We all do better when we all do better: ten years later
October 25, 2012 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Ten years ago a small chartered airplane went down on the Iron Range of Minnesota. Paul and Sheila Wellstone, their daughter Marcia Wellstone Markuson, campaign staffers Tom Lapic, Mary McEvoy and Will McLaughlin, and pilots Richard Conry and Michael Guess all died in the crash. It was eleven days before the 2002 election, in which Paul was running for a third term as Senator representing the state of Minnesota.

The day of the crash, on Metafilter.

His 2002 Campaign page, frozen in time.

Ten years later his legacy lives on. Wellstone Action is one of the largest organizations providing training and support for progressives in the country. There are 55,000 Camp Wellstone Alumni living in all 50 states (and around the world), continuing the work towards progressive public policy, grassroots community organizing, and grassroots electoral politics. In recent years, it has expanded to include Campus Camp Wellstone, voter engagement schools, the Sheila Wellstone Institute, a Native American leadership program and Wellstone Organizing Fellows.

Millions of people receive insurance coverage thanks to the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. This act mandates that if U.S. health insurance companies provide coverage for mental health and substance abuse, the coverage must be equal for conditions such as psychological disorders, alcoholism, and drug addiction.

All the things you fought for did not die here today. (slyt)
posted by Elly Vortex (45 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
He was very well loved and very strongly missed. thanks for posting this.
posted by Blisterlips at 9:37 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

The site is relatively near the freeway (either Highway 65 or Interstate 35, I forget), and there are signs to direct drivers who want to visit. When I am home visiting family we pass it on the way up to The Lake, but no one has ever suggested stopping. I believe there's a monument.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:38 AM on October 25, 2012

This day always hurts a little bit. I'm not from MN, but I came of age there and cut my teeth on MN progressive politics. He's never been replaced in the US Senate, but the legacy of Wellstone Action and what it's done for the progressive movement is truly amazing, and quite tangible (I've been both a trainer and a trainee). I can't count the number of great progressive organizers and activists I know who have gone through their program.

I used to have a button that Wellstone Action makes that just says "stand up - keep fighting." Remember, it's just 12 days until the election!
posted by lunasol at 9:53 AM on October 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

You still see the distinctive bus-green Wellstone! stickers everywhere here--even on new cars.
posted by padraigin at 9:53 AM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

I will never, ever, believe this crash was an accident.
posted by charlesminus at 9:54 AM on October 25, 2012 [20 favorites]

Ouch. That "State can't afford to lose Sen. Wellstone" headline on the campaign site, two days before the crash, is brutal.
posted by neckro23 at 9:59 AM on October 25, 2012

I moved to Minnesota in 2001 from California and one of the things I told people that I was most excited about was casting a vote for my favorite senator.

I drove by Flying Cloud airport in Eden Prairie just last week and my heart was heavy knowing that's where his plane took off that day, never to land.

There was a second tragedy too, which was packing a massive auditorium full of a) fervent and mourning Wellstone supporters and b) U.S. Senators for a state-wide televised memorial service. Trent Lott goes up on the jumbotron, everybody boos. Jebus, what would you expect? Nevertheless a few weeks later the backlash from that event drives snakey Norm Coleman into Wellstone's seat, beating out another Minnesota hero, Walter Mondale.

It was divine justice when Al Franken ousted Coleman 6 years later. Now ol' Norm is relegated to stumping for jackass voter ID amendments.

posted by mcstayinskool at 10:04 AM on October 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

God it was good to hear The Ballad of Paul and Sheila again.

I didn't live here in MN when Paul died and my taste in politics was sadly unshaped yet, but I always loved that song. And now I feel like Wellstone was a hero I never knew.
posted by kingbenny at 10:06 AM on October 25, 2012

posted by rocketman at 10:06 AM on October 25, 2012

That was my first comment on Metafilter. He was a good man. R.I.P.
posted by jcruelty at 10:08 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Paul Wellstone is a hunted man.

The thing that drives me crazy is that Wellstone was going to win. He was going to win in 2002, the Year of Fear, the year the GOP laid the groundwork for 2004. And he was going to win by running one of the smartest, most exciting grassroots campaigns I've ever witnessed. For instance, St Paul has a fairly large Hmong population. Instead of just translating existing campaign materials into Hmong, they actually hired Hmong organizers, who worked with community members to produce campaign audio tapes that families could listen to together (which was a common way for the Hmong community to disseminate info).

I love this particular tidbit because it really shows how Wellstone (and the team he built) viewed politics. It wasn't simply a way to use people to build power - Wellstone honestly felt that his job was to use politics to empower people. He really valued his constituents. And he got elected that way. It was both morally right and it was smart politics.

Incidentally, one of the reasons Al Franken's victory in 2008 was so satisfying was that it knocked out Norm Coleman. Coleman is the polar opposite of what Wellstone represented - a Romney-esque, value-free politician who changed parties when it was politically useful and never seemed to be after anything higher than getting himself elected. It always really stung that he had Wellstone's place in the Senate.
posted by lunasol at 10:09 AM on October 25, 2012 [37 favorites]

I remember how outraged all the usual Republican and warblogging subjects were that his funeral was turned into "a political circus" and how concerted they were for his reputation and the surviving family.

That was when I really started to hate concern trolls.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:11 AM on October 25, 2012 [11 favorites]

Miss him so much. We could use him now.

If he were here he'd be saying VOTE!
posted by spitbull at 10:22 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

He was the real deal.

When I was in high school, despite it being a conservative suburb, Wellstone was the one senator who came our school to discuss government with us. When the high school band toured D.C., he took the time to meet with us. He came and spoke at my church. In later years my wife interacted with him on social work issues when he got personally involved helping the Somali community. There is no other politician I've ever known who was so willing and able to personally interact with me. He must have had superhuman levels of energy to keep going like that.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 10:27 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

The site is relatively near the freeway (either Highway 65 or Interstate 35, I forget), and there are signs to direct drivers who want to visit. When I am home visiting family we pass it on the way up to The Lake, but no one has ever suggested stopping. I believe there's a monument.

It's on highway 53, just south of Eveleth. There are small monuments along a hiking path, the main monument in the center, and a spur path to the crash site itself. It's very nice. I've gone there several times on the way back from a days-worth of meetings on the Iron Range. It's a nice place to walk in the woods, even if it is sad. I have never actually gone to look at the crash site, and probably never will.

On the one hand, I feel that we as a state (and a nation) were incredibly lucky to have him in our lives, doing good, for as long as he did. But on the other hand...(to quote myself quoting Fahrenheit 451 on the Bradbury Obit post), the world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on. Imagine what more he could have done for the world.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:36 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

What the national Republican party did after Wellstone's death, the way they turned the upwelling of grief and shock into political theater, the deftness with which they turned back the effort to maintain the momentum of political enthusiasm with their feigned outrage, it was sickening. I'd always been a lefty, but the kind of lefty who was willing to talk to people from the other side and to try their ideas on for size. I still am, I guess. But after that, with the dust from the Florida recount not even barely settled, I made my break with the modern GOP forever. They are thugs. They lack the barest shred of integrity. They care about nothing but power and the country would be infinitely better off without them. They transformed the shocked grief of those who loved him into an outrageous display of partisan disingenuity. And the news media helped them do it.

Losing Paul Wellstone was a tragedy for this nation. Whenever I think of what we lost that day, whatever I'm doing and wherever I am, I just want to sit down and cry. He should have been our candidate against George W. Bush in 2004.
posted by R. Schlock at 10:38 AM on October 25, 2012 [25 favorites]

I was thinking of him the other day because there is a house in my neighborhood with an old green Wellstone! sign out on the lawn.
posted by Area Man at 10:56 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I still see Wellstone! bumper stickers.

I got to meet him at the Minnesota State Fair the summer before he was killed. I was waiting in line to see him because my boyfriend at the time was a huge fan and I wanted to say I met him. (I was young and dumb and didn't know nor care about politics at the time.)

But I met him. I shook his hand. It was hot and sunny and the line was long, and he stood out there and spoke to everyone in line waiting for him.

I remember that I thought then (and still do today) that the plane crash was far too conveniently timed.
posted by jillithd at 11:02 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I remember how outraged all the usual Republican and warblogging subjects were that his funeral was turned into "a political circus" and how concerted they were for his reputation and the surviving family.

That was when I really started to hate concern trolls.

Let's not forget how the so-called "liberal media" listened to them, and not their lying eyes.

I don't know if I'd use the word "hate," but I'll say my belief that modern movement conservatism operated on anything like good faith took a huge hit that day.

Well, another huge hit.
posted by Gelatin at 11:18 AM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Wellstone left a huge hole, not only in Minnesota politics where he is still beloved by many, not only on the left, but center and right as well; there has been no one on the national stage that has replaced him. You can see some of his noble traits in other national figures (Dennis Kucinich & Barack Obama, e.g.), but no one embodies them all. He was a fighter as well as a man who loved people, not just in the abstract, but the everyday rough and tumble aspects of human nature. He didn't shrink away from any of our problems and in a politician, that is rare.

I miss him.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:22 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I remember that I thought then (and still do today) that the plane crash was far too conveniently timed.

I thought so, too, but am convinced it was coincidence.

If you pay attention, you notice that little planes go down all the time and the more one rides in them, the greater the chances of this happening. There was also a really bad weather system when the pilot tried to land, and sudden wind shifts are the bane of a pilot trying to land an airplane.

That the Republicans were ecstatic it happened is revealed by their snarky response to his memorial service, which I tried to attend (it was right next to the building my office is in) but couldn't due to an overflowing venue and overflow venue. I had to watch it on TV and almost threw a shoe at it when the Republican strategist suggested that it was pre-scripted based on her dim understanding of real-time closed captioning.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:29 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've always assumed it was a successful hit. The powers that be wouldn't want to have to bend to the will of the people, and he was too darn good at pushing that agenda.
posted by MikeWarot at 11:39 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another great Wellstone moment to share.

A former coworker of mine likes the relay this story: a few days after Wellstone won re-election in 1996 (I think), my coworker (who'd worked on his campaign) ran into him and went to shake his hand. Paul looked at him, smiled and said, "Brian, we're Jews. We don't shake hands, we hug."

OK, off to cry now.
posted by lunasol at 11:43 AM on October 25, 2012 [10 favorites]

All the things you fought for did not die here today.

But none of them have recovered from the crippling injury.

I'll remember 10/25 unaided long after I've successfully wiped the perpetually hyped 9/11 from my memory.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:48 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

You still see the distinctive bus-green Wellstone! stickers everywhere here--even on new cars

But mostly on old Volvos, rusty Subarus and bio-diesel Mercedes.
posted by lstanley at 11:48 AM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

Back in '99 or 2000, my dad and I ran into Wellstone in the Northwest airport lounge. He shook my hand, asked about our trip (checking out grad schools), and said if I ended up going to school in DC I should come by and visit some time.

Walking away, my dad said, "You know, he means that. And if you do, he will remember your name and this conversation."

I went elsewhere for school and never did make that visit.

Damn it, now I'm tearing up at my desk.
posted by Flannery Culp at 12:01 PM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

But mostly on old Volvos, rusty Subarus and bio-diesel Mercedes.

Actually, not really. I'm always pleased with how many beat-up pickup trucks bear those stickers!
posted by lunasol at 12:03 PM on October 25, 2012

Sadly, I wasn't even aware of Sen. Wellstone until his tragic death. Around the time he passed, I had given up on Democrats as a bunch of spineless triangulators who replied, "Sir! What shape, sir?!" whenever Karl Rove, Rupert Murdoch, or Roger Ailes said, "Shit."

I had no idea that there were people in the Democratic Party still out there fighting the good fight. So when he passed, and I started reading up on him, I got that strange and unsettling feeling you experience when you understand that you have just lost something you never even knew you had.

And then, when all that Republican and "liberal media" bullshit that others have mentioned started happening after his death, my sadness was replaced by flaming hatred, and a reminder that what Dr. King said all those years ago is still true: This country is sick.

In memoriam for the senator and all the other souls who perished on that flight and in recognition of all that could have been done had he lived:

posted by lord_wolf at 12:14 PM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

After a fundraiser I helped organize in Austin, at which he was the featured speaker, my coworkers and I were lucky enough to have dinner (at Threadgill's!) with Wellstone and Molly Ivins.

At the time I knew it was a really cool thing.

Now that they're both gone, I realize it was a really special thing. They both left huge holes. And, while they can't be exactly duplicated, I sure wish more people were trying to emulate them both.

R.I.P, and .
posted by mudpuppie at 12:23 PM on October 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

Man, that was a shitty, terrible day. For an embarrassingly long time in my hyper-idealistic keeping-it-real youth, I made a big production of the fact that Paul Wellstone was the only major-party politician I'd vote for (and I mean, if you're going to limit yourself to 1, he's a good fucking choice, but my more pragmatic adult self winces just thinking about that whole attitude). It was just such a cheap, low-rent swap to go from Wellstone to Coleman.
posted by COBRA! at 12:31 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I made a big production of the fact that Paul Wellstone was the only major-party politician I'd vote for

Well, don't forget Russ Feingold. Feingold and Wellstone had an ongoing contest between them to see how many times they could be on the losing end of 99-1 votes. While in the senate he was a tireless advocate for civil liberties and was staunchly anti-war, while the rest of his fellow Dems blew with the political wind to the right.

I'd love to see Feingold back in the fold.

More Feingold: awesome This American Live minute interview with McCain and Feingold lambasting the tragedy of Citizens United (7 1/2 minutes).
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:33 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I had done a bunch of campaigning in 2000, but (partially because of the way that had turned out) stayed away from politics in 2002. Somehow, though, I ended up being asked to help out at a Wellstone fundraiser. I live in Madison, Wisconsin, so I guess it was a "friendlies" sort of thing. It was hosted at the home of former gubernatorial candidate Ed Garvey, along with Barbara Lawton, who had run on his ticket but would soon become lieutenant governor under Jim Doyle.

The whole night was so wonderfully surprising. It started when I got there early, walking up an awfully nice street to this warm and friendly house and being invited in like an old friend. I brought my former college roommate with me, a lifelong Minnesota resident, who was thrilled at the chance to hang up people's coats (or anything else) for Paul Wellstone. We spent the next hour or so popping in and out of the kitchen as Barbara Lawton and her husband, and Ed Garvey and his wife, made dip trays and a big sheet of that veggie pizza stuff with the broccoli on top. I couldn't get over how un-fundraisery it felt.

I can't remember if Paul himself was supposed to have been there; he eventually called in on speakerphone, and that was pretty cool anyway. But I do remember Sheila. She was small and so genuinely warm and charming. All I remember is her smiling and, again, treating me like an old friend. I've been campaigning since I was literally a campaign baby, so I know a professional head-tilt when I see one. Sheila Wellstone was herself.

I'm pretty sure it was only a month or so before the crash, because I was so acutely stunned by the loss of someone who had seemed so alive.

And I was so very sad, but so glad, that I had experienced just a tiny bit of what they were like in real life.
posted by Madamina at 1:33 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I remember I was looking forward to voting for Wellstone, especially since we had finally gotten rid of Grams in the last election. I also remember being particularly pissed off about the spin that got applied to the memorial service, since I had been standing outside in the cold watching it on the jumbotron the whole time, having shown up too late to get a spot inside.

And yeah, the timing was pretty much as bad as it could have been, giving just enough time to name a replacement but not enough for any sort of new campaign.
posted by ckape at 1:48 PM on October 25, 2012

I was one of the volunteers at the memorial service. It was a madhouse and even the senators were feeling the vibe. It was capacity and refreshments were only available for the senators and special guests in a separate room. The regular staffers had delivery.

The sheer number of people overwhelmed planners and to be honest, there was a lot of grief amongst the staff and organizers so things were feeling a bit adhoc and wobbly. I overheard the NY Times reporter talk on the phone to someone on how she had flown on that plane in the past. I knew things had gone pear shaped when the reporters in the press room were commenting on the tone of the presenters. I did not think it had gone so bad since some of the senators, when the cameras were not on them, were miming Harkin during his presentation to laughter in their section.

The fervor of the crowd was fed by genuine emotions, thirst, some hunger for those who had been there for hours and the presence of Minnesota's and the nation's political elite.

Paul Wellstone was admired and loved. He is STILL admired and loved. Something to consider in these fractious times. So a big

posted by jadepearl at 6:39 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Although I hadn't lived in the US for years at that point, I'd voted for Wellstone every chance I got. When I heard of the crash, I was on the other side of the world, going through a very personal, very difficult process of my own, and the horrible news made recovery even harder.

It feels like the aftermath of Wellstone's death completed a process that was started by 9/11: tearing away the facade of liberal Minnesota Nice and showing what small-minded nastiness some of the people in this state are capable of. We still haven't recovered from that.
posted by jiawen at 8:43 PM on October 25, 2012

. . . . . . . .
posted by Space Kitty at 10:07 PM on October 25, 2012

I was just thinking about Wellstone the other day, when I learned that George McGovern had died.
posted by whatgorilla at 1:19 AM on October 26, 2012

posted by koucha at 6:55 AM on October 26, 2012

When I was in sixth grade, my school's Knowledge Bowl team won the state competition. Paul Wellstone sent each of us a letter congratulating us and telling us how important it is that we continue to be smart, engaged citizens.

At the time it didn't really strike me, but I think now about how cool it is that he would take the time to pay attention to middle school Knowledge Bowl, and send a bunch of dorky 12-year-olds such a letter.

I was just barely too young to vote for Wellstone in that last election.
He was one of a kind.
I don't have a car, but when I do, Wellstone!
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:35 AM on October 26, 2012

It is not incredibly unusual to still see people in Duluth put out their green Wellstone signs during election season. This year it is especially poignant.

It is true that for a lot of Minnesotans, it is one of those Kennedy/Challenger/9.11 moments--you clearly remember where you were and how it felt when you heard. I was in my car, the weather was cold and rainy and the fact that he was going to an acquaintance's family member's funeral made it especially awful. I felt bad for my friend--to have Wellstone die on his way to see you must have been particularly shitty.
posted by RedEmma at 1:27 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

One detail I hope doesn't get buried in all this was the role of the Minnesota Green Party and how their 2002 Senate candidate Ed McGaa was probably funded by the Republicans to drain votes from Wellstone. McGaa is a Native American writer of books on alternative spirituality, which makes him sound like a candidate basically designed to fool liberal white hippies and New Agers if there ever was one. McGaa called himself an environmentalist, but was linked to a business plan to ship sewage sludge to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and was more right-wing on defense issues than Wellstone. If the Greens hadn't made the 2002 Senate race as close it was, maybe Senator Wellstone wouldn't have had the need to risk going on that campaign plane.
posted by jonp72 at 2:56 PM on October 26, 2012

I will never, ever, believe this crash was an accident.

Nor will I ever believe that progressive Congresswoman Patsy Mink died of pneumonia a few weeks before Wellstone's death.. She was known as "Pink Mink" during the Viet Nam war for her antiwar stance.
Most recently she was publicly skeptical of the government's response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She raised concerns about the potential loss of civil liberties and the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security. And she was one of only 11 members of the House who refused to vote for a resolution condemning terrorist attacks on Israel, because she said the measure would have cut off diplomatic channels with the Palestinians.
posted by Surfurrus at 10:42 PM on October 27, 2012

In the history of aviation, how many fatal crashes have occurred when not one, but two pilots simultaneously allowed their aircraft to stall and drift off course on approach from thousands of feet? During their final moments, apparently no one noticed this or bothered to phone anyone.......
posted by onesidys at 7:41 PM on October 28, 2012

I'd also echo the comments of those who met Paul and Sheila - if you met them, you never felt as though you were just another vote.
posted by onesidys at 7:47 PM on October 28, 2012

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