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A True Independent

October 26, 2002

Paul Wellstone, killed in a plane crash Friday, was a passionate, unapologetic liberal in the rich tradition of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and U.S. senators like Hubert H. Humphrey, Walter F. Mondale and Eugene McCarthy. He fought in the Senate for the people of Minnesota, the poor, the young, the old, the workers, farmers.

Wellstone followed his beliefs without fear of political risk or whether he might anger his own Democratic colleagues. Recently, he was the only Democratic senator in a tough reelection race to vote against President Bush's Iraqi war resolution. But he had opposed U.S. military action in the Gulf War too.

And he crossed Democratic President Bill Clinton by voting against the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.

This streak of activism and independence was nothing new for Wellstone. As a Carleton College professor, he taught the politics of protest and practiced what he preached. Wellstone was on the line with striking Hormel meatpackers and protested in front of a bank that foreclosed on local farmers. After his stunning upset election to the Senate in 1990, the left-leaning magazine Mother Jones called Wellstone the first 1960s radical to serve in the Senate.

But he was not just a knee-jerk partisan. With Sen. Pete V. Domenici, a Republican from New Mexico, he fought for better mental health insurance. Domenici was so distressed by the news of Wellstone's death that he could not comment for a television interview.

Wellstone's death, along with that of his wife and daughter, three aides and the pilots, was a shock, much as similar deaths of politicians in the past, flying hither and yon in small planes, and often in bad weather, to keep the commitments of a busy schedule.

Paul Wellstone was a bright star within the fading constellation of true political independents who have an abiding desire to make life better for constituents and are willing to sacrifice short-term political gain in favor of winning lasting benefit. As Minnesota Democrats ponder a possible replacement on the election ticket at this late date, they should seek a candidate who will try to carry on that tradition.

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