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Presidential candidate Gravel visits USF today

Democratic presidential candidate and former Alaskan senator Mike Gravel will make a stop on his campaign trail to speak at the Marshall Center Ballroom today. The event is sponsored by the College Democrats.

Nic Zateslo, president of the College Democrats, explained his organization’s position on sponsoring Gravel’s campus appearance.

“I am not endorsing Gravel per se, and neither is our club,” Zateslo said. “His campaign contacted us and said they wanted to talk to students at a university and that they would be here in Tampa.”

Zateslo said he did like Gravel as a candidate because of his “unique positions within the Democratic party.”

Some of Gravel’s political views include an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, enacting a national initiative that would give Americans the power to make laws, an elimination of the income tax and the IRS by replacing it with a progressive national sales tax (a fair tax) and enacting a national, single-payer and nonprofit health care system.

“He does speak what he feels,” Zateslo said. “He doesn’t change his ideas or his position to meet the polls.”

Zateslo said Gravel is likely to give a 20-minute speech followed by a more intensive question-and-answer session. The College Democrats will be showing videos from Gravel’s campaign until his expected arrival on campus at 4:30 p.m.

“He is very much a question-and-answer speaker,” he said. “I am sure with a student-based crowd, questions for funding for education and higher education specifically will come up, and he will respond to that.”

Gravel’s pre-political resume includes a job as a New York City cab driver and a brakeman on the Alaska Railroad. Since then, Gravel has made an impressive track record of tackling the tough issues in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

He was a key opponent to the Vietnam War and in 1971 released the Senator Gravel Edition of the Pentagon Papers, resulting in a victorious Supreme Court lawsuit that set the precedent that members of Congress are not bound by the official secrets of any presidential administration.

In a five-month filibuster, Gravel helped to end the military draft in the U.S. and was also a leader in the development of the Alaskan oil pipeline, which has supplied 20 percent of the U.S.’s oil supply over the last 30 years.

Today, Gravel lives in Arlington, Va. with his wife, Whitney. He has remained an active voice in politics since retiring from the Senate, and announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in April 2006.

Natalie Gagliordi can be reached at (813) 974-6299 or