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Senator Paul Wellstone

Paul Wellstone was an American politician, 2-term U.S. Senator representing the state of Minnesota (1991-2002), community energy adviser with the Minnesota Community Energy Program (1983-84), and Professor of political science at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota (1969-90).

He was killed in a plane crash while campaigning for a third term in the U.S. Senate.

Senator Paul Wellstone
Senator Paul Wellstone
Biographical fast facts

Full or original name at birth: Paul David Wellstone

Date and place of birth: July 21, 1944, George Washington University Hospital, Washington, D.C.

Date, time, place and cause of death: October 25, 2002, at 10:22 a.m., near Eveleth, Minnesota, U.S.A. (Plane crash)

Spouse: Sheila Ison (m. 1963 - October 25, 2002) (their deaths)

Sons: Paul David Wellstone, Jr. (known as David Wellstone) (b. March 1965)
Mark Wellstone (b. 1972)

Daughter: Marcia Wellstone Markuson (d. October 25, 2002)

Father: Leon Wexelstein (a writer for the U.S. Information Agency)
Mother: Minnie Danishevsky

Burial site: Lakewood Cemetery, 3600 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.A.


Known as the most liberal senator on Capitol Hill, Paul David Wellstone was born July 21st, 1944, at George Washington University Hospital, in Washington, D.C. His father was a Russian immigrant who fled Russia to escape the persecution of Jews, and his mother was the daughter of immigrants from the Ukraine. Leon, his father, was a would-be playwright who ended up working for the U.S. Information Agency. His mother Minnie was forced to take a job as a school cafeteria worker to supplement the family income when bills for the medical treatment of their mentally ill son plunged the family into debt. Senator Wellstone would later become one of the Senate's leading advocates for extending federal health-care benefits for mental disorders and their treatment. The origin of this advocacy was rooted in his own brother's descent into mental illness, and his visits to his brother in a mental hospital that he once described as a "snakepit."

Paul was raised in Arlington, Virginia, and attended Wakefield and Yorktown High Schools in Arlington. He was a noted college wrestler at the University of North Carolina, going undefeated in his freshman and sophomore years and winning an Atlantic Coast Conference wrestling championship in 1964. In 1965, he graduated with a B.A. in Political Science and received a Ph.D. in Political Science in 1969, also at UNC, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Shortly thereafter, he accepted a teaching position at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, where he continued to teach for more than two decades. Steve Schier, a fellow Carleton professor, reports that Wellstone was, "less of an academic, more of a grass-roots political activist. He viewed it as part of his mission to get students active in politics." Often at odds with his colleagues and Carleton administrators, Wellstone proved so controversial that college officials decided not to renew his contract in 1974. With the strong, vocal and organized support of students, the student newspaper and local activists, he appealed the dismissal, and eventually won tenure. In 1982, Wellstone was the DFL (Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party) candidate for Minnesota state auditor. He lost the election to Arne Carlson, who would later go on to serve as a popular governor of Minnesota. Wellstone remained active in politics, and later utilized the contacts he'd made in his earlier run for office, and declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Most gave him little chance of defeating the popular, incumbent Republican, Senator Rudy Boschwitz. In one of the year's biggest upsets, he defeated the better organized and much better-funded campaign of Senator Boschwitz.

He was called, "the first 1960s radical elected to the U.S. Senate." Once Paul arrived in Washington in January 1991, he immediately stirred controversy, when, in a breach of protocol at a White House reception for new senators, he directly confronted the first President Bush on his Persian Gulf policy, and lit into him on the inadvisability of war to remove Iraqi invasion forces from Kuwait. After the incident, the president, stunned by the brash young newcomer, reportedly asked, "Who is this chickenshit?"

Wellstone was an unabashed liberal, and demonstrated that fact with his solidly left-wing voting record. Sometimes he was the sole senator voting against a measure. He was the only senator running for reelection to have voted against authorizing the Gulf War in 1991. But the Senator was also considered one of the most honest brokers in the Senate. Insiders report he was a man who never allowed poll numbers to determine his policy positions.

Senator Wellstone briefly considered running for president in 2000, but called off the campaign, joking to reporters, "I'm short, I'm Jewish, and I'm a liberal." He later revealed he had a mild form of multiple sclerosis, that would have prevented him from engaging in the vigorous nationwide campaigning necessary to win.

Paul Wellstone cited his mission as a liberal advocate when he announced he would run for reelection in 2002, and thereby break the pledge he had made to serve only two terms in office. It was while campaigning for a third term in the U.S. Senate against the Republican nominee, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, that Wellstone's aircraft crashed. The small plane went down in freezing rain and light snow near the Eveleth-Virginia Municipal Airport in northern Minnesota's rugged Iron Range. The plane crash that killed Senator Wellstone, also took the lives of his wife Sheila, his daughter Marcia, his staff members Tom Lapic, Will McLaughlin, and Mary McEvoy, as well as the pilot and co-pilot of the twin-engine Beech King Air Turboprop.

Wellstone was the author of, How the Rural Poor Got Power: Narrative of a Grass Roots Organizer (1978), and co-author of, Powerline: The First Battle of America's Energy War (1981).

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