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Jan. 7, 1992: Sen. Paul Wellstone answered questions at North High School, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

Sens. Klobuchar, Franken: Paul Wellstone's legacy

  • Article by: AMY KLOBUCHAR and AL FRANKEN
  • October 24, 2012 - 8:11 PM

Ten years ago today, we Americans lost one of our brightest lights in the political universe.

On that icy morning, a small plane crashed just outside Eveleth in northeastern Minnesota. All aboard were killed.

The victims included U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, as well as his wife, Sheila; their daughter, Marcia Wellstone Markuson; three Wellstone staff members, and the plane's two pilots.

For us, as for so many other Minnesotans, it's impossible to forget the moment we first heard about the plane going down, and then the wait to get the final news that there were no survivors and that Paul was among the dead.

For both of us, Paul Wellstone was a friend, mentor and hero.

As senators, we've experienced firsthand the lasting personal impression he made in Washington.

Paul had many friends, ranging from senators to secretaries, and from the police officers who remember his friendly greetings to the underground tram drivers who, once you say you're from Minnesota, smile and say: "Paul Wellstone."

They remember the respect he showed to everyone every day.

As an educator, an activist and a senator, Paul inspired people throughout America. His mission was to bring a voice to the voiceless, power to the powerless and justice to those who've suffered injustice.

Above all, he brought the hope to all of us that, by working together, it's possible to change the world and make tomorrow better than today.

Even now, his work and spirit continue to inspire people of all ages from all walks of life and all across our country, especially through the efforts of the nonprofit group Wellstone Action.

As a happy warrior who embraced the politics of joy, Paul was a true political heir to Hubert Humphrey.

Even though Paul never took himself too seriously, he was always serious about other people's problems. And while Paul may not have gained the votes of people who strongly disagreed with him, he still earned their respect because of his own willingness to treat them with respect.

Many military veterans were initially suspicious of Paul because of his outspoken antiwar views. Yet, as senator, Paul was a tireless champion for our veterans. Serving on the Veterans Affairs Committee, he pushed for better veterans' health care, and he was a fixture at VFW and American Legion halls across the state.

One of Paul's greatest legislative achievements was the 1994 passage of the original Violence Against Women Act. It was a team effort, and Sheila was right there on the front lines with Paul.

Not only did this legislation provide vital assistance to police, prosecutors and victim support organizations, it also helped change public attitudes, so that domestic violence is now properly viewed as a crime and not just a private family matter.

Another of Paul's great legislative victories wasn't won until after his death.

Paul had a special passion for helping people with mental illness because he saw for himself what mental illness had done to his own brother and family.

In the Senate, Paul joined with Republican colleague Pete Domenici on legislation to require that insurance companies provide coverage for mental health and substance abuse equivalent to coverage for other medical conditions.

For Paul, this was always a matter of basic civil rights.

After Paul's death, Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad of Minnesota helped lead the way until Congress finally passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.

Paul was one of a kind. We can't hope to replace him. Nobody can.

But Paul would be the first to tell us that we should not just look back on what he accomplished and stood for. He would be the first to insist that it's our responsibility to look ahead to the work that still must be done to carry his legacy forward.

Although Paul is no longer with us, we know his dreams and passions remain very much alive.

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Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both Democrats, represent Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.

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