A plane crash in northern Minnesota claimed the lives of eight people on Friday last week, among them Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife and his daughter.
It is a deeply felt tragedy for me because I am a Minnesotan, and Wellstone’s nearly twelve years in office covered more than the entirety of my politically active life. An elected official has never fought harder to make sure that his constituents were strongly represented, though there may be some who matched his efforts.
But he didn’t just fight for Minnesotans, and he certainly wasn’t just a proponent for a few special interest groups. He was on the side of anybody who felt that they needed a voice in the government.
Paul Wellstone was an educator at Carleton College in Minnesota for 21 years and brought his experience to bear in Washington. He helped pass bills to give more funding to schools and financial aid for college students.
His stance on education can be summed up in a statement he made in a speech at Columbia University: “That all citizens will be given an equal start through a sound education is one of the most basic, promised rights of our democracy.”
Senator Wellstone always concerned himself with the protection of those basic rights that our nation has promised us. Likewise, he kept his own promises. Perhaps that is simply a result of integrity. A typical image is that a promise is a thing wrung out of a politician in exchange for kind treatment from some organization or special interest group. Not this politician.
In a time when the phrases ‘campaign promises’ and ‘outright lies’ are quickly becoming synonymous, Wellstone made promises when he was committed to doing something that he saw needed changing or when someone brought an issue to his attention that obviously needed evaluation.
Wellstone was also a friend of environmentalists; in fact, he was called an “Environmental Hero” by the League of Conservation Voters. He filibustered away the Bush administration’s attempt to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and worked to keep the Clean Air Act from being significantly weakened.
He supported lessening America’s dependence on oil by helping to encourage alternative and renewable energy sources. Now that we’ve got an oil baron in the White House, this is sorely needed.
Of course, with the alleged election of this oil baron, the nation became more concerned with clean politics, something Senator Wellstone has fought for since he’s been in the game. He wrote the Clean Money, Clean Elections Act, which earned the unofficial title of the gold standard for campaign finance reform.
Senator Wellstone set a lot of other standards for politicians in my eyes. He wasn’t Mr. Smith from “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” He wasn’t a saint, and he certainly wasn’t perfect. But he always put the people first in everything that he did in Washington.
I’ll let Senator Paul Wellstone have the last words, which is also excellent advice for any elected officials who claim to represent the people:
“Citizens want us to deal with issues that are at the center of their lives. They yearn for a politics that speaks to and includes them: affordable child care, a good education for their children, health and retirement security, good jobs that will support their families, respect for the environment and human rights, clean elections and clean campaigns.”
Cory Anthony is the Daily Nexus assistant Opinion editor. His column appears Tuesdays.