Paul gave politics a heart

by Todd Milbourn

I was busily typing on deadline when the phone rang. “Hey Todd, it’s Paul,” the conversation began, as it often did. I was working in the Star Tribune’s Washington, D.C., bureau and Paul (who always made sure I called him that) had phoned to congratulate me on getting the job as editor-in-chief at the Daily. One of his aides had informed him of my hire.

Now, to the lowly intern, Washington can be a daunting place. Few people know who you are. Fewer still are concerned about your well-being. But in five short months there, I learned that Paul Wellstone did. I wonder if any other member of Congress would take the time to make a call like that. It just seemed important to Paul. People, no matter how small or downtrodden, were truly important to him.

I witnessed Paul’s acts of decency time and time again in Washington. When the wife of my editor was ill, Paul called her in the hospital to wish her well. I don’t think he had even met her before. He just heard that she wasn’t feeling well and wanted to send his best. After interviews, Paul always made a point to ask me how I was doing. I don’t recall any other politician doing that.

Paul always said politics is not about money or power, but about improving people’s lives. That was a conviction he held dear, and it was his life’s work. We live in a cynical world where too often our public response to problems is less than humane. Paul gave politics a heart. He championed causes few other senators even knew about. For example, he advocated for benefits for “Atomic Veterans,” Army officers who were stricken with cancer after years of conducting nuclear missile tests in the southwest. I wonder if anyone else would’ve taken up their cause.

Just last week, Paul was in the Daily offices to discuss his views with the editorial board. He told us he was running again because he wanted to keep fighting for the underdogs, who have little voice in Washington. At 58, and despite multiple sclerosis, Paul had lost none of his passion or inspiration. His graciousness was heartening.

While some took issue with Paul’s politics, even his harshest critics always regarded him as a man of the highest integrity and conviction. To me, Paul was one of the most decent, caring people I’ve had the honor to meet. I’m proud to count him among my personal heroes. The loss of his passion and vision is immeasurable.

Todd Milbourn can be reached at [email protected]