Mike Gravel Biography

(United States Senator from Alaska (1969-1981))

Birthday: May 13, 1930 (Taurus)

Born In: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Maurice Robert "Mike" Gravel is a veteran American politician. He became member of the Alaska House of Representatives from the 8th district and served as Speaker of the Alaska House. He also remained United States Senator from Alaska for over a decade. During his tenure at the Senate, Gravel gained attention as a political figure for forcefully attempting, however remaining unsuccessful, in ending the draft at the time of the War in Vietnam, and for his role in releasing the Pentagon Papers. He remained instrumental in obtaining approval of Congress for the Trans-Alaska pipeline. He ran for US president as member of Democratic Party during the 2008 and 2020 United States presidential elections. The outspoken debate appearances of Gravel during his 2008 presidential campaign garnered him national attention and internet following. He founded the eponymous progressive think tank called ‘The Gravel Institute’ and advocates for direct democracy and National Initiative.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Maurice Robert Gravel

Died At Age: 91


Spouse/Ex-: Whitney Stewart Gravel, Rita Martin (1959-1981)

father: Alphonse Gravel

mother: Marie Bourassa

children: Lynne Denise Gravel, Martin Anthony Gravel

Born Country: United States

Political Leaders American Men

Died on: June 26, 2021

place of death: Seaside, California, United States

Cause of Death: Multiple Myeloma

Ideology: Democrats

U.S. State: Massachusetts

City: Springfield, Massachusetts

More Facts

education: Columbia University

Childhood & Early Life

Maurice Robert "Mike" Gravel was born on May 13, 1930 in Springfield, Massachusetts, as one of the five children of Alphonse and Marie (née Bourassa) Gravel, French-Canadian immigrants of the Quebec diaspora. He studied in parochial schools as a Roman Catholic and finished his elementary education in 1945.

He later studied at the Assumption Preparatory School in Worcester, Massachusetts, and completed his graduation in 1949. Thereafter he enrolled at Assumption College, however took transfer for his sophomore year to American International College in Springfield.

He enlisted in the US Army for a three-year term in around May 1951. In early 1952, Gravel graduated as a second lieutenant. He served as a Special Adjutant in the Army's Communications Intelligence Service in Stuttgart, West Germany for almost a year and was then transferred to Orléans, France where till 1954 he served as a Special Agent in the Counterintelligence Corps. He later became a first lieutenant.

After serving the US Army, Gravel studied economics at the Columbia University School of General Studies in New York City, and obtained his B.S. degree in 1956. He relocated to New York "flat broke" and did several odd jobs to sustain himself. He left the Catholic religion during this period.

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Relocation To Alaska

Gravel shifted to pre-statehood Alaska in August 1956. There he worked as a brakeman for the Alaska Railroad and eventually became a real estate developer. He opened a small ground-floor real estate office in downtown Anchorage (center) called M. R. Gravel Real Estate Company.He became part of the Alaska-based congregation called Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and has maintained an intermittent relationship with it all through his life.

By October 1957, Gravel was serving as a Division Chairman for Anchorage for the Democratic Central Committee and by June the following year, he was serving as president of the Alaska Young Democrats organization. He remained actively involved with the United States Junior Chamber and conducted national Jaycee tour in 1958 supporting free enterprise and tax reform. He also advocated for Alaskan statehood and unsuccessfully ran for a Third Division seat in House of Representative of the territorial legislature as Democratic Party primary candidate.

In 1960, he unsuccessfully ran for the City Council in Anchorage. He thrived as a real estate agent and following the election he became a property developer. He was however forced out in 1962 after a partner ran into financial difficulty.


Gravel became Member of the Alaska House of Representatives from the 8th district and assumed office on January 28, 1963. He served as a minority member on Commerce, and Labor and Management committees of the House. He was re-elected in 1964 and held office till January 22, 1967. The act that formed the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights was co-authored and sponsored by him.

He played an instrumental role in coming up with the law that formed a regional high school system that gave the indigenous peoples of Alaska the opportunity to study at schools near their residences instead of going to the lower 48 states to attend schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

He served as 3rd Speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives from January 25, 1965 to January 22, 1967.

Gravel ran for his party's nomination to the US Senate in 1968 and won the general election on November 5, 1968 to become United States Senator from Alaska. He assumed office on January 3, 1969 and served for over a decade till January 3, 1981. Honouring Gravel’s request, he was given a seat on the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee that among other things dealt with Alaskan issues.

During his tenure as Senator, Gravel remained part of Public Works Committee and became chair of its Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds in 1971, chair of its Subcommittee on Water Resources by 1973, and later chair of its Subcommittee on Environmental Pollution.

He also remained member of Select Committee on Small Business however by 1973 he left it as well as the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee and became a member of Finance Committee. He became chairperson of the latter’s Subcommittee on Energy and Foundations by 1977. Meanwhile by 1973, he joined the ad hoc Special Committee to Study Secret and Confidential Government Documents.

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He opposed the "Milrow" and "Cannikin" tests and in 1971 voted against the anti-ballistic missile system called Safeguard Program. Gravel also publicly opposed national policy for peaceful use of atomic energy and criticised the United States Congress Joint Committee on Atomic Energy and the Atomic Energy Commission.

Gravel came up with a legislation to recognize and normalize relations with China, six months prior to the July 1971 secret mission of US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the People's Republic of China. The legislation included proposal for unity talks between People's Republic of China and Republic of China (Taiwan) on Chinese position on U.N. Security Council.

As a Senator, Gravel emerged among the most outspoken critics of Vietnam War and gained national attention for his aggressive approach in ending conscription in the US, commonly referred as the draft, during the war. His unsuccessful attempts in such pursuit included trying to filibuster the draft renewal legislation by staging a one-man filibuster for five months, halt conscription, and directly force a rapid end to the war. The Senate witnessed a prolonged battle and finally cloture was achieved over the filibuster in September 1971 and the draft renewal bill was approved.

Gravel also made headlines for his role in release of the Pentagon Papers. He put the papers into public record at his own risk by reading out portions of it in a meeting of Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds that he chaired. He entered 4,100 pages of the papers into Congressional Record of his subcommittee on June 29, 1971, and these portions were subsequently published on October 22 that year by Beacon Press, a department of Unitarian Universalist Association. Gravel was a member of the latter. This four-volume set is referred as the "Senator Gravel Edition".

Gravel endorsed Maine Senator Ed Muskie during the 1972 US presidential election and conducted an unusual and active campaign for the Democratic nomination for Vice President of the US. The following year, Gravel played a vital role in getting approval of Congress for the Trans-Alaska pipeline.

He was re-elected to the Senate in 1974, however campaign for the re-election left Gravel $65,000-$75,000 in debt. Reportedly Gravel undertook a fundraising strategy to tackle the situation. He slowly alienated his Alaskan constituents and although he ran for a third term in the Senate in 1980, he lost in the Democratic primary election.

After leaving the Senate, Gravel returned to business ventures, however suffered both corporate and personal bankruptcies amidst poor health.

He advocates direct democracy and National Initiative and founded and led ‘The Democracy Foundation’ and set up Philadelphia II corporation after re-entering politics in 1989.

He declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the 2008 US presidential election during a speech to the National Press Club on April 17, 2006, and began his campaign. Although his aggressive, humorous, politically unorthodox and outspoken debate appearances during 2007 gained Gravel an Internet following and national attention, he failed to win any delegates in the 2008 Democratic caucuses and primaries.

On March 25, 2008, he made an announcement of leaving the Democratic Party and joining the Libertarian Party. Next day he joined the race for 2008 Libertarian presidential nomination and aimed at including the National Initiative into the Libertarian Platform. He however failed in both of his endeavours at the Libertarian National Convention of 2008. That year he received the first annual Isaac Asimov Lifetime Achievement Award conferred by Columbia University School of General Studies. Eventually Gravel started serving as an executive for a marijuana products company.

On March 19, 2019, the 2020 presidential campaign of Gravel began with formation of an exploratory committee. A statement of organization was filed with the Federal Elections Commission on April 2, 2019, for Gravel to officially run for the presidency. Initially Gravel’s intention was not to win the nomination but to qualify for debates. Although the donor threshold required to qualify for the second of the Democratic Party debates was attained by Gravel, he failed to meet the polling threshold and was thus not invited. His campaign officially ended on August 6, 2019.

He founded ‘The Gravel Institute’, the eponymous progressive think, with the funds remaining from his 2020 presidential campaign.

Gravel authored and co-authored several books, two of which are ‘Jobs and More Jobs’ (1968) and ‘Citizen Power: A Mandate for Change’ (2008).

Family & Personal Life

On April 29, 1959, Gravel married Rita Jeannette Martin. Their son Martin Anthony Gravel and daughter Lynne Denise Gravel were born in 1960 and 1962 respectively. The couple separated in December 1980 and filed for divorce in September 1981.

Gravel later married Whitney Stewart Gravel in 1984. The two shifted from Arlington County, Virginia to Burlingame, California in 2010.Since 1998, income of Whitney has sustained the couple. Gravel declared personal bankruptcy in 2004 and "zero net worth" in 2007.

Grandchildren of Gravel include Madison and Macenzie through Lynne; and Renée and Alex through Martin.

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