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NATION MOURNS SENATOR PAUL WELLSTONE: Champion of Education and the Little Guy

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"There is no better investment than the education of our children. No speech will lower class size. No promise will fix a school without heat. No exhortation will create high quality early childhood education opportunities for all of our children. The federal budget should reflect our values."

“Tireless public servant.” “The soul of the Senate.” “One of the most courageous and noble men I have ever known.” “A proud and passionate voice for working people.” “Love him or hate him, what he had was passion.” Such were the reactions on the morning of Oct. 25 after a small plane carrying Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN), his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia, and three campaign staffers crashed in northern Minnesota. The immediate reaction of everyone in the education community was shock, followed quickly by the realization that we had lost one of education’s true champions.

From his efforts to obtain mandatory full funding for special education, to his fight to increase the number of disadvantaged children served by the Title I program, Wellstone was a staunch advocate for children nationwide and an unflinching believer that government can and should be a positive force in the lives of Americans. Small in stature, but big in heart, he was a person whose passionate rallying cry continues to resonate today.

Wellstone’s commitment to funding education is obvious in a statement issued shortly after the release of President Bush’s budget:

There is no better investment than the education of our children. No speech will lower class size. No promise will fix a school without heat. No exhortation will create high quality early childhood education opportunities for all of our children. The federal budget should reflect our values.

Always ready with a hug and a smile, Paul Wellstone was beloved by everyone who knew him regardless of party affiliation or political leanings. At a memorial service in Minnesota on Oct. 29, over 20,000 people filled the Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota. Hundreds more were turned away because of lack of space. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), one of Wellstone’s closest friends in the Senate delivered the closing remarks, saying “No one ever wore the title of ‘Senator’ better and used it less. He was the most principled public servant I’ve ever known. Paul truly had the courage of his convictions and his convictions were based on the principles of hope, compassion, the Good Samaritan, helping those left on the roadside of life. His courage is an example for all.”

Shortly after Wellstone’s death, his campaign sent out an e-mail with the text of an ad he was about to run in his reelection campaign against Republican Norm Coleman. The e-mail said, “This is the way Paul wanted to end the campaign.” In the ad, Wellstone said: “I don’t represent the big oil companies. I don’t represent the big pharmaceutical companies. I don’t represent the Enrons of this world. But you know what? They already have great representation in Washington. It’s the rest of the people that need it. I represent the people of Minnesota.”

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