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
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).