Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party Mike Gravel visited the University of Central Florida Friday to speak to students and the public about his views and his bid for the presidency.
Gravel, a former two-term Alaskan senator, spoke candidly about the Iraq war, immigration, the environment and other issues in a fiery, one-hour question-and-answer session held in the Math and Physics Building.
Gravel opened by saying that he could end the war in Iraq immediately.
"If I become president, it can be done in 120 days," Gravel said. "I can promise you that."
While Gravel remains unknown to many, he is famous for aiding in the release of the Pentagon Papers while serving in the Senate. He is also credited with helping to end the military draft during the Vietnam War by holding a five-month filibuster in 1971.
Gravel said that representative government is broken and that the only way it can be repaired is if the voters repair it.
Although the College Democrats and the Students for a Democratic Society hosted the event, Gravel's visit to UCF came about from the actions of a single student.
Evan Wyss, a 20-year-old Spanish major, said he first heard about Gravel during the early debates. Wyss said he liked Gravel's honesty, so he joined the e-mail list on his campaign Web site.
"I got an e-mail a couple of days before he was going to be in Tampa, and me and some friends drove out to see him," Wyss said. "We ended up meeting him and his campaign director, and then we kept in contact."
Wyss said that Gravel's campaign officials contacted him to let him know they were coming through Florida and would be willing to come to UCF if he could put it together.
"Once we got the room and the Facebook group, it really got the ball rolling," Wyss said. "I think it got up to 130 people on Facebook, and word-of-mouth helped as well."
Ryan Bernis, a 22-year-old marketing major, attended the event after hearing about it through friends and Facebook.
"Young people have a big voice in politics today," Bernis said, "and it's refreshing to see someone that has our views in mind."
Gravel repeatedly stressed the importance of education and said that the U.S. is falling behind other countries including Spain, Denmark and Finland.
"We need to recognize that one-third of our children do not graduate from high school," Gravel said. "We're not doing so great, and we need to recognize that fact."
Ben King, director of marketing for the College Democrats, said that he agreed with many of Gravel's points.
"I liked his views on the war on drugs and the war in Iraq," King said. "I may not agree with him on everything, but he made a lot of valid points."
Gravel said that the war on drugs and the legislation governing it is "one of the sickest policies we have in the U.S."
Gravel said that drugs are a health problem, not a criminal problem. He continued by saying that many other countries are able to handle the problem by treating it from a health standpoint.
"It's the war on drugs that ravages the inner cities, not the drugs," Gravel said. "This is a problem that we can handle."
Some College Republicans also came to hear Gravel speak.
"Regardless of whether the candidate is popular or not, it's always pretty cool to have a presidential candidate here," said Patrick Stauffer, executive director of the College Republicans at UCF.
Gravel almost had to cancel his appearance at the last minute due to the financial constraints of his campaign.
"He's working on a book that is due to the publisher soon," Wyss said, "and he was supposed to be working on i because he needs the money to fund his campaign and even for living expenses."
Gravel's campaign has been mired in financial woes since it began in April 2006. At one point, his campaign had less than $500, according to Federal Election Commission first-quarter filings.
"We told him we had a lot of people, and it would be a success," Wyss said, "so he ended up coming out anyway."
One of Gravel's favorite stances is on the concept of direct democracy and the responsibility of the voter.
"There are only two venues for change, government and people," Gravel said. "You've got to get out there and get me elected."
The crowd met Gravel's closing statement with a standing ovation. Before leaving, Gravel took pictures with supporters and handed out bumper stickers.
"I feel the event was a success," Wyss said.
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© 2007 Central Florida Future via U-WIRE