Wellstone dies in plane crash, election days away

Posted 3:15 p.m. Oct. 27

by Bernard Pollack
U-WIRE (DC BUREAU)

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON–Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) died tragically on Friday morning when his small propeller plane crashed in Eveleth, Minnesota, killing eight people. Wellstone, a populist Democrat, spent his entire life working on behalf of his progressive ideas.

Among those killed in the crash were Wellstone’s wife, Sheila Wellstone, 58 and their daughter, Marcia Markuson, 33. Also among the fatalities were state Democratic Party activists Mary McEnvoy, Tom Tapic, and Will McLaughlin, as well as the two pilots, Richard Conry and Captain Michael Guess.

The plane departed from St. Paul Downtown airport and was intended to land in Eveleth where Wellstone was expected to attend the funeral of the father of former Democratic Party activist and State Representative Tom Rukavina. Initial reports are inconclusive as to why the plane went down, but it was flying in light snow and freezing rain law enforcement officials said.

By 5:30 on Friday, about 5,000 Minnesotans had gathered on the steps of the State Capitol in St. Paul for a memorial services to pay their respects, as local religious leaders offered prayers and inspirational words.

Wellstone was in the middle of his re-election effort against former Mayor of St. Paul Norm Coleman in one of the most anticipated and divided Senatorial campaigns in the country. Many felt that the balance of the Senate would be decided by the outcome of Minnesota’s November 5th elections.

“This is a terrible day for Minnesota,” Coleman said in a public statement. “Paul Wellstone and I were political opponents, and that was it. That was it. I had the greatest respect for his passion. He was a fighter. The people of Minnesota are going to miss that. I’m going to miss that.”

From the environment, to championing workers’ rights to collectively bargain and join unions, to campaign finance reform and voting against trade legislation that hurt Americas workers, Wellstone was considered a voice for those who are often denied representation in American politics. Most recently, Wellstone was the only Senator currently in a tightly contested race to vote again President George W. Bush’s resolution allowing him discretion over an attack on Iraq.

Wellstone was elected to the Senate in 1990 in the midst of a giant grass-roots field operation, inspiring many youth and people alienated by the political process to join the campaign. In both 1990 and in 1996, he defeated Republican Rudy Boshwitz, who outspent Wellstone 7-1 in his first Senatorial bid.

Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura expressed his sympathy over Wellstone’s death, saying that he really admired his energy and his work in supporting Minnesota’s Veterans. Ventura also said that Minnesotans need to be strong and “to be strong all we have to do is remember Paul Wellstone’s energy.”

It remains to be seen who the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party will put on the ballot in replace of Wellstone. With the election just days away, former Vice-President Walter Mondale and Buck Humphrey seem to be on the short list. Up until the election, Ventura can nominate someone to temporally fill Senator Wellstone’s seat. If party activists leave Wellstone’s name on the ballot, the Governor would appoint someone following the election.

Ventura will not be seeking re-election but endorsed Independence party candidate and former Democratic Party representative Tim Penny for Minnesota Governor. The three way race has all candidates polling even with Penny, as DFL endorsed Roger Moe and Republican Tim Pawlenty have temporarily stopped campaigning out of respect for Wellstone.

As over 10,000 Minnesotans gathered on Saturday for an anti-war rally demonstration at a landmark Cathedral in St. Paul, it seems that Wellstone’s legacy is being continued through progressive political action. Some might suggest that he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

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