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Paul David Wellstone was born in Arlington, Virginia, on July 21, 1944. He was educated in the public schools, where he excelled in both sports and academics. He earned his Bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina in 1965, and his Doctorate from the same institution in 1969. While in college he married his high school sweetheart, Sheila Ison, in 1963.
In 1969, Wellstone took a position as associate professor of political science at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, and remained in that position until 1990. While at Carleton, Wellstone became well known for leading campaigns on behalf of farmers, laborers, the rural poor, the environment, and other causes, and for organizing protests against the school's administrative ties to corporate interests.
In 1990 he decided that his interests might be better served if he got into politics, so he announced a bid for the U.S. Senate. A virtual unknown in Minnesota, Wellstone faced an uphill battle against Republican Rudy Boschwitz, the popular incumbent. Lacking any organized political organization and money, he ran a truly grassroots campaign, personally knocking on doors, making phone calls, etc. After he garnered the Democratic nomination, he gained notice by touring the state in an old green school bus and by airing a series of semi-humorous commercials. Despite seemingly overwhelming odds, Wellstone was the only Minnesota candidate to defeat an incumbent that year, winning 50 percent of the vote to 48 percent. He defeated Boschwitz again in 1996.
In his first term in the Senate, Wellstone wrote legislation to ban gifts from lobbyists to Senators and limit the influence of special interests. Throughout his tenure he was a frequent and passionate advocate for civil rights, environmental causes, farmers, minimum wage increases, and health care reform. He was an equally passionate opponent of the use of force against Iraq in President George H.W. Bush's administration, and against Haiti in President Bill Clinton's administration.
In 2002, Wellstone announced his intention of seeking a third term, despite having initially promised to limit his service to two terms. On October 25, while heading for a campaign appearance in northern Minnesota, the plane carrying Senator Wellstone, his wife, their daughter Marcia, and three staff aides crashed near Eveleth. All aboard, including the pilot and co-pilot, were killed. The Wellstones were survived by two other sons, David and Mark.
Wellstone Action, a national center for training and leadership development for the progressive movement, was founded in memory of Paul and Sheila Wellstone. Its website is www.wellstone.org.
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This page was last updated on October 24, 2017.