Monday, August 20, 2007
photo by Katelyn Gendron-List
Presidential candidates don't bother much to come to Western Massachusetts. Our primary means very little to most of them – so little that only Dennis Kucinich was the only one to show up during the last election. John Kerry, who never comes here, couldn't have been bothered to make even a token appearance.
What makes the situation worse is that few members of the press decided to cover this story. Say what you might want to about Gravel's candidacy, he is a real candidate and he has some very interesting ideas. He, like Ron Paul, is being cast as the comic relief in this race. While the national press can play such nasty and counter-productive games I'd like to think on a local level we would be different, but apparently we're not.
I was the only print reporter to make use of the offer for time. No radio showed up and I know of only one TV station that did a story. This is disgraceful. This is real news and is not the slop I see taking up so much of the space in the local daily and so much of the time on the television stations.
Gravel is a gracious smart guy and I could have spoken with him much longer.
WEST SPRINGFIELD – Western Massachusetts isn’t a typical destination for candidates seeking their party’s nomination. In the last election only Congressman Dennis Kucinich campaigned here briefly.
For Senator Mike Gravel, though, visiting Western Massachusetts was more about coming home than winning over voters.
Gravel was in the area on Wednesday, hosted by his long-time friend former Hampden County Commissioner Richard Thomas. Thomas and Gravel are childhood friends, having known each other since age five when they grew up in the Brightwood section of Springfield.
Although his day was dedicated to visiting the city of his birth, a tour that was covered by an author who is working on a biography of Gravel, the former senator from Alaska took time to meet with Reminder Publications.
Another childhood friend, Morris Archambeault of Chicopee, joined Gravel and the senator recalled with obvious fondness that living near Moore Drop Force was like “watching the Fourth of July every night.”
At ease in Thomas’s backyard, Gravel was clearly passionate about his campaign and issues, but frequently broke into a smile.
His fellow candidates have tried keeping him out of debates and forums. The media wants to characterize him as the comic relief of the Democratic primary process. Gravel, though, is taking it all in stride and continuing to speak out on the issues.
He insists that he is “not tilting at windmills” and although he has not been treated fairly in many debates, those in which he has appeared he said, “There’s no question I can hold my own.”
Although Gravel is not a front-runner, according to a number of polls listed on PollingReport.com he is within a percentage point or two of in a pack of fellow candidates that includes Kucinich, Senator Christopher Dodd, D-Connecticut, Senator Joseph Biden, D-Maryland and Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico.
He characterized Kucinich as “a good guy, but he doesn’t take names.” Gravel said he isn’t afraid to directly attack the policies of his fellow candidates.
In a race that has been characterized by how much money has been raised by candidates, Gravel said that his level of contributions has been “modest” because the funding comes from individuals who believe in what he says, rather than from larger contributors.
He referenced a recent article in the “New York Times” that reported that 69 percent of the contributions going to Senator Barack Obama, D-Illinois, have more than $500 and 89 percent of Hillary Clinton’s contributions have been over that amount as well.
He has had to fight to be treated like any other candidate. He noted he was cut out of several forums and debates and has only been reinstated when there was pressure placed on the sponsoring organizations such as CNN, the “Manchester (NH) Union-Leader,” and Moveon.org. He said being barred from the recent AFL-CIO sponsored forum that “was an embarrassment to the AFL-CIO.”
“I enjoyed 100 percent labor backing when I was in office,” he added.
Like his fellow candidates, Gravel is running on his legislature record. He served as a senator from Alaska from 1969 to 1981. During that time, he led the legislative effort to force the Nixon Administration to end the draft. He read sections of the Pentagon papers on the floor of the senate touching off a court battle on the public’s right to know that ultimately was settled by the Supreme Court in his favor.
Gravel said that today “representative government is broken.” He wants to empower the American people to have a larger role in governing themselves and he added Congress must evolve to become more responsible to the people. He supports the National Initiative for Democracy that would, if enacted, allow for federal referendums. This provision would give citizens the ability to enact legislation without having to go through Congress.
The former senator doesn’t mince his words when discussing the current front-runner Senator Hillary Clinton, D-New York. He called her a “sell-out.”
He was highly critical of former President Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council.
“This [today’s Democratic party] is not the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt,” he said. The rich, he added, just get richer.
“We lionize Bill Clinton,” he said. “Those were the good old days, but only because we compare them to the worst president in American history [George W. Bush].”
“I’m not afraid to take them on,” he said of the rest of the candidates who haven‘t called for an immediate end to the war in Iraq like he has. He said they “want to continue the war under a different name.”
If elected Gravel would bring home American forces from Iraq within 120 days.
“Anyone [of the candidates] who voted for the war should be eliminated,” he said.
Although Gravel does not favor rescinding NAFTA, he does believe it needs to be radically changed and said this nation as well as Mexico and Canada have lost jobs because of it.
He believes America can see resurgence in manufacturing by concentrating on developing and making products for a greener society. As president he would work for a “carbon tax.” A tax on carbon at the source would spur the growth of wind energy, liquid hydrogen and the redevelopment of the nation’s transportation infrastructure.
As far as tax reform goes, Gravel said he would eliminate the Internal Revenue Service and the income tax. In its place he would substitute a national sales tax at 23 percent with no deductions or loopholes. Part of his plan would be a monthly “prebate” that would be sent to individuals to offset the cost of clothes, medicine, lodging and food.
With a national dropout rate of 30 percent, Gravel is calling for year-round public education.
“How can you be productive when you have a capital asset [such as a school] being unused?” he asked.
His views on education triggered an exclusion from an event sponsored by the National Education Association.
Despite the obstacles he’s facing that other candidates are not, Gravel said he is “speaking as loud as I can.”
For more information on Gravel’s positions, log onto www.gravel2008.us.
©2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs