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October 31, 2014

10 years later: Minnesota honors Paul Wellstone

On Oct. 25, 2002, Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., the fiery 58-year-old public servant who was in the final days of a fierce battle for re-election, was on a small plane that went down in a wooded area near Eveleth. Also killed in the crash were his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia, campaign staffers Tom Lapic, Mary McEvoy and Will McLaughlin, and pilots Richard Conry and Michael Guess.

Across the state this week, Minnesotans have honored the senator who became a national hero to liberals but was also well-respected on both sides of the aisle as an animated, passionate advocate for the state and the less fortunate.

It’s been an especially difficult week for those who knew him well. Wellstone’s staffers have tried to carry on his spirit and maintain his passion, MPR reported this week.

Wellstone’s son David moved to California after his parents died, numbed by all the constant reminders. He later took up one of his father’s top causes – mental health parity, and helped push for landmark legislation on the issue. David Wellstone has written a memoir about his travel through the grief. In “Becoming Wellstone,” he recalls his father as a deeply committed – and equally energetic – parent who would run alongside his son in cross-country races, WCCO reports.

In another interview, David Wellstone recalls hearing the news of his father’s plane crash – and driving to the remote site alone.

In a lengthy interview with MinnPost, former Vice President Walter Mondale talks about how he was told the news that Wellstone’s plane had gone down – and about being asked to take his place in the race just a few days before the election. “He was a remarkable man,” Mondale says. “He was inspirational, unrelenting, a devoted champion of the poor. That legacy is going to survive.”

Washington Post columnist Katrina vanden Heuvel writes that Wellstone was “one of the very few social movement senators we’ve ever had.” She adds, “He was the first politician whose death made me weep.”

Wellstone’s legacy is vast, and includes more than a dozen schools, community centers and other buildings named for him, the Pioneer Press reports. Millions of people receive insurance coverage for mental illness and chemical dependency thanks to the federal law his son helped become a reality, the newspaper says. But perhaps his biggest legacy is the inspiration he gives people who fight for the progressive causes he cared about so deeply, the Pioneer Press notes.

Among the ceremonies that will mark the 10-year anniversary is one at the crash site, where Wellstone supporters, colleagues, family and friends plan to gather Thursday to celebrate their lives and remember their legacy, KDAL reports.

Here’s a nice tribute to Wellstone, with a few clips from his speeches, created by Wellstone Action, a training center for the progressive movement:

Among his most well-known Senate floor speeches was one he made against the Iraq war in 2002: