Editorial: A tragic loss for the people of Minnesota

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 26, 2002

Few politicians are admired the way Paul Wellstone was.

His work on behalf of laborers, veterans, farmers and all of Minnesota made him millions of friends in the state and across the nation, and those who knew him or observed him realized he was more than just another politician. Even though he wasn’t a laborer or a farmer or a veteran himself, people felt like he was one of them. They felt like he understood them.

It makes the loss of Wellstone, along with his wife, daughter, and the other people on that flight, even harder to take.

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Wellstone had that rare ability to light up a room just be being there. Anybody who has met him knows that it was not about power or politics with Paul Wellstone; it was about people, whom he believed in and fought for all his life.

It was easy to admire Wellstone because in a world where ideals are compromised every day, he didn’t compromise his. People wished they could be as pure and dedicated as Wellstone was, even if it was not for the same causes.

The expressions of sorrow came from all over the nation Friday and Saturday, with fellow lawmakers from both parties saying they’ll miss Wellstone’s dedication and his passion. Even those who rarely agreed with him on politics could recognize that Wellstone’s ideals came from the heart, and that he was motivated by nothing other than his personal drive to do good and help Minnesota and the nation. When people say there is no other senator like Wellstone, it isn’t just empty words.

Over 12 years in the Senate, his ideals didn’t change. He stuck to his firm defense of the downtrodden and his opposition to violence to the very end. In recent months, he cast a high-profile and courageous vote against miliary force in Iraq. He successfully worked to expand mental-health insurance coverage. He fought for peace and social justice with everything he had, and that never changed. Even at the local level, he was recently involved in the Rural Telework Initiative, which could bring well-paying technology jobs to the area.

He was blasted for breaking his promise, called untrustworthy, for seeking reelection this year, after first pledging that he would stop after two terms. Wellstone knew his decision would open him up to criticism, but he also knew he wanted to keep serving the people of Minnesota, and if they wanted him back, he didn’t want to give up his fight.

He was reviled by some for being the most liberal Senator in America. He was the lone dissenter in his share of 99-1 votes. For years, he effectively canceled out his fellow Minnesotan senator, Rod Grams, a staunch conservative. But none of that seemed to matter to him. He didn’t let the pressures and expectations of Washington change his approach. He voted his conscience regardless of consequences.

It was this genuine idealism and courage that endeared him to even those who didn’t agree with him on politics. That’s why this loss is especially hard: because almost everybody could respect him and relate to him as a person.