Wellstone's Record: One of Senate's Leading Liberals

July 7, 2008 - 8:29 PM

(1st Add: Includes additional background on Wellstone's life.)

(CNSNews.com) - Paul Wellstone was first elected to the Senate in 1990 as a Democrat. While serving in that body, he had one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate.

His last vote was against a resolution authorizing President Bush to use force against Iraq. Back in 1991, he cast a similar vote, opposing U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf War. Later, he criticized his own Democratic President Bill Clinton for sending troops to Haiti without the consent of Congress.

Wellstone, 58, was first elected to the Senate in an upset of Republican incumbent Rudy Boschwitz, who had won the seat in 1978 after the death of Minnesota Senator and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

Wellstone first made a name for himself in local politics by leading protesters in sympathy with Hormel company meatpacker strikers in Austin, Minnesota. He also got arrested while picketing a bank that had foreclosed on local farmers.

Wellstone also co-chaired Jesse Jackson's 1988 Democratic presidential campaign in Minnesota. Mother Jones magazine said Wellstone's 1990 victory marked "the first 1960s radical elected to the U.S. Senate." Wellstone campaigned against Boschwitz by traveling around the state in a green bus in 1990.

In 1996, Wellstone faced Boschwitz again. Republican ads called Wellstone an "embarrassing liberal and decades out of touch" and "Senator Welfare" for his vote against the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.

He also preserved Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor party tradition in that 1996 campaign by saying, "I am a Hubert Humphrey senator. I go to the floor of the Senate and I fight for the children. I am a Minnesota senator." He beat Boschwitz again in 1996 by 50 to 41 percent.

In the Senate, Wellstone voted against opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling and worked hard for lobbying reform and lifting the Senate gift ban.

In 1997, he criticized his own Democratic Party, saying "it has lost some of its soul."

He opposed a ban on human cloning, for fear it would stop medical research and called on the Clinton administration to criticize China's human rights record.

There was talk around Capitol Hill in 1998 and later that he would run for president himself. "We need more strong, authentic populist candidates to fight back against big money and their friends in Congress and focus on the kitchen table issues central to the lives of working families," he said.

Wellstone grew up in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., the son of Russian immigrants. He married young, earned a Ph.D from the University of North Carolina and was a member of the Tar Heels wrestling team.

Wellstone taught at Minnesota's Carleton College for more than 20 years.

In 2001, he wrote a book entitled "The Conscience of a Liberal; Reclaiming the Compassionate Agenda."

Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) said that book established him "as a true believer as much as 'The Conscience of a Conservative' once did for (the late Arizona Republican Senator) Barry Goldwater."