DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: What's your first political memory, going way back?
GRAVEL: I was a soda jerk. I was 15 years old. And the fellow who owned the pharmacy that I worked in was a political important person in our neighborhood -- French-Canadian neighborhood.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: In Massachusetts?
GRAVEL: In Massachusetts; Springfield, Massachusetts. And so a lot of people, my dad being one of them, who wasn't very good in English, he would go to Philip Irod [phon.] at Irod's Drug Store and Irod would hold fort at a table, one table where people could eat, and he would do the political number. He'd help people and then of course come election time he'd call you on the telephone and be sure you get out and vote and vote for such and such.
Well somebody, a Democrat from Boston, was in, running for state office, and he came to Philip and he said Phil I'd like your help. And he say you know anybody who'd be a good worker? So he [Phil] points to me and he says that young man has got personality and he's got some get up and go, and I think he'll help you. So he comes up to me, hands me a sheaf of paper to take to various doors. Now of course politicians know you hand those out, they wind up in the gutter many times. So he gives me these sheafs and here's a guy from Boston who's running for office. I'm impressed. And so I take those papers and I diligently pass them out in the neighborhood that he assigned to me. He comes back about a month later, he says young man -- and he puts $10 in my hand, and he says young man I want you to do some more. And I look at $10. Well I'm a soda jerk, 15 years old; $10 is a lot of money. But more importantly it was the recognition by people above [inaud.]. So the first instance I recall was (1) recognition and (2) just being honored by being recognized.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Do you remember the name of that candidate?
GRAVEL: God no. Mahoney...or it was an Irish name. I'm French-Canadian; I'm American but my parents are French Canadian.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Anything earlier than that?
GRAVEL: I don't recall; I don't recall. I was always concerned about, in grade school, about issues because I cared about people. At a later time I once got into a real fist fight because somebody was picking on a friend of mine. And so I was pugnacious when I was a kid?
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: What prompted you to move to Alaska?
GRAVEL: I wanted to run for the United States Senate and I figured that that was the best place to do it. I had done research in two areas, one was New Mexico and Alaska. I'm not keen on warm weather, and so I picked Alaska. I come from New England.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Talk about when you arrived in Alaska.
GRAVEL: Well I drove my brother's car up there, and I couldn't afford a pack of cigaretts when I got there. I ate peanut butter sandwiches on the way up, bought a loaf of bread and peanut butter because I was saving myself for the gas. And so when I got there I was selling real estate at 9 o'clock the next morning. I got there on a Sunday afternoon. Nine o'clock in the morning I was selling real estate.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: You had a job lined up?
GRAVEL: No I didn't have a job lined up. At a gas station when we were getting gas, I says where are some jobs. I was ready to do anything. I'd been a bar boy, I'd been a brakeman. You know I've got no qualms; when you need work, you go work.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: So selling real estate, you did that for some years?
GRAVEL: No I did that for about, oh, 5-6 months and the snow, the winter in Alaska--real estate plumetted. So I then got a job on the Alaska railroad as a brakeman throughout the winter and then in the spring I opened my own real estate office, and then went from sales to development and made enough in development-- I was in the right place at the right time with a subdivision in the Kenai and made enough money to run for the Congress and had friends that would support me.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: You served in the state legislature too.
GRAVEL: Yes I did. I was elected; I ran--on the third time; it took me the third time to get elected.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: What about your first race did you make some big mistakes on that or--?
GRAVEL: Oh, God did I make big mistakes--is the Pope Catholic? No I made lots of mistakes... You know one of the great things of running for office is when you make mistakes, you learn. When you win, straight out, you never learn from winning; you learn from mistakes and that's been the story of my life.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Well let me ask you about your third Senate race; what happened there? Why weren't you re-elected?
GRAVEL: Well for the very simple reason that I'd slowly alienated with my independence or maverick attitude almost all of the people who had supported me before. Secondly, I didn't really want to run, but I had no place to go to and so I just went along and raised the money to run. I really had in mind, since I was the sponsor of the Alaska General Stock Ownership Corporation, to after I got elected to resign my seat and take that organization over. Now that's a whole other area that we don't have time to go into, but I'm very strong on binary economics. I could characterize it this way. We need to have a process where the profits of capital pay for the capital. That's what we need and Louis Kelso was the pioneer in that area. He's the one that invented ESOPs. [binary economics: 1, 2]
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: This idea of direct democracy, when did you first become aware of that?
GRAVEL: I was grappling with that in 1971 when I'd only been in Congress two years.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: You wrote a book?
GRAVEL: Oh yeah, called Citizen Power [Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972], and I grappled with it in there, very much so, and, but then I left the Senate. I was disgusted, unhappy with everything, myself included, and then just stayed out of the limelight for a decade, studied, read, tried to make a living and you know corporations don't go out and hire mavericks when you get out of office. Didn't want to lobby. So I'm entrepreneurial, obviously, I'm entrepreneurial politically.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Did this idea of running for president just occur to you when you woke up one morning and looked in the mirror.
GRAVEL: No, that gentleman sitting right there called me a year ago February--his name is Jeff Peters [>]--and he said, Mike, the only way you're going to make the national initiative known, you're going to have to run for president. And I says you're out of your mind. In no way, shape do I want to run for president. And about five months later I came to the conclusion that it is the only way I'm going to bring--
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: How'd you come to that conclusion though?
GRAVEL: Just reasoning that we haven't been able to make this known because of the media.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: The folks who have really influenced you...as you look back at your career--are there one or two persons who you'd point to who may not be known to other folks?
GRAVEL: The greatest political personage for me in all of history is George Washington, all of history.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Personally--
GRAVEL: Personally. Yes a brother at Assumption Prep School. I'm a dyslexic and so I always had trouble getting educated, getting grades. This brother focused on me, taught me elocution, really gave me a lot of attention and took me from a C, C-minus student to a B-plus student, and did it with personal, late hours, late hours. And such dedication as a teacher. You know we're all fortunate if we can get one good teacher in our life and I got one good teacher and his name is Edgar Bourque [phon.]; he was a brother, became a priest and since deceased.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: How about someone more recently, when you served in the Senate?
GRAVEL: I was very close to Bill Fulbright, Ed Muskie, Jake Javits--Jake Javits and I were good friends. Who else? I was a seatmate of John Glenn for a number of years, but we--I respect him.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Do you see yourself on January 20, 2009 in the Oval Office?
GRAVEL: I sure do.
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