Paul Wellstone

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Paul Wellstone

Paul Wellstone was a Democratic Senator, representing Minnesota. He and his wife Sheila Wellstone died in a plane crash in 2002, with aides Tom Lapic, Mary McEvoy and Will McLaughlin (while still in office), but Wellstone Action! was created to emulate his policies.


Shortly before he died in a plane crash on October 25, 2002, Paul Wellstone explained why he was in the Senate: “I don’t represent the big oil companies, the big pharmaceuticals, or the big insurance industry. They already have great representation in Washington. It’s the rest of the people that need representation.”

A college professor turned politician, the Minnesota senator’s fiery speeches and dogged campaigning for progressive reform earned him the title “the conscience of the Senate.” The first Senate vote he cast, in 1991, was to oppose U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf. Eleven years later, he cast his last vote against a resolution authorizing President George W. Bush to use force against Iraq.

Soon after he died, cars in Minnesota and elsewhere began sporting green bumper stickers that read, “W.W.W.D. What would Wellstone do?” He had set the standard for what Jeff Blodgett, Wellstone’s campaign manager in his three Senate races, calls “conviction politics.”

“Paul based his political leadership and career on the idea [that] you say that you believe, you believe what you say, you put that out there for voters,” explained long time friend and colleague Jeff Blodgett. “When Paul first got into politics, lots of progressives weren’t enthusiastic about electoral politics. Paul believed that it was important to integrate community organizing and electoral politics. Organizing without electoral politics could marginalize social movements. Now most folks understand that. That’s one of Paul’s important legacies.”[1]

Wellstone Action

Wellstone’s legacy is memorialized in many ways, from the the schools and affordable housing projects named after him to the numerous fellowships and awards established to honor the Wellstones’ dedication to social justice.

In 2003, Blodgett and Wellstone’s two surviving children, Mark Wellstone and David Wellstone , founded Wellstone Action, a Minnesota-based training center for community organizers, student activists, campaign staff, progressive candidates and elected officials. “We need to help our champions win office so they can be our allies within the halls of power,” said Blodgett, who served as the organization’s director until last year.

Wellstone Action has trained more than 55,000 community organizers, campaign managers, and candidates. Several dozen of its alums are now elected officials, including school board and city council members, mayors, state legislators, and several members of Congress.[2]

Ritchie relationship

Mark Ritchie, Minnesota’s Secretary of State, is a Wellstone Action alumni. As an organizer with the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and as founder of the League of Rural Voters, Ritchie worked with Wellstone to improve conditions for farmers and other rural Americans.

“Paul was one of the first people that I knew who moved from issue activism and direct action organizing to electoral politics,” Ritchie recalled. “He had incredible integrity. He was an inspiration. Not just the legislation he worked on. But also the way he connected with people. After Paul died, I was one of a number of people— activists who had worked with Paul—who decided that we ought to run for public office and help keep Paul’s legacy alive.” He called Wellstone Action’s three-day “boot camp” for candidates “the perfect training for coming to terms with what it actually meant to run for office.”[3]


Paul David Wellstone was the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, born in 1944 and raised in Arlington, Virginia. His mother was a cafeteria worker and his father was a writer and federal employee. His father left Russia shortly before the Bolshevik Revolution took the lives of Paul's grandparents. Leon and Minnie "instilled in their son a commitment to justice and civic activism".

At sixteen, Paul met Sheila Ison at a beach on the Maryland shore. They dated during their final year of high school and went on to attend different colleges. He was accepted to the University of North Carolina, where he joined the wrestling team, and she enrolled at the University of Kentucky. But by the end of their first year of college, they no longer wanted to live apart. They were married in summer of 1963, and Sheila moved to North Carolina.[4]

Education/early activism

Wellstone earned his undergraduate degree in 1965 and stayed at the University of North Carolina to earn a Ph.D. in political science in 1969 with a dissertation about black militants.

Paul Wellstone at Carleton College

From 1969 to 1989, Wellstone taught political science at Carleton College in Minnesota, where he got involved in local organizing campaigns and encouraged his students to do the same. Jeff Blodgett, a political science major, was one of those students.

“Paul encouraged students to try out jobs in social change,” Jeff Blodgett recalled. “He helped me get my first job as a community organizer working with family farmers in rural Minnesota.”

After completing his PhD in political science from North Carolina and, at age 24, Wellstone accepted a teaching position at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. As a professor, Wellstone focused on questions of economic justice and poverty, and began engaging in local community organizing projects in rural areas. "It was clear," wrote one of his friends and former colleagues, "that he was less concerned about academic political science than about political science directly serving people's needs."

At Carleton, Wellstone immersed himself in campus activism by organizing protests, criticizing the school's administration for its ties to corporate interests, and speaking out on issues affecting the community. He created controversy within the faculty and administration for his unorthodox style, but is remembered as a passionate professor with an uncommon ability to relate to students. His students became deeply involved in his organizing efforts, and many went on to careers in political and organizing work, including several who served as his top campaign and Senate aides.[5]

The Rainbow

According to Paul Ortiz;

Likewise, there were many Obama activists who had campaigned for the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. It is impossible to imagine Senator Obama's victory without the precedent of Jackson's Rainbow Coalition. The Rainbow excited and recruited tens of thousands of gay, Latino, Native American, white, Asian, and African-Americans into electoral politics, social movements and union organizing in the US in the 1980s. The Rainbow sustained and supported numerous progressive politicians, including Paul Wellstone, Tammy Baldwin and Harold Washington. The Rainbow Coalition - and Jackson as leader - had many limitations. Even so, the organization provided one of the few spaces for progressive movement organizing to take place in the Age of Reagan. The Rainbow increased working-class voter registration, promoted Shirley Chisholm for vice president, stood in solidarity with the Pittston coal strike, and was a counterweight to the conservative Democratic Leadership Council.[6]

The Wellstone 1990 senatorial campaign came out of the Rainbow Coalition.[7]


In the early 1980s,Wellstone became active with Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer Labor Party. Wellstone went on to co-chair Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign in Minnesota, and then worked for the Michael Dukakis campaign after Dukakis won the Democratic nomination.

In 1982, Wellstone ran for state auditor, but lost the race to his incumbent opponent by nine percentage points.

Despite the setback, Wellstone would have another opportunity to run for statewide office seven years later, when he announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate. Virtually unknown to Minnesota voters, but with a loyal following built up during his years as an organizer, he knew that the only way he could win was to apply his organizing skills to the campaign. That meant going directly to voters, by doorknocking, making phone calls, traveling across the state and meeting with people. Although he had virtually no money, a mostly volunteer staff, and little name recognition, his well-organized campaign captured the Democratic Party nomination.

Wellstone then went on to face a popular incumbent, Rudy Boschwitz, in the general election. He ran on a bold agenda - universal health care, economic security, environmental protection, and campaign finance reform - and was unafraid to stand up for his beliefs. Written off by political pundits and even members of his own party, he was given virtually no chance to win.

But Wellstone was undaunted. Campaigning across Minnesota on the rickety green bus that became the symbol of his low-budget, grassroots campaign, he took his message directly to voters. He caught people's attention with a series of humorous, low-budget television advertisements and a campaign message focused on kitchen table economic issues. The strategy worked. Outspent seven to one, Wellstone stunned political observers by defeating Boschwitz in the fall election, becoming the only challenger to defeat an incumbent in 1990. He went on to soundly defeat Boschwitz again in a rematch in 1996.

Senate achievements

As senator, Wellstone was an outspoken advocate for his priorities. He was a constant presence on the floor of the Senate, engaging in debate, pushing for or blocking legislation, and forging alliances with senators of both parties. During his first term, he wrote and passed sweeping reform legislation to ban gifts from lobbyists to senators and limit the influence of special interests. In his second term, he won important victories in the areas of health care reform, economic security, environmental protection, and children's issues. He developed a national reputation for his work with veterans and mental health advocates, and was recognized as one of the most effective members of Congress.

Despite his unapologetic advocacy of a progressive agenda, Wellstone was popular with his colleagues. Engaging and funny, he was described by one journalist as "one of the capital's most beloved politicians." Recalling his disarming demeanor, one of his colleagues said, "It was impossible not to like Paul Wellstone."

In 2002, Wellstone sought a third term to the Senate, and was targeted by the White House's political operation as a top target for defeat. Despite taking a politically unpopular vote against the impending war in Iraq, polls showed him with a solid lead going into the final two weeks of the campaign. Then on October 25, 2002, Paul and Sheila, their daughter Marcia and three campaign staffers - Tom Lapic, Will McLaughlin, and Mary McEvoy - were traveling to campaign events in northern Minnesota when their plane crashed near the Eveleth airport.

There were no survivors.[8]

When he met President George H. W. Bush at a White House reception for newly elected members of Congress, Wellstone, ignoring protocol, spoke out, urging the president to spend more time on issues like education and cautioning him against invading Iraq. Irked, Bush asked an aide, “Who is this chickenshit?”

While serving in the Senate, Wellstone remained an organizer.. He was frequently on picket lines and at rallies sponsored by labor, community, environmental, and other progressive groups. His speeches, often appearing to be delivered completely off-the-cuff, would crescendo wildly into loud, short jeremiads expressing indignation at whatever wrongs the rally was addressing.

During most of Wellstone’s Senate career, the Democrats were the minority party. In his 2002 book The Conscience of a Liberal: Reclaiming the Compassionate Agenda, he acknowledged that he spent nearly 85 percent of his time on defense, battling Republican attacks on working families and preventing bad things—like oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—from happening. When the Democrats were in the majority in 1993–1994, Wellstone pushed for a Canadian-style single-payer healthcare system, in contrast to President Bill Clinton’s more modest reform proposal.

Wellstone opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. He fought for campaign finance and lobbying reforms. He was one of three senators to oppose the Bush administration’s attempt to relaunch the Star Wars national missile defense program. He criticized President Clinton for sending troops to Haiti without the consent of Congress. He was the only Senate Democrat to oppose his party’s version of lowering the inheritance tax. He virtually single-handedly stalled proposed bankruptcy legislation that would have imposed onerous new burdens on the poor while benefiting banks, credit card and car finance companies, and retailers.

Paul’s wife, Sheila, whom he married in college, played a key role in mobilizing supporters to pass the landmark Violence Against Women Act in 1994, which Wellstone co-sponsored with then-Sen. Joe Biden. The law fundamentally changed the way society responds to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. It provided funding to create a comprehensive support system for survivors and their families.

In 1995, Wellstone and Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, cosponsored a bill that would require insurance companies to provide mental health patients with the same level of care as those suffering from physical illnesses. (Wellstone’s older brother suffered from crippling depression.) In 2008, six years after Wellstone’s death, Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Patrick Kennedy finally pushed the Wellstone and Domenici Mental Health Parity Act through Congress.

In 1996, Wellstone was the only senator up for re-election to vote against an overhaul of the nation’s welfare system, which Clinton signed that year. In a speech on the Senate floor, Wellstone predicted that the law would hurt low-income children. “They don’t have the lobbyists, they don’t have the PACs,” Wellstone said.

As Wellstone predicted, his opponent—Rudy Boschwitz, in a rematch—used that and other votes against him, calling him “Senator Welfare” and labeling him an “embarrassing liberal and decades out of touch.” But Wellstone, who raised roughly $3 million more than Boschwitz, ran a feisty campaign and won a landslide victory.

Though Wellstone consistently had the most progressive voting record of any senator, he angered his liberal supporters in 1996 by voting for the Defense of Marriage Act, which allowed states to withhold legal recognition of same-sex unions from other states. Later, Wellstone wrote that he regretted that vote. “Paul learned a lot from his friends in LGBT community,” recalls Jeff Blodgett, who in 2012 was running the Obama campaign in Minnesota. “He did a lot of soul-searching and apologizing.”[9]

Presidential tilt

In May of 1997, Wellstone began laying the groundwork for a 2000 presidential campaign, embarking on a cross-country “children’s tour” to Mississippi, Appalachia and poor neighborhoods in Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Baltimore, retracing the route taken by Senator Robert Kennedy in a similar tour in 1966. He sought to remind his Senate colleagues, the press and the public that poverty remained a serious problem in the United States, despite the economic boom and low unemployment of the period. Through his campaign, Wellstone said, he would represent the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”

He abandoned his presidential ambitions in January 1999, explaining that an old wrestling injury made it impossible for him to endure the physical challenges of a national campaign.[10]

Last election

In 2002, Wellstone, reneging on a promise to limit himself to two terms, ran for reelection. That year he also announced that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, joking with journalists that it was fitting that he should be diagnosed with a degenerative “progressive” illness.

The Republican Party and corporate lobbying groups targeted Wellstone as the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbent and raised a huge campaign war chest to help former St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman beat the progressive Democrat. President George W. Bush visited Minnesota twice to campaign and raise money for Coleman, and Bush’s father followed suit. Karl Rove oversaw the anti-Wellstone effort, steering money from the energy industry—upset by Wellstone’s persistent opposition to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—to support Coleman’s campaign. “There are people in the White House who wake up in the morning thinking about how they will defeat Paul Wellstone,” observed a senior Republican aide confided at the time. “This one is political and personal for them.”

Wellstone’s first television ads criticized Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. When Congress voted overwhelmingly to authorize military force against Iraq, Wellstone was the only senator facing a tough reelection challenge to vote no, opposing Bush’s “preemptive, go-it-alone strategy.”

Polls showed that a few weeks before election day, Wellstone had pulled slightly ahead of Coleman. Then, just eleven days before the election, on his way to a funeral and a campaign event in rural Minnesota, Wellstone’s plane crashed near the Eveleth airport, killing the 58-year-old senator, his wife, Sheila, his daughter Marcia, three campaign staffers and two pilots.

A memorial service for the Wellstones and other victims of the crash filled a 20,000-seat arena at the University of Minnesota. The Democrats picked former senator and vice president Walter Mondale to replace Wellstone in the campaign, but it was too late to wage an effective campaign. Minnesota voters elected Coleman.

“He was always the last guy standing with the last amendment,” Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, told the Los Angeles Times. “It was always about children, or the poor.”

Six years later, comedian Al Franken, a Minnesota native and one of Wellstone’s closest friends, beat Coleman to take back the seat for the Democrats.[11]

"Community organizer"

Writing in the Huffington Post of September 8, 2008, in an article entitled "From Organizer To Elected Official" Democratic Socialists of America member Peter Dreier listed several former US politicians who had begun their careers as "community organizers". They were late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, the late Ed Roybal (California's first Latino member of Congress, elected in 1963), former mayors Tom Murphy of Pittsburgh and Andrew Young of Atlanta, Bev Stein, former chair of Multnomah County in greater Portland, Oregon, former Connecticut Secretary of State Miles Rapoport, former state legislators Gonzalo Barrientos of Texas and John McDonough of Massachusetts, and the late Sally Shipman, an Austin City Council member. [12]

Radical views

Wellstone formed his political opinions while active in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s, and wrote a doctoral dissertation on "Black Militants in the Ghetto: Why They Believe in Violence." In 1969, he moved to Northfield, Minn. to teach political science at Carleton College.

The FBI took note of Wellstone when he was arrested on May 7, 1970 at a protest against the Vietnam War at the Federal Office Building in downtown Minneapolis. Wellstone and 87 others were arrested for disturbing and obstructing access to a federal building.

Most of the names in the 1970 documents have been redacted, making it impossible to separate Wellstone out from the other defendants. One defendant pled guilty, another had the charges dismissed, and another was acquitted. The documents state that the rest of the defendants were found guilty during a jury trial in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis and received fines of either $35 or five days in jail. [13]

FBI surveillance

Wellstone was under FBI surveillance for thirty years, beginning at his 1970 anti-Vietnam war protest.[14]

Farmer activism

Before his election to the Senate, Wellstone was a professor at Carlton College, in Northfield, Minnesota. Officially, he taught political science. Unofficially, he was referred to as "the professor of political activism." He created a course titled "Social Movements and Grassroots Organizing," and he taught by example. In the 1980s, Wellstone organized Minnesota campaign events for the Rev. Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns, marched with striking Hormel workers in Austin, Minnesota, and was arrested while protesting at a bank that was foreclosing on farms.

That was when Denise O'Brien, an Atlantic, Iowa, farm activist, first heard of Wellstone. "I remember hearing about this professor in Minnesota who cared so much about what was happening to farmers that he was willing to get arrested with us," O'Brien said Friday. "That had a big impact on me. I always remembered that he had stood with us." O'Brien, who went on to become president of the National Family Farm Coalition, recalled how amazed she was when Wellstone was elected to the Senate.

"But, you know what, he never changed. He was always that guy I first heard about, the one who was willing to stand up for the farmers," she remembered. "When the black farmers from down South were marching to protest their treatment by the Department of Agriculture, he would march with them. When no one was paying attention to this current farm crisis, he organized the Rally for Rural America."

At that March 2000, rally, Wellstone delivered one of his trademark speeches, a fiery outburst of anger at agribusiness conglomerates mixed with faith that organizing and political activism could yet save family farmers. "When Wellstone got going, he was so passionate. He was like the old populists, the way he would tear into the corporations," recalled John Kinsman, the president of the Family Farm Defenders.

At the children's camp run by the National Farmers Union, Cathy Statz says, "We use the video of his speech to the Rally for Rural America to teach the boys and girls that there are people in politics you can really look up to, that there are people who speak for us." [15]

New American Movement connection

In 1979 the New American Movement published a booklet entitled "Socialist working papers on energy".

Contributors included Paul Wellstone and Monty Tarbox who wrote "Dangerous Harvest: Tractor Power vs. Power Companies".[16]

In These Times

Over the years, socialist journal In These Times has published the work of a wide range of noted writers, including fiction by Alice Walker and Kurt Vonnegut; reporting by Clinton speechwriter David Kusnet, former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan, and current Salon Editor-in-Chief Joan Walsh; and political commentary by former presidential candidate George McGovern, environmentalist Sandra Steingraber, the late Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, novelists Barbara Kingsolver and Dorothy Allison, and a number of contemporary members of the House of Representatives who contribute to the magazine’s “House Call” column.

The late Sen. Paul Wellstone, one of the first subscribers to In These Times, put it this way: “Meaningful democracy cannot survive without the free flow of information, even (or especially) when that information threatens the privileged and the powerful. At a time of growing media concentration, In These Times is an invaluable source of news and information that the corporate media would too often prefer to ignore.”[17]

IPS connections

Paul Wellstone was extremely close to the radical Washington DC based Institute for Policy Studies.

IPS leader John Cavanagh explained this in a November 11, 2002 article in The Nation. [18]

Paul was a friend of the Institute for Policy Studies since before he came to the Senate. As a professor he had invited our co-founder, Dick Barnet, to Minnesota to speak on his campus. Dick remained a close adviser to the end. When he arrived in Washington, Paul reached out to Marcus Raskin and the rest of us. He called on us often and we happily responded. There is no senator who has been closer or dearer over the past twelve years.

Paul spoke at our conferences. He presented a Letelier-Moffitt award, named after the former Chilean Ambassador and his assistant, who were assassinated by Augusto Pinochet's agents in 1976. After he took his journey through the South in the footsteps of Robert Kennedy, Paul came to Howard University for a special speech that IPS organized. When he was exploring running for President four years ago, he turned to Bob Borosage and myself and others of us for two long morning discussions. He was a terrific listener. He was humble.
Three years ago next month, Paul traveled to Seattle with 60,000 of us to block the new WTO trade round. Several of us helped to organize an event at a big left bookstore in Seattle, and in the middle of the program, Paul walked in. I pulled him up to the microphone despite his protests, and he simply said: "This is your protest. This is the right issue. I am here to learn and I am with you." And he sat down in the audience. Always learning. Always humble. Always growing. Leading through example.
A model public servant. A dear friend (equally so his wife). We must study how he stayed out of the pockets of corporate interests and still won his races. We must tell the story of how he voted against war twice and defied the political pundits and increased his popularity at home with the votes.
We learned of Paul's death yesterday at the beginning of a meeting of more than 100 to coordinate antiwar work around the country. We dedicated the meeting to his memory and we pulled together a United for Peace coalition to work together in the months to come.

In Paul and Sheila's memory, we must defeat war once again and build a world based on justice and peace and ecological sustainability.

NEXT AGENDA Conference

NEXT AGENDA was held at the National Press Club, Main Ballroom, Feb. 28,2001.

At Feb. 28 Conference on NEXT AGENDA, progressive activists, Congressional leaders will unite to forge strategy for "working families" agenda -- the day after President Bush delivers his plans to joint session of Congress.
-- Calling themselves the real "democratic majority," organizers and thinkers, led by the Campaign for America's Future, to release new book outlining an agenda for changes they insist most voters endorsed in 2000 elections.
On Feb. 28, a national conference on the NEXT AGENDA, will bring together progressive activists, intellectuals and allies in the Congress for the first time since the disputed election and battles over President Bush's cabinet nominees. It will frame the next two year's debate.
Sponsored by the progressive advocacy group, the Campaign for America's Future and its sister research organization, the Institute for America's Future, the Conference on the Next Progressive Agenda has been endorsed by a who's who of prominent leaders from the labor unions, women's organizations, civil rights groups, environmentalists and individual members of the House and Senate. Their goal: to forge a progressive movement to fight for the "working family" agenda they insist was endorsed by a majority of the voters in the 2000 election.

Organizers of the conference would release a new book, THE NEXT AGENDA: Blueprint for a New Progressive Movement, edited by Robert Borosage and Roger Hickey and published by Westview Press.

Special Guests were:

The Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First

Paul Wellstone, former Senator, Minnesota, is on the list of Congressional Representatives who have participated in hearings/briefings since 1998, with the very radical Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First, founded by Frances Moore Lappe (Democratic Socialists of America, Institute for Policy Studies) and Joseph Collins (Institute for Policy Studies), authors of the book "Food First".[20]

Rapoport Backing

In 1990, Bernard Rapoport got a call from Tony Mazzocchi–the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers union official who was so disillusioned with the Democratic Party that he founded a Labor Party. Mazzocchi told Rapoport there was not an American politician he cared about. Yet he was asking Rapoport–the insurance company executive and former U.T. Board of Regents chair –to contribute to a candidate in a U.S. senate race.

“Tony told me Paul Wellstone believes in everything we believe in,” said Rapoport. The man who inspired Mazzocchi to suspend his boycott of Democratic political candidates was a political science professor who had joined Hormel workers on a picket line and gone to jail for protesting unfair lending practices. Rapoport promised to “open up the bank” for Wellstone. Mazzocchi promised he wouldn’t be disappointed. Paul Wellstone, Mazzocchi predicted, would not waver from his principles. [21]

Single-payer Bill

In 1994 Jim McDermott, John Conyers and Paul Wellstone promoted a "single-payer" health care bill (HR1200/S491).[22]

Ellen Shaffer, a member of Wellstone's staff told the People's Weekly World that the authors had been "working closely" with Hillary Clinton. "She knows what they are doing" Shaffer said.[23]

Back to Basics conference


A Back to Basics conference on the future of the American Left, was held in Chicago October 9-11, 1998. Speakers included: Sen. Paul Wellstone, Rep. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, Barbara Dudley, Quentin Young and Jim Hightower. The conference was sponsored by Sponsored by In These Times[24].

DSA connections

"The Left in Minnesota Politics"

In 1983 Paul Wellstone, Prof. of Political Science at Carleton College and recent Democratic Farmer Labor candidate for State Auditor, speaks at the Minneapolis-St. Paul annual Holiday Pot Luck Dinner Dec. 18 on "The Left in Minnesota Politics" . . . DSA member Rick Scott, former chair of the DFL party, spoke to the local in October... Bob Patrician is the new chair of the local DSA. . .[25]

DSA 87 convention

DSA 1987 Convention program
DSA 1987 Convention program

Twin City socialists

In 1990 Democratic Left, November/December issue, page 5 stated;

Twin cities DSA in Minnesota continues its resurgence with ongoing support of Paul Wellstone's campaign for the Senate seat currently held by Republican Rudy Boschwitz. Local activists are doing literature drops and helping to raise money for this watershed campaign...As a professor at Carlton College, Wellstone has mentored many DSA Youth Section activists...Contributions, made out to Wellstone for U.S. Senate, can be sent to the DSA national Office and will be forwarded to the campaign.

The Twin Cities DSA local put most of its time and energy in the Fall of 1990 into Paul1 Wellstone's successful campaign for the Senate and called him "explicitly democratic socialist in orientation."[26]

In 1992 Twin Cities Democratic Socialists of America members Gene Martinez and Anita Martinez hosted a fundraiser for the Wellstone Alliance. Senator Paul Wellstone spoke to the DSAers and Democratic Farmer Laborites in attendance.[27]

DSA Conference invitation


In 1993, Wellstone was invited to the DSA national Convention. He couldn't make it because of injury, but hoped to attend later events.

DSA PAC support

In July 1996, the Democratic Socialists of America Political Action Committee endorsed Paul Wellstone, MN Senate, in that year's Congressional elections.[28]

DSAers on the ground

Democratic Left, Nov. 1996, page 11

In 1996 Democratic Socialists of America sent six staff members into the field for the final weeks of the campaign. These staff and DSA volunteers "contributed to the re-election of Senator Paul Wellstone, Congressperson Maurice Hinchey (D-upstate NY) and aided in the narrow victory of pro-labor John Tierney (D-MA) over "moderate" Republican Pete Torkildsen in Massachusetts.

DSA leader Christine Riddiough was assigned to Wellstone's campaign;[29]

Rudy Boschwitz, branded Wellstone "embarrassingly liberal." As the campaign intensified, Boschwitz became increasingly negative in his ads. In the last days before the election he claimed that Wellstone had burned the American flag in the '60s.

Before I got to Minnesota the race was neck and neck, but in that last week before the election-coinciding with DSA's active involvement-Wellstone pulled out to a strong lead, finally winning by nine percent. While I was there I worked with the campaign's superbly organized grassroots efforts. I concentrated on organizing DSA members and members of the gay and lesbian community to round up volunteers for Wellstone. Then I rolled up my sleeves for endless rounds of calls to Wellstone supporters to make sure they got out to vote.

Focus on Wellstone

In 2000 Minnesota Democratic Socialists of America decided[30]to focus;

all of its efforts as a group the next two years on reelecting Senator Paul Wellstone, who is closest to DSA’s ideology. Although divided on Gore vs. Nader, they are 100% united behind Wellstone. Wellstone is being targeted by the Republicans and Bush administration for defeat...

Young Socialists connection

In 2002 Chicago DSA member Bob Roman wrote[31]of Paul Wellstone's link to Young Democratic Socialists;

There had been a Youth Section (YDS) chapter at Carleton College for which Wellstone had been the faculty adviser.

Third term

According to Twin Cities Democratic Socialists of America leader Dan Frankot, the Social Democratic Action Caucus of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, founded by DSA, "is organizing around various issues and will work to reelect Paul Wellstone for a third term to the Senate."[32]

DSA youth drive

DSA’s national electoral project in 2002 was the the Minnesota Senate Election. According to Democratic Left Fall 2002, page 5;[33]

Together with YDS, DSA’s Youth Section,we are mobilizing to bring young people to Minnesota. Minnesota is one of the few states that allow same day voter registration.We will focus our energy on registering young people. Wellstone will need a high percentage of young people to register and vote for him if he is to stave off the campaign that Bush and the Republicans have orchestrated against him. He is the right’s number one electoral target.

Because we are focusing on issue based voter registration, this electoral work can be supported by tax deductible contributions and the DSA FUND is soliciting such contributions to support this project.

Contributions are needed to underwrite the costs of transportation as well as to provide stipends for expenses. DSA members wishing to contribute should make their check payable to DSAFund and return it to 180 Varick St., 12th fl., NY, NY10014. Contributions can also be made on-line at

Consequent IRS controversy

A non-partisan voter registration drive organized by the Democratic Socialists of America Fund in Minnesota during their fall 2002 Senate race was included in an IRS investigation.

Both DSA and the DSA Fund received letters that indicated their tax-exempt status might be threatened. A finding that either organization had engaged in improper partisan activity could have led to fines and penalties that could have included loss of their tax-exempt status.[34]

In our case, the right-wing Minnesota Tax Payers League charged that the small non-partisan voter registration drive we organized actually consisted of an attempt to bring out-of state students to Minnesota to illegally vote for Democratic Senate candidate Paul Wellstone. The Drudge Report ran with the charge, and Fox News spread it further, even though the the Tax Payers League backed away from that ludicrous charge two days after they made the allegation. Other right-wingers then tried to stir up more controversy, charging that we organizednan illegal partisan voter registration drive.

DSA members around the country contributed thousands of dollars to defray the legal expenses incurred in defending the organization from these charges. We retained the firm of Harmon, Curren, Spielberg & Eisenberg, a Washington, DC firm that specializes in this area of the law.

"After more than a year of filing, responding and waiting, we finally have received our closure letters. The IRS has accepted our 2002 returns and our explanation of the voter registration project. They also said formally that our tax-exempt status was not in jeopardy.

"The Progressive Challenge: Capitol Hill Forum"

On January 9, 1997, over 600 people attended "The Progressive Challenge: Capitol Hill Forum" sponsored by the House Progressive Caucus, Democratic Socialists of America, and a host of other progressive organizations.

The primary goal of this day-long "kick-off" forum was to "identify the unifying values shared by progressives at this point in US history, to help define core elements of a forward-looking progressive agenda, and to pinpoint ways to connect that agenda with the concerns of millions of disillusioned people who lack voices in present politics and policy-making."

After a welcome by Representative Bernie Sanders, an impressive array of legislators, activists, and thinkers offered their insights. Senator Paul Wellstone, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Patricia Ireland of NOW, Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO, Noam Chomsky, William Greider of Rolling Stone, and DSA Honorary Chair Barbara Ehrenreich were among the many who spoke.

Some emphasized the importance of the conventional, if difficult, process of progressive candidates building grassroots campaigns that treat voters with intelligence and challenge prevailing wisdom regarding what values and issues motivate ordinary Americans struggling to make ends meet-as opposed to using polls and focus groups to concoct "designer" campaigns to appeal to upscale "soccer moms." Other speakers reminded those present that great changes are made by people acting outside of the corridors of power to define justice and "political reality," and the electoral and legislative processes are not the only arenas worthy of activists' attention.[35]

FALN amnesty

Several U.S. lawmakers have championed a domestic terrorist group, the Armed Forces of National Liberation (known by its Spanish initials of FALN) that seeks to impose a Marxist-Leninist regime on Puerto Rico and secede from the United States.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the FALN planted more than 130 bombs and killed at least six people. Reps. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), all left-wingers of Puerto Rican ancestry, embraced the cause of 16 convicted FALN members serving time in federal prison. Serrano called them "political prisoners," according to the People's Weekly World, the official newspaper of the Communist Party USA.

They campaigned to pressure then-president Bill Clinton to issue pardons to free the radicals, even though the terrorists themselves had not requested that their sentences be commuted. When Clinton agreed to grant them clemency in August 1999, Serrano blasted him for requiring them to renounce violence as a precondition of their release.

That presidential action caused problems for then-first lady Hillary Clinton, who was about to begin her campaign to become a U.S. senator. "President Clinton made his decision to release the FALN terrorists at the same time his wife was campaigning for the Senate in New York," the Senate Republican Policy Committee reported in a policy paper.

"Many commentators believe he hoped to win votes for his wife from the large Hispanic population in New York City. However, law-enforcement groups and victims'-rights groups were outraged, and his clemency offer did not poll well in New York state. His wife then opposed the granting of clemency, and the president denied that she was in any way involved in the decision."

The clemency offer did not otherwise fit the pattern of Clinton's behavior, the committee noted: "The president had only granted three out of the more than 4,000 clemency requests during his presidency." The terrorists didn't even ask for clemency, and in granting it Clinton "did not follow the procedures that have been in place since Grover Cleveland was president," granting it "even though the Justice Department did not take an official position as required."

Ninety-five senators condemned Clinton's action, voting in a resolution that "the president's offer of clemency to the FALN terrorists violates long-standing tenets of United States counterterrorism policy, and the release of terrorists is an affront to the rule of law, the victims and their families, and every American who believes that violent acts must be punished to the fullest extent of the law."

A joint congressional resolution declared that "making concessions to terrorists is deplorable," and that "President Clinton should not have granted amnesty to the FALN terrorists."

Hillary Clinton changed her position, but not two of her colleagues-to-be. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) were the minority of two standing on the far left with the amnesty. [36]

Anti nuclear waste in Texas

Paul Wellstone was back in Texas in 1998, responding to requests from a coalition of groups in West Texas, Wellstone became the Senate’s greatest single obstacle to a plan that would have made the tiny town of Sierra Blanca the nation’s next nuclear waste dump.

Wellstone was the only U.S. Senator to stand with members of the Texas House delegation and residents of Sierra Blanca in opposition to the Sierra Blanca site. He joined Lloyd Doggett, Ciro Rodriguez, Silvestre Reyes, and Sierra Blanca Catholic pastor Rev. Ralph Solis at a Capitol press conference called by opponents of the Sierra Blanca dump. [37]

Battle in Seattle

According to the Communist Party USA's Tim Wheeler , "most farmers understand that they are no longer strong enough to resist the onslaught of agribusiness by themselves. They are actively looking for allies to fight the agribusiness common enemy. The National Farmers Union is actively recruiting farmers with the concept that only with union solidarity can they hope to win in the struggle against the monopolies. The NFU has developed a close working alliance with the AFL-CIO. Several thousand farmers traveled to Seattle in Nov. 1999 to join organized labor, environmentalists, youth and other progressive groups to shut down the World Trade Organization. A few months later, these same forces brought about 3,000 farmers and their allies for a "Rally for Rural America" in Washington, D.C. It was co-sponsored by the NFU, the AFL-CIO, the National Coalition of Family Farmers, the Corn Growers Association, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and a dozen other rural organizations and movements. It was an impressive outpouring of Black, Latino, and white farmers from every region of the country.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), now the chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, and Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn) delivered powerful speeches in which both zeroed in on the key questions: a fair price to the farmers for the commodities they produce; tough enforcement of antitrust laws to break up the agribusiness conglomerates; a ban on feedlot factory farms that are polluting the air, land and water across the country. Gerald McEntee, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, delivered a strong blast at the agribusiness profiteers and appealed for farmer-labor-environmental unity.[38]

To Colombia with Costain

Pamela Costain traveled to Colombia with Senator Paul Wellstone in November 2000.

'There was no chance for error. The Colombian national police were going to do an aerial spray of coca bushes right in front of a U.S. senator and the delegation accompanying him.

Pam Costain, executive director of the Minneapolis-based Resource Center of the Americas, heard all the assurances from Colombian authorities just before she felt the mist envelop her.

"We're looking at each other and we're thinking, 'What just happened here?'" recalled Costain.

Costain, 50, had been asked by Sen. Paul Wellstone to join him on his to Colombia.

This was a senatorial junket. Wellstone's expenses to a nation of roadside explosives and herbicide mists were covered by the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, of which he was a member. Wellstone was just one of three senators who voted against a $1.3 billion U.S. aid plan that is supposed to help Colombia fight its drug war.

According to Wellstone, there was simplistic pressure to support the huge aid package.

"It was presented that if you weren't supporting this package, you were in favor of drugs in U.S. schools," he said.

Wellstone held firm on his vote opposing the aid, then set up last week's trip so he could see a little of the so-called war. Mostly, though, he wanted to talk to human-rights workers in Colombia about the toll the "war" is taking on the poorest Colombians and those who are trying to protect them.

Costain came up with funding of her own for the trip. She was a longtime activist in peace and justice causes and, with others, had met with Wellstone in mid-November to express concerns about U.S. policy in Colombia. The fear is that U.S. aid, most of which is for military supplies, brings only more violence to a brutality-filled land.

At the conclusion of that meeting, Wellstone asked Costain whether she'd like to accompany him to Colombia. She said she'd love to go, which is how she found herself on the side of a Colombian mountain six days ago.

On this trip to the coca-growing regions of Colombia, though, she was not only with a U.S. senator, she was with the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Anne Patterson, and high-ranking officials in Colombia's police. She received military briefings and arrived at the can't-miss spray site on a Blackhawk helicopter.[39]

Opposed Iraq War

Six of the eight U.S. Senators from the four upper Midwest states voted against the resolution to authorize force against Iraq, all of them Democrats or progressive Democrats: Mark Dayton and Paul Wellstone (Minn.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), and Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.).

Sen. Wellstone, the only member of the Senate voting "Nay" who was facing election that fall, died in a plane crash just prior to the 2002 election; his seat was taken by Republican Norm Coleman. But Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, joined the war resistance a year later by voting against the $87 billion supplemental appropriation for the Iraq War.[40]

Supported by Council for a Livable World

The Council for a Livable World, founded in 1962 by long-time socialist activist and alleged Soviet agent, Leo Szilard, is a non-profit advocacy organization that seeks to "reduce the danger of nuclear weapons and increase national security", primarily through supporting progressive, congressional candidates who support their policies. The Council supported Paul Wellstone in his successful Senate run as candidate for Minnesota.[41]

Borosage on Board

Institute for Policy Studies leader Robert Borosage has served as an issues adviser to several progressive political campaigns, including those of Senators Carol Moseley Braun, Barbara Boxer and Paul Wellstone. In 1988, he was Senior Issues Advisor to the presidential campaign of Reverend Jesse Jackson.[42]

The Progressive

Wellstone has been a contributor to the liberal magazine, The Progressive.

Plane crash

Paul and Sheila Wellstone


The following have worked as staff members for Paul Wellstone:[43]

External links


  1. In These Times, October 12, 2012, Paul Wellstone’s Legacy, BY Peter Dreier
  2. In These Times, October 12, 2012, Paul Wellstone’s Legacy, BY Peter Dreier
  3. In These Times, October 12, 2012, Paul Wellstone’s Legacy, BY Peter Dreier
  4. Wellstone Action bio of Paul Wellstone, accessed June 5, 2011
  5. In These Times, October 12, 2012, Paul Wellstone’s Legacy, BY Peter Dreier
  6. On the Shoulders of Giants Tuesday, 25 November 2008 16:16 By Paul Ortiz, t r u t h o u t
  7. [1]
  8. Wellstone Action bio of Paul Wellstone, accessed June 5, 2011
  9. In These Times, October 12, 2012, Paul Wellstone’s Legacy, BY Peter Dreier
  10. In These Times, October 12, 2012, Paul Wellstone’s Legacy, BY Peter Dreier
  11. In These Times, October 12, 2012, Paul Wellstone’s Legacy, BY Peter Dreier
  12. Huffington Post, From Organizer To Elected Official, Peter Dreier, September 8, 2008
  13. [, From protester to senator, FBI tracked Paul Wellstone By Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio October 25, 2010]
  14. Youtube, Democracy Now, FBI Documents on Senator Paul Wellstone Raise Questions about His Death 8 Years Ago, n Oct 29, 2010
  15. Published on Saturday, October 26, 2002 by The Nation. Paul Wellstone, 1944-2002 An Appreciation by John Nichols
  16. Socialist working papers on energy, NAM revised edition 1979, contents page
  17. [2] In These times, About US, accessed May 27, 2010
  18. The Nation, Paul Wellstone Remembered, November 11, 2002
  19. [, Common Dreams, Morning After Bush's Speech, Progressive Activists to Unite Feb. 28 for Conference on 'Working Family' Agenda, WASHINGTON - February 26 - News Advisory]
  20. [, Food First staff page]
  21. Texas Observer, Remembering Wellstone by Louis Dubose Published on Friday, November 8, 2002
  22. Dem. Left, Jan./Feb. 1994, page 2
  23. PPW, March 13, 1993, page 1
  25. [3]
  26. DEMOCRATIC LEFT 14 MARCH-APRIL 1991, page 14
  27. Dem. Left, Jan./Feb. 1993. page 9
  28. Democratic Left, July/August 1996, page 21
  29. [Dem. Left, Nov./Dec. 1996]
  32. Democratic Left • Summer 2002]
  33. Democratic Left Fall 2002
  34. Democratic Left • Spring 2006 • Page 9
  35. [Democratic Left • Issue #1 1997 * page 7-8]
  36. [FOR THE RECORD * - When Congressmen Support Terrorism -* The Enemies Within * Insight On The News ^ | 22 Jan, 2003 | J. Michael Waller]
  37. Texas Observer, Remembering Wellstone by Louis Dubose Published on Friday, November 8, 2002
  38. CPUSA, If You Eat, You're Involved in Agriculture: Report from the Rural and Farm Comm.
  39. Cannabis News, osted by FoM on December 06, 2000
  40. [, correction,, 01.04.2005 14:43], indymedia]
  41. CLW website: Meet Our Candidates
  42. Apollo Alliance board bios, accessed November 18, 2010
  43. Legistorm: Paul Wellstone (accessed on Aug. 24, 2010)