On October 25, 2002, a plane carrying Senator Paul Wellstone; his wife, Sheila; their daughter, Marcia; and five others went down near Eveleth, killing everyone on board. Minnesota, indeed the country, would never be the same.
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RICK KAHN: Tim Walz, running for office in 2006, asked if we could sit down and talk. We did, and we became very close friends.
I’ll tell you a story: the day before the second anniversary of the crash, in 2004, I went with Marcia’s husband to the site where the plane went down. He had told me that he’d retrieved small pieces of the plane that were still there. So we drove up together. The site where the plane went down is pretty inaccessible. It’s in a bog—you take a step and you’re up to your knees in mud. The government did a very thorough review of the circumstances and had removed the debris, but they didn’t scour the site. And sure enough, there were still some pieces there. I collected some, Marcia’s husband collected some more. So I had these pieces.
Fast forward to 2006. It’s four months before the election and I’m at an event with Tim Walz. We’re standing outside, just the two of us, and I hand him a small piece of the plane. I say to him, “This comes with a mandate: somehow, some way, you make this a part of something that flies again.” He used it as a good-luck charm for the balance of the campaign and he was carrying it in his pocket when he was sworn into Congress.
TIM WALZ: I hear Wellstone’s name all the time now in Washington. And almost exclusively it’s in reference to the potential of working together—how [the late Senator] Strom Thurmond and Paul Wellstone could be polar opposites ideologically but still came together for the good of the country; that this division ripping the country apart doesn’t have to be that way. And the example they often use is Paul Wellstone.
RICK KAHN: When that day comes, as it inevitably will, when people ask, “Who’s the Wellstone in Wellstone Action?” I won’t be sad. It’s not important that everyone understands that history. What’s important is that you’re learning something that’s going to help you change the world.
My favorite moment from Paul’s last campaign was, I believe, Paul’s as well. It was July. Paul was in the headquarters, sitting at the end of this big conference-room table surrounded by this huge group of young volunteers. He went around the room and asked everyone, “Why are you doing this? Why does this matter to you?” And he had such a big smile on his face, like, these people are the future; they will carry on and do amazing things. He had this look, and I knew what he was thinking without him having to say the words: What a great world we live in.
The Son Also Rises
David Wellstone comes home
When it was all over—the memorial service, the investigation, the eventual settlement with the charter-plane service ($25 million for the wrongful deaths of the six passengers)—the Wellstone sons, Mark and David, fled the spotlight.
Mark, the younger, who had shouted, “We will win! We will win!” at the memorial, moved to Colorado. David moved to northern California, built a retreat in the redwoods not far from the Pacific Ocean, and began working with Rep. Jim Ramstad among others to pass his father’s mental-health parity bill. This fall, having acquired a duplex in the Dale-Grand neighborhood of St. Paul, he’s back.
“It’s perfect timing,” David says. “My son’s at Sonoma State University, I’m an empty-nester.” He’s also written a book, out this month: Becoming Wellstone: Healing From Tragedy and Carrying on My Father’s Legacy (Hazelden, $15). It’s the first family memoir, an intimate reflection on his father’s advice to “Think for yourself, don’t just go around with the crowd.”
It might seem like the first step toward running for office, but David says only that he’ll keep advocating for mental-health issues and working with Wellstone Action, on University Avenue, now just a few memory-soaked miles from home.