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Paul Wellstone,
Labor’s Senator,
Perishes in Plane Crash


Remembering an old friend: Sen. Paul Wellstone at Joe Miller's retirement party

Remembering an old friend: At Joe Miller’s retirement party, Sen. Paul Wellstone, Betty Miller, Joe Miller and Sheila Wellstone.

Sen. Paul D. Wellstone, 58, was killed in a plane crash on Oct. 25. A good friend of UE, he was regarded as the strongest voice for America’s working families in the United States Senate.

The crash also killed his wife Sheila Wellstone, 58, their daughter Marcia Wellstone Markuson, 33, three staff members and the two pilots. The chartered dual-prop aircraft went down only a couple of miles from the Eveleth/Virginia airport in Minnesota’s Iron Range. Wellstone was traveling to Eveleth to attend the funeral of a father of a friend and political ally.

Facing a tough re-election battle, Wellstone had been campaigning earlier in the day in the Twin Cities with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.). The Bush Administration and corporate lobbyists had specifically marked Wellstone for defeat. The reasons were obvious: Wellstone worked tirelessly to defend working people and advance their interests.

In his final campaign ad, Wellstone declared: "I don’t represent the big oil companies. I don’t represent the pharmaceutical companies. I don’t represent the Enrons of the world. But you know what? They already have great representation in Washington. It’s the rest of the people who need it."


Wellstone, an advocate of a national health care system and real labor law reform, would remind audiences that he was from "The Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." His first and last speeches in the Senate were in opposition to wars with Iraq sought by a President named Bush. He was the only Senator in a contested race to cast a vote against the war resolution earlier this year.

The son of immigrant Russian Jews, Wellstone was raised in Arlington, Va. He starred as a college wrestler at the University of North Carolina, where he earned a bachelor’s degree and doctorate in political science. He moved to Carleton College in Northfield, where he taught political science for 21 years.

Retired UE Field Org. Joe Miller recalls first meeting Wellstone in 1982 when the college professor ran for state auditor. "Paul impressed me with his style and down-to-earth attitude," Miller says. "Over the next several years Paul and I appeared at different labor rallies together, some at UE plant closing rallies where he always came to give the workers encouragement and hope, or at rallies for other just social causes."

When Wellstone decided in 1989 to run for the U.S. Senate, amalgamated UE Local 1139 became the first labor organization to give its endorsement. UE District 11 was also an early endorser. The Local 1139 political action committee raised funds to get the campaign underway. Wellstone ran a grassroots campaign, crisscrossing Minnesota in a green school bus. In October 1990 the polls had Wellstone trailing incumbent Sen. Rudy Boschwitz by as many as 18 points. The Local 1139 PAC responded by redoubling its efforts. For the first time in memory, Local 1139 set up a phone bank in its union hall.

Wellstone became the only challenger in 1990 to unseat an incumbent U.S. Senator. Local 1139 and District 11 also assisted Wellstone in his successful re-election campaign in 1996. The Senator addressed special Capitol Hill sessions of the UE Political Action Conference in 1993 and 1997.

"Paul never forgot the UE," says Joe Miller. "In 1993, when I retired, Paul and his wife Sheila attended my retirement party." Miller adds, "We in organized labor are going to miss Paul and Sheila for their unending fight for the underdog and I will miss them as true and loyal friends."

Sheila and Paul Wellstone married in 1963. Paul Wellstone’s friend and greatest supporter, Sheila Wellstone worked tirelessly for women’s and children’s issues, particularly for victims of domestic violence and the homeless.

More than 20,000 people attended the Wellstones’ memorial service, including AFL-CIO Pres. John Sweeney, dozens of Senators, former President Bill Clinton and Rev. Jesse Jackson.

The Wellstones are survived by two sons and six grandchildren.

UE News - 12/02

Home -> UE News -> 2002 Archives -> Article

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