The [other candidates] say, “we’re going to opt out of public funding.” Hey, I’m trying to opt in--and I need whatever you can give. I’ll take public funding. All I need is $10,000, and I can win with that.

Source: 2007 AFSCME Democratic primary debate in Carson City Nevada Feb 21, 2007

You can be empowered to vote on issues that affect your life

I don’t think it’s a big deal whether I get elected president or not. I think what is a big deal is that you become empowered to make laws. That’s what the Declaration of Independence is about--it’s lawmaking. Our founding fathers said we want to have th people make laws. But they pushed this aside so that people do not make laws today at the federal level, because of slavery. They made a compact with the devil, and we’ve paid for that ever since.

There is a law: NationalInitiative.us. You can vote for this legislation. It will take 60 million Americans to pass it into law, because the Congress will never pass this legislation, because people who acquire power are not wont to share it with the people they got it from, and that’s you.

If you want to empower yourself, you’re as qualified as any member of Congress to vote on issues that affect your lives. We can bring about, for the first time in US history, not only a government of and for the people, but we can bring about a government by the people

Source: 2007 AFSCME Democratic primary debate in Carson City Nevada Feb 21, 2007

Repeal the Electoral College; enact federal term limits

Source: Campaign website, www.gravel2008.us, “Issues” Dec 25, 2006

National Initiative to allow citizen law makers

We have the opportunity to raise our democratic ideals to new heights by enacting legislation--the National Initiative--that will bring American voters into the operations of government as lawmakers. American voters would empower themselves to legislate on policies that affect their lives, in a partnership with their elected officials. The enactment of the National Initiative would forever change the paradigm of human governance, adding a new check--We, the People--to our system of Checks and Balances.
Source: Speech at the N.H. Institute of Politics, Manchester NH Nov 1, 2006

Start with public financing of campaigns

The public is not going to receive the responsiveness it wants from government until candidates are freed from turning to wealthy private sources for financing needed to win and from the pressures of having to stay in good favor with those same monied interests to remain in office.

A people’s platform must insist on the public financing of elections. Only in this way can public officeholders be made responsible to the majority of citizens they supposedly represent.

Public subsidy of campaigns is not a new idea. In 1907 President Roosevelt recommended that political campaigns be paid for by public funds. His proposal was rejected in favor of a limitation and disclosure approach. However, limitation and disclosure are not sufficient by themselves. They may help control campaign costs and reveal where the money is raised, but they in no way address the problems of who puts up the money and what the contributor’s pay off will be.

Source: Citizen Power, by Sen. Mike Gravel, p. 24-27 Jan 1, 1972

Abolish voter registration as precondition for voting

The case for not ending voter registration rests is that election fraud will result. I call that proposition into question. In rural areas, registration was never required; many states were merely swept up in the registration crusade which was aimed at urban abuses. The experience of North Dakota, which has preserved its voter integrity for 20 years without registration, proves the feasibility of abolition.

States could continue to enroll voters just as they do now. However, if an individual fails to register before election day, he could sign an affidavit swearing he is a qualified voter in the precinct and that he has not voted elsewhere in the same election. He then would be allowed to vote, unless there was reason to doubt the sworn statement. In that instance, the voter would be required to cast a challenged ballot and before it could be counted, the same checks could be made as are used under present registration systems. In addition, election day should be declared a national holiday.

Source: Citizen Power, by Sen. Mike Gravel, p. 38-39 Jan 1, 1972

Replace electoral college with direct election

Citizen participation could be enhanced by abolishing the electoral college system in favor of direct popular election. The argument of those who are opposed only reveals the extent to which equilibrium has become the fundamental value in our system. They prophesy catastrophe for the two-party system which. They see the end of the electoral college as heralding the demise of moderate governments achieved by the politics of coalition.

The much-touted interest in preserving consensus politics cannot be squared with the people’s interest in free and public debate of genuinely alternative government actions. The people need representatives who will speak up for them in an adversary fashion against executive government, instead of politicians who subscribe to the philosophy of not rocking the boat in order to preserve their own power. Going along to get along hardly serves the public need for constructive political dialogue.

Source: Citizen Power, by Sen. Mike Gravel, p. 40-41 Jan 1, 1972

Other candidates on Government Reform: Mike Gravel on other issues:
Nominees:
GOP: Sen.John McCain
GOP V.P.: Gov.Sarah Palin
Democrat: Sen.Barack Obama
Dem.V.P.: Sen.Joe Biden

Third Parties:
Constitution: Chuck Baldwin
Libertarian: Rep.Bob Barr
Constitution: Amb.Alan Keyes
Liberation: Gloria La Riva
Green: Rep.Cynthia McKinney
Socialist: Brian Moore
Independent: Ralph Nader
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Page last updated: Feb 08, 2010