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Keith E.
Democrat MN 5

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  • Honoring Senator Paul Wellstone

    by Representative Keith Ellison

    Posted on 2013-01-02

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    ELLISON of minnesota in the house of representatives Thursday, January 3, 2013 Mr. ELLISON. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in honor of Senator Paul Wellstone and to recognize his leadership, integrity, and the lasting impact he has had on the citizens of Minnesota and the United States.

    Last year marked the tenth anniversary of the tragic death of Senator Wellstone, who was killed in a plane crash in Northern Minnesota on October 25, 2002, along with his wife, Sheila Wellstone, their daughter Marcia, members of the Senator's campaign staff Tom Lapic, Mary McEvoy, and Will McLaughlin, and the plane's two pilots Richard Conry and Michael Guess.

    Paul should not be remembered for the tragedy of his death, but rather the energy with which he lived his life. Born in Washington, DC, Senator Wellstone took a teaching position at Carleton College in Northfield, MN, after graduating from the University of North Carolina. While a professor at Carleton College, Paul inspired his students though his teaching of political science in the classroom and his grassroots organizing in the community. When his position at the college was in question, students rallied around him and successfully lobbied the college not only to protect his job, but to grant him tenure. The activism he infused in his teaching is felt today on [[Page E2043]] Capitol Hill, where a number of his former students continue to work towards greater equality for all Americans.

    Paul's activism extended beyond the college campus. He worked throughout the state of Minnesota, organizing labor groups, farmers, and immigrant communities; championing causes such as public housing, healthcare, and improved education. Paul's work led to his successful Senate bid in 1990, and re-election in 1996, campaigning from the back of a beat-up old school bus painted his signature green. In Washington, Paul continued his legacy of progressive policy, particularly working towards mental health parity. Paul never did what was expedient, instead he did what he felt was right, standing up for those without a strong voice in Congress. Paul was one of the few senators to vote against the authorization of war in Iraq, shortly before the 2002 election. He knew this vote might cost him his seat in the Senate, and he was the only senator up for reelection to vote no.

    Throughout his academic and political career, Paul was matched in energy and determination by his wife, Sheila. An outspoken advocate for women and families experiencing domestic violence, Sheila brought the conversation about domestic violence in our communities to a national level, and was instrumental in passing the first Violence Against Women Act. A leading voice for women in the United States, she also extended her focus to international human rights abuses and spoke out for victims of sex trafficking. She helped make the fight against domestic violence a national priority.

    Paul and Sheila's work is continued with groups such as Wellstone Action, which promotes progressive causes and has trained over 55,000 candidates, campaign staff, and community organizers around the country, and the Sheila Wellstone Institute, which continues Sheila's work of ending the violence against women and children.

    Paul's legacy is not encapsulated in a specific cause or any individual vote, but by his embodiment of public service. He was an example of how to live a life dedicated to values and the greater good. Paul did not make decisions based on whether they were right politically, but whether they met his basic principles of fairness, generosity, and compassion.

    Senator Wellstone was a political inspiration for me, and I am proud to call him my friend. He will always be remembered as a champion for the underserved, a master at grassroots campaigning, a fervent public speaker, and a Minnesota icon. Many of my colleagues have stood on the floor here and in the Senate over the last ten years, remembering his presence as we unsuccessfully try to fill the gap he left behind in politics. A truly uncommon politician, I believe if we live by Senator Wellstone's actions, our country will be better for it. As Paul said, ``We all do better, when we all do better.''

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