I first met Paul at a coffee shop in Northfield, MN, where he was living at the time, teaching at Carleton College. I had heard of him, he seemed fascinating, so I went up and introduced myself. He was so welcoming and we had a delightful conversation. The next time we saw each other was at the start of his first run for the Senate. I went to HQ and asked what was needed, then I proceeded to go to various office supply stores and electronics shops and ‘pitch for Paul’ and get these places to give in-kind donations to the campaign. I must have been convincing because the campaign was given almost everything we asked for.
I will skip now to the third and fateful campaign. I was incredibly ill (undiagnosed MS, plus chronic mononucleosis) but determined to help Paul win. I loved Paul and his enthusiasm about life. He taught me all I knew about politics - the good and honest way of doing politics. I decided that politics could be honorable and something worth dedicating one’s life to...
...and then that fateful, awful day. The worst day of my life to date. I was driving into HQ when I heard on MPR that a plane was missing, and that it could be Paul’s plane. I was in shock. I couldn’t breathe. My mind raced: the weather was ‘iffy,’ he hated flying, why did he decide to go to a funeral when we were in the middle of a heated campaign (because that was Paul)...
I arraived at HQ to television cameras and Jeff (the amazing campaign manager) making a statement. I let out a huge, loud sob. No! Jeff was a pillar of strength. After all, we still had 11 days to go, and Paul had been winning. Al (Franken) flew in to be with us all. He cried with us, and helped us through. We were all in a bit of a daze, but I remember so much food! Individual people and restaurants kept bringing it in. Unfortunately, no one felt like eating.
We got dear Walter Mondale to run in Paul’s place. But the momentum had shifted, and the Coleman campaign was getting away with as much as they could. There were irregularities, and my job on Election Day was to dispatch legal teams to polling places as people let us know what issues they were facing. Let’s just say our legal teams were very busy all day and evening long.
I was in the stairwell, going from the 3rd floor to the 2nd (the main campaign war room), when 7:00pm came and the polls were closing. I collapsed right where I was, and sobbed uncontrollably. I remember Paul, Sheila, Marcia, Mary, Tom, and Will every year. I think about Paul and Sheila everyday. My enthusiasm for politics died that day with Paul and the others. There will never be another Paul Wellstone. Thankfully, through Wellstone Action, his ideas about politics live on. I highly recommend taking the courses if you want to become more engaged in the political process.
RIP Paul, Sheila, Marcia, Mary, Tom, & Will.