Paul Wellstone: A portrait of integrity

Just over a year ago, Paul Wellstone died in a tragic plane crash en route to a funeral in northern Minnesota. Because of Wellstone’s public work, scores of people who never met him mourn losing him. Wellstone’s legislative victories include the AmeriCorps program, expanding medical coverage for the mentally ill and a filibuster opposing Arctic National Wildlife Refuge exploitation. However, limiting his achievements to Senate successes or his progressive ideology misses his true value.

Wellstone was a legislator of unassailable integrity, which everyone should appreciate and respect. He did not base decisions on political expediency. Wellstone was what the founding fathers wanted for the world’s greatest deliberative body, where disagreement and dissent are fundamental.

As such, Wellstone’s “no” votes served the public greatly. Wellstone consistently represented an otherwise silent minority even when not politically prudent. He was the only senator up for re-election in 1996 who voted against welfare reform, which exemplifies Wellstone’s choice to spend political capital rather than save it. Wellstone’s refusal to authorize all-out wars with Iraq in 1991 and 2002 are also noteworthy actions. Again, he was the only senator in a close re-election race to vote against the popular war resolution last fall. As Democrats across the country ran to the center, Wellstone maintained his principles.

Wellstone was also more than the sum of his achievements. All who knew him credited him with being a great father, husband and friend. Conservative politicians such as Jesse Helms, with whom he shared a unique mutual respect, are among those who bestow these compliments on him. Even in his public capacity, the private man shone through.

A columnist for The Nation once asked a congressional aide if his boss truly supported the war resolution, and if not, why he did not vote “no,” as Wellstone had? The aide replied, “That’s Wellstone, he’s different.” We wish there were more politicians with enough integrity to be “different” like Wellstone was.