October 25th is always a tough day, or at least it has been tough over the past 5 years. Much like my mom knows exactly where she was when JFK was assassinated, I'll never forget where I was when I learned of Paul Wellstone's death.
My interactions with Paul Wellstone, while rather limited, were every powerful.
It was October 1996. I was a recently promoted Staff Sergeant out at Fort Lewis, Washington. Months had passed and my pay increase had still not kicked in, despite the fact that I talked to nearly everyone I could about the issue.
I called Senator Wellstone's Minnesota office for assistance.
The every next day, our company training meeting was interrupted by a nervous Private who nervously announced "Sergeant Kimball, you have a phone call. It's Senator Wellstone!"
"Hal, Paul Wellstone here, how are you?" Despite my insistence on calling him Senator, he chided me to call him Paul. He assured me that my pay problem would be fixed and proceeded to give me a few phone numbers to call at the end of the month to let him know all was well.
I figured that would be the end of it...my end of the month paycheck in October reflected my pay increase, but backpay as well!
Halloween night, 1996. It's 10pm in my barracks room at Fort Lewis.
The phone rings.
"Hal, Paul Wellstone here. how are you? Did your problem get fixed?"
Stunned that a US Seantor was calling me at 10pm, West Coast time to ask me about my pay problem, I responded "yes Senator".
"Great, call me Paul" he said. He chided me that I did not call him back...this during his 1996 reelection campaign, about a week before his reelection...and at midnight Minnesota time, he's calling me to talk about my pay problem!
We proceeded to talk for about an hour about Veterans issues, Bosnia, my family back in Minnesota, and all sorts of stuff. It was a powerful conversation nonetheless.
While there is no doubt in my mind that every member of Congress would ensure that a constituent in the military was paid properly, Paul went above and beyond what he needed to do.
6 years later, October 1992, on the campus of St Cloud State University. Paul Wellstone came to campus a few days before his plane crash to talk about his vote on Iraq and other campaign issues.
After the speech, he spoke to may of us in the crowd. When I introduced myself, and thanked him, as a Veteran, on his Iraq vote, he said he remembered our conversation 6 years beforehand.
I would not believe most people if they said that.
I believed Paul.
5 years later, I miss what Paul did for the little guy.
I listened to Paul's final speech on the floor of the Senate last night on AM 950. I can't lie, I got a bit misty eyed and was covered in goosebumps.
The US Senate would be a lot different with Paul Wellstone still there. I think about Paul delivering a passionate speech about Katrina, Walter Reed, the Attorney General scandal, Iraq, SCHIP's, and all of the other GOP follies that have damaged working and middle class American's.
Paul's legacy lives on today, through progressive activists across the United States. Wellstone Action! provides people with an opportunity to learn some progressive techniques to organize around issues and campaigns. As a Camp Wellstone! graduate, I must say that the training is powerful.
Today, guys like Congressman Tim Walz reflect this same sense of constituent outreach. Whether it's pushing for flood relief extensions, working on Veterans issues, or having a consistent presence at town hall meetings. Congressman Walz is always reaching out to his constituents.