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Chapter Twenty-six: Paul Wellstone and the Rest of the Campaign


After my primary defeat on September 10th, I tried to be a good soldier for the Independence Party. I went to Jim Moore’s campaign headquarters on election night and pledged my support. While waiting for a call for help from the Moore campaign, I started writing this book. On October 25th, Minnesotans and Americans were shocked to learn of a plane crash near Eveleth, Minnesota, which killed Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife and daughter, and five other persons. For me, it was this year’s violence - equivalent to the September 11th terrorist attacks - which overshadowed the election.

With hundreds of others, I stood outside Williams arena in the evening of Tuesday, October 29th, right behind the Wellstone green bus, watching a large-screen broadcast of events inside celebrating Wellstone’s remarkable life. This was itself an historic event, negatively influencing the outcome of the election. Within days, former U.S. Senator and Vice President Walter F. Mondale, became Wellstone’s DFL replacement. He, like Wellstone, enjoyed at first a lead in the polls. But Norm Coleman was not to be denied the victory.

Paul Wellstone and I went back a long time. I first met him in 1982 at a gathering at Lakewood College in White Bear Lake while he was campaigning for State Auditor. Several months later, he was at a labor conference at Minneapolis Community College which I also attended. “We (labor unions) are not the problem” was its theme. Tony Mazzocchi of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers union, an advocate of a separate political party for American labor, was the principal speaker. At one point, Wellstone remarked that we needed to improve productivity to create more jobs. From my studies, I believed that this argument was not correct. While business firms need a certain level of productivity to remain competitive, greater labor productivity tends immediately to destroy jobs, not create them. I wrote Wellstone a letter to that effect. He wrote back. We stayed in touch.

During 1983, Paul Wellstone worked at the Minnesota Energy Agency as director of a program that helps poor people pay their heating bills. This agency’s headquarters were located one floor above the offices of the Metropolitan Transit Commission in the American Center Building in St. Paul. I was surprised to run into him in the hallway one day. We had lunch together at the Nectary restaurant. I told him about my work at the transit agency, my interest in shorter work hours, and the lengthy divorce proceedings which I was then experiencing. He expressed sympathy for me as someone losing his wife. I had a schizophrenic brother who lived in Washington, D.C. So did he. He told me some things about his brother.

Wellstone thought his next political move might be to run for Democratic National Committeeman. He said he had support from all factions of the party. When we returned to the American Center Building from lunch, he introduced me to some of his friends including Connie Lewis who had recently worked on the Dayton Senate campaign. He loaned me a copy of a political textbook written by Sam Bowles, whom I knew from Yale, and several other left-leaning scholars. I read parts of it, though not the entire book.

During 1984, I was working hard to build up General Committee for a Shorter Workweek. One of our activities was to walk around Minneapolis lakes with a picket sign promoting the cause. I invited Wellstone to join us once or twice. He sent his regrets. My next recollection of him is when I attended the election-night party for Walter Mondale in 1984 at the St. Paul convention center. Mondale was losing the Presidential election to Reagan by a landslide. Wellstone was standing in the middle of the floor with a group of friends. As I walked by, he beckoned for me to join them. We talked for fifteen minutes or so. Then Wellstone said that he had to join a group of DFL dignitaries up in front. He said goodbye to us all. I lost contact with him for several years.

In the meanwhile, because of my interest in the shorter-workweek issue and involvement in a union drive, I became acquainted with Tom Laney, former president of U.A.W. Local 879 at the Ford plant in St. Paul. Wellstone once told me that Laney was like a brother to him. In February 1990, Tom Laney invited me to attend a coffee party at his home to raise funds for Wellstone’s fledgling Senate campaign. They were asking for $10 donations. When I shook hands with Paul, it seemed that he had to think for a moment before he remembered me, but then we had a nice conversation. I gave Laney a copy of my recently published book, Nonfinancial Economics, coauthored with Eugene McCarthy, and asked Wellstone if he wanted a copy. Later in the campaign, Paul sent me a note saying, sure, send me one. It was in the next day’s mail. I also met and talked with Sheila Wellstone at this coffee party. Although there were perhaps only fifteen people present, we were treated to a full display of Paul Wellstone’s oratory. He paced up and down the living room talking about universal health care and other topics.

I have long felt guilty that I did not do more for the Wellstone campaign. We were asked to attend precinct caucuses for him. However, I had bought a cheap round-trip air ticket to Europe and would be out of the country at the time of the caucuses. Before leaving on the trip, I went to see Paul and told him that I thought health care was a good issue. But I did not offer to help. When I received a postcard from the Wellstone campaign asking for supporters to attend his debate with Senator Boschwitz, I planned to go, but the event was canceled - not the debate, the related activity for volunteers.

Paul Wellstone was elected. He was a big celebrity now. I could not get near him at public events. Even so, Tom Laney arranged for a meeting between Wellstone and some of his labor supporters in a Minneapolis hotel room and invited me to attend. A small group of labor activists sat with Senator-elect Wellstone. I asked him about sponsoring shorter-workweek legislation. He responded, with an edge of sarcasm: “I thought you might ask me that.” The Senator-elect was noncommittal.

I was in the orbit of Wellstone labor supporters during his first year in the Senate. He was firmly aligned with those who opposed fast-track authority for the President to negotiate NAFTA. When representatives of democratic unions asked for persons to observe a union election at the Cuautitlan Ford plant near Mexico City, I answered the call. To bolster my credentials, Senator Wellstone wrote a letter asking me to write a report on that event. When I sent him my book on the NAFTA agreement, he sent me a handwritten letter of congratulations. But he was not willing to sponsor shorter-workweek legislation. I eventually received a letter from Wellstone stating that he did not think this proposal enjoyed sufficient support.

I drifted away from Wellstone politically. Periodically, I would encounter him at a public event. He would greet me warmly (no longer puzzled who I was) and even bring up the shorter-workweek subject. He would observe, for instance, that people in Washington were starting to talk about “family values” and the need for more free time. I told him that I was still working on this project, which was an exaggeration. I was “Mr. Shorter Workweek” in his eyes - not a pathetic figure for someone like Paul Wellstone.

I was always on Paul Wellstone’s mailing list. I sent small contributions for his Senate reelection campaigns and for his brief campaign for the Presidency. My brother, Andrew, was a big fan of Wellstone’s. He must have written the Senator about mental-health issues for, a week after my brother died, an autographed photograph of Senator Wellstone arrived in the mail. It would have pleased my brother greatly. I myself thought that the Wellstone operation was becoming more bureaucratic. He no longer supported schemes like universal health care but instead spent more time servicing the Democrats’ special-interest groups. His fundraising letters were filled too much with fearmongering references to Al D’Amato or Jesse Helms, as, I’m sure, their fundraising letters were filled with frightening references to him. I was miffed when he violated his pledge not to run for a third term.

Even so, I remained a supporter of Wellstone’s reelection up until the moment that I switched over to the Independence Party and ran for Senate myself. The Senator’s office in St. Paul had provided help in arranging for my wife and step-daughter to receive visas to enter the United States. I thanked Paul for that service when my wife and I attended a fund raiser for his campaign at the Shriners hall on Park Avenue in March. He graciously told my wife that she was married to a scholar. Not understanding English too well, she nevertheless gained a sense of Wellstone’s personality when he gave a short, fiery speech.

My last contact with Paul Wellstone was at the debate at Augsburg College on September 5th. Having welcomed me into the Senate race, he was not, however, ready to roll over or concede a point. Wellstone was a fierce competitor. I recall in the debate a question about preschooling. I thought I had aced the question in remembering information from an article in U.S. News & World Report which pointed out the financial advantages of preschool education. For every dollar spent on preschooling, society would save four dollars in the reduced costs associated with special education, delinquency, and so forth. The experienced wrestler knew a move to counter this. Look, he said, these cute little people are precious in themselves. Let’s stop talking about them in terms of saving money. Let’s help them because they are our children. Instead, he commended Jim Moore for telling how a particular preschooling program had helped his small children.

The questioner asked us to say something complimentary about the candidate who was not present, Norm Coleman. In view of the subsequent tragedy, I’m glad that, before responding to that question, I remarked that I liked all the candidates. They’re “all good people”, I said. That was especially true of Paul Wellstone. But then, of course, I went on to tell the joke about Norm Coleman and the Elvis impersonator being the only people being willing to shake hands with me at Farm Fest. (At such events, we candidates have a certain camaraderie as the Roman gladiators might once have had. If we’re not too focused on winning, that aspect overshadows our competitiveness.) We ended the debate on a pleasant note. Wellstone shook hands with us all, and that was the last I saw of him. He did not comment on my “white male” sign.

After the plane crash, my wife and I attended the impromptu gathering at the State Capitol in Wellstone’s memory. I went to the public celebration honoring Wellstone at Williams Arena and stood for hours in the cold watching events unfold inside the hall. Let me say that I was not offended by Rick Kahn’s speech. It seemed at the time quite inspirational. I could understand that, for someone like Kahn, it would not be acceptable for people to say nice things about Wellstone at this gathering and then go home and work to undo his political legacy. It was touchingly idealistic of him to ask for Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad’s help in electing a Democrat as Paul’s replacement. As they say, it never hurts to ask. This was in the same brash spirit as when the newly elected U.S. Senator had thrust an anti-war tape into Vice President Quayle’s hands immediately after being sworn into the Senate. Pushing the envelope a bit at the memorial service was a fitting tribute to the late Senator.

The problem was that we were then in the home stretch of a major political campaign. Partisan feelings were stretched to the limit. Political opponents became huffy about the Kahn speech and managed to turn things around to their advantage. I think, however, that one of Paul Wellstone’s legacies will be the spectacle of 20,000 Minnesotans gathered in his memory at Williams Arena. Could Bill Clinton and other New Democrats who attended this event be sure that, when their time comes, even a small fraction of this crowd will be on hand to honor them? Maybe the political realists can be shamed into fighting for their principles.

After a few days under the spell of the Wellstone tragedy, I snapped back to the realities of a political campaign. On Monday morning, November 4th, Coleman and Mondale participated in a two-person debate at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, where the Prairie Home Companion broadcasts originate. I was among the hundred demonstrators - in our case, protesters - from the different parties who were rooting for their respective candidates. Meanwhile, up at the State Capitol, two or three blocks to the north, the Independence Party’s proud Governor Jesse Ventura was appointing Wellstone’s immediate replacement to the U.S. Senate. Angered at the partisan tone of events that had taken place at Williams arena on Tuesday evening and the fact Jim Moore was being excluded from the Senate debate, Ventura scheduled a time during the debate to announce that he would be appointing fellow Independence Party member, Dean Barkley, to fill Wellstone’s shoes.

I should have known that something like this was happening. As I stood outside the Fitzgerald Theater protesting Moore’s exclusion from the debate, the other Independence Party protesters drifted away. CNN, network news people, local television, radio, and newspaper reporters galore were all massed in that small area outside the debate theater while our Governor, in a political last hurrah, was upstaging them at the Capitol.

Two days earlier, on Saturday, November 2nd, I had been on the Penny campaign bus touring southeastern Minnesota, Tim Penny’s home base. In pairs, we dropped literature in Le Sueur, Le Center, and Montgomery before heading over to New Prague for a rally with the gubernatorial candidate himself. Dean Barkley, another volunteer, sat in the back of the bus. During the rally at the Busy Bee Cafe in Tim Penny’s hometown of Waseca, I spotted Barkley sitting alone at a table. Introducing myself, I asked Barkley if he intended to stay on as head of the state planning agency if Penny was elected Governor. “I suppose I will if they’ll accept a political hack,” replied Barkley, in his self-deprecating way. Barkley said he remembered being a guest on the Property Rights group’s television show. “First, they gave me a tour of the neighborhood,” he said. That was the famous “Minneapolis crack tour”. A photograph of the Penny-Robertson rally at the Busy Bee Cafe, published in the Star Tribune, shows Barkley sitting at a table to the left of Penny and me, my face half-hidden, hoisting a campaign sign. The bus then went on to Faribault and still another rally. We did some more literature distribution there and headed home to St. Paul.

Penny held another rally on Sunday, November 3rd, in the middle of the Lake Street bridge across the Mississippi river between Minneapolis and St. Paul. The idea was that Penny, a former Democrat, and Martha Robertson, a former Republican, could bridge the gap between the two parties in the highly partisan Minnesota Legislature. A year earlier, I had bought a large purple Mexican hat with silver embroidering at the Salvation Army. The front of this hat was curled back, looking like something that an Hispanic Napoleon might have worn. It was a perfect prop for a political rally so long as people did not accuse me of trying to ridicule Mexicans. Since Sunday’s event on Lake Street brought favorable comments, I decided to use this extravagant head ware for Monday’s protest demonstration in front of the Fitzgerald Theater. It was my turn to do something for the Moore campaign.

Arriving at the intersection of Cedar and 10th, I saw dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people holding up Coleman signs. Others had signs promoting DFLer Roger Moe for Governor. Only a dozen persons or so supported Jim Moore, but they were strategically positioned near the entrance door to the Fitzgerald Theater. One Independence Party member had a bullhorn. We shouted our protests to all who would listen. The other parties’ supporters responded in kind.

Behind police barricades, we, third-party people, were on one side of 10th Street. A mob of DFL partisans stood across the street, trying to outshout us. I saw state trade commissioner Rebecca Yanisch and two Hennepin County commissioners in the crowd as well as Mayor Rybak, who waved. A small contingent of Green Party partisans, including Ken Pentel, stood just beyond our group. We devised an exercise in third-party cooperation. Our two candidates, Jim Moore and Ray Tricomo, were both excluded from the debate. “Ray and Jim, let them in; Ray and Jim, let them in,” we yelled. This had a resonant simplicity which cut through all the other chants. I shouted myself hoarse with it, continuing the chant as long as I could. The debate sponsors, of course, did not let Ray and Jim in. Perhaps they could not hear us.

Jim Moore was not at our protest but in district court, vainly trying to block the debate through a court challenge. MPR had changed the rules for deciding which candidates would be included. Moore’s wife, Shari, shared all the legal details with us. Ray Tricomo, the blind Green Party candidate for Senate, was cordial when I introduced myself. I advised him to take advantage of MPR’s offer for separate broadcast time. Other political candidates included the Constitution Party’s candidate for U.S. Senate, Miro Drago Kovatchevich, a politically conservative candidate who had been quoted in the Star Tribune criticizing Wellstone. I discussed issues with his campaign director and promised to stay in touch. I never did hear anything about the debate taking place inside the theater. There was more than enough excitement outside.

The winner of the Senate race, of course, was Coleman. He received almost half of the vote. Walter Mondale, less than a percentage point behind Coleman, finished second. Jim Moore, our candidate, received slightly more than 2 percent of the vote. Ray Tricomo received less than half a percentage point, fewer votes than the write-ins for Paul Wellstone. With respect to Governor, the winner was the Republican candidate, Tim Pawlenty, who received 45% of the votes. The DFL candidate, Roger Moe, finished second with 36% of the votes. Our candidate, Tim Penny, received 16% of the votes. Ken Pentel, the Green Party candidate, received a bit more than 2%. Importantly, Penny’s 16% share of the Senate vote and Dave Hutcheson’s 8% of the vote for State Auditor kept the Independence Party in contention as a “major party”. In practical terms, this meant that IP candidates’ campaigns in the next election would be eligible for public subsidies.

On the whole, it was a good night for the Republicans, a bad one for the Democrats, and a worse one for third-party candidates of all stripes. Until Wellstone’s death, Tim Penny had been running neck-and-neck with the major-party candidates for Governor. Jim Moore told me at Penny’s election-night party at the Mall of America that he was on a course to receive 10% of the votes before the plane crash.

I thought, however, that the Tim Penny “defeat party” was surprisingly upbeat as the IP gubernatorial candidate did the vocals for a rock ‘n roll band which he and his brothers had organized. As their young female offspring bravely held back tears, they belted out one song after another and still had time to schmooze with the crowd. Senator Dean Barkley was there, as was his new communications director, Bill Hillsman, the wizard ad man of Wellstone’s and Ventura’s past campaigns, and also WCCO-TV’s cute anchor woman, Amelia Santaniello, in boots, seated on a platform with her back to the crowd. This booming party went on in the cavernous Mall until after 1 o’clock in the morning. We knew we had lost, but the U.S. Senate race did not then have a clear winner.

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