Professor, community organizer and US Senator, Paul Wellstone was a leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic party. In this episode of Minnesota Portraits, he discusses grassroots politics, his frustration with the mainstream media to take progressives seriously, finance campaign reform and the viciousness of the American political campaign.

What happened next?

This interview with Paul Wellstone was originally broadcast in 1991. Wellstone would continue in the Senate for the full six-year term, and go on to win reelection in 1996, once again defeating Rudy Boschwitz.

Wellstone began to pursue a presidential run with a cross-country tour in 1997, and by forming an exploratory committee and leadership PAC in 1998. But ultimately, he announced in 1999 that he would not be making a bid for the presidency, citing chronic back pain, which would later be diagnosed as multiple sclerosis.

On October 25, 2002, Paul Wellstone, his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia, three campaign staffers and two pilots died in a plane crash near Eveleth, Minn. Eleven days before his possible re-election, the 58-year old Wellstone was en route to the funeral of Martin Rukavina, steelworker and father of Minnesota Representative Tom Rukavina. The FBI investigated possible foul play – given the death threats Wellstone mentions in this interview which continued throughout his time in office – but determined the crash was accidental. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the cause of the accident was likely “the flight crew’s failure to maintain adequate airspeed, which led to an aerodynamic stall from which they did not recover.”

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This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the Friends of Minnesota Experience.

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