Democrats recall the passion Wellstone had

Published 10:04 am Friday, October 26, 2012

EVELETH — On the 10th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Sen. Paul Wellstone and seven others, speakers remembered the liberal Minnesota firebrand Thursday for his activism and his ability to care for others.

More than 200 people turned out in northeastern Minnesota’s Iron Range to remember Wellstone and those who died with him near Eveleth. In attendance were Minnesota Democratic Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, and Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who was Wellstone’s Senate colleague.

The event was held at the Wellstone Memorial and Historic Site, an understated series of rock monuments and walkways that wind through the forest a few hundred yards from where the small plane went down Oct. 25, 2002, 12 days before the election. Wellstone, a liberal Democrat and former college professor, had been running for a third term.

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The crash also killed his wife, Sheila; their daughter, Marcia Wellstone Markuson; campaign staffers Tom Lapic, Mary McEvoy and Will McLaughlin; and two pilots, Richard Conry and Michael Guess. There were no survivors.

“Their deaths were a tremendous loss. My heart still is full of sorrow. I miss them,” said Lisa Radosevich-Craig, who headed Wellstone’s Senate office in Virginia, Minn. It’s impossible to make sense of the crash and deaths, she said, “so let’s instead focus on their lives.”

Speakers talked about Wellstone’s ability to make friends with almost anyone. They also remembered Wellstone and his wife’s unyielding efforts to promote mental health, fight domestic violence and advocate for economic and social justice, veterans benefits and education.

Gabe Brisboy, a former Hibbing teacher and friend of Wellstone, recalled what he said at a 2002 memorial service: “There should be a word to describe standing up for social justice … and that word should be ‘Wellstone.”’

Snow fell steadily throughout the 90-minute remembrance. The scent of burning sage and white cedar wafted through the air, part of a strong American Indian flavor to the event that also included Lakota and Ojibwe songs.

Jerry Fallos, former union president of the now-shuttered LTV Steel taconite plant near Hoyt Lakes, recalled when Wellstone wrote out a personal check for Fallos to buy Christmas presents for the children of workers who lost their jobs. Fallos said Wellstone made him promise to never tell anyone.

Wellstone was locked in a tight race with Republican Norm Coleman when Wellstone’s death threw the campaign into chaos. Republicans won the seat when Coleman, former mayor of St. Paul, defeated former Vice President Walter Mondale, who replaced Wellstone on the ballot.

“Paul Wellstone lived, breathed and embraced politics as one of the highest forms of public service. His love for his family, his state and his nation were reflected in his service to all of us,” Coleman said in a Facebook post Thursday. “His loss to our state and our nation is as deeply felt today as it was 10 years ago.”

Thursday’s event was hosted by Wellstone Action, the nation’s largest training center for progressives. The group was founded by Wellstone’s sons, David and Mark. Wellstone Action also plans to honor the late senator in Washington in late November.