Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Al Franken's Future: Remembering Paul Wellstone

As I sat at my desk glued to live vlog streams, press conferences online, and real time blogging when the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Al Franken would indeed be the next U.S. Senator, I felt a great sense of closure.

Franken's entrance into politics began on October 25, 2002, a date that will remain ingrained in my neurons for as long as I live. The incumbent Senator running for reelection that year was Paul Wellstone, a former political science professor who was challenged by one of his students to put theory into practice. With no money, no party endorsement, and certainly no physical grace to recommend him in our prettified, make-up television world, this improbable candidate won a U.S. Senate seat in 1990 and kept winning.

Wellstone died in a plane crash on October 25 in northern Minnesota, 2 weeks shy of a close, bitter race with the Republican, Norm Coleman. His memorial service brought the Clintons, Ted Kennedy, Wellstone's great professional and personal friend, Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa, and Al Franken. I can still hear Harkin's speech: "Will you stand up for your friend? Will you stand up for Paul Wellstone?" It's corny, but it still makes me teary.

I saw Franken that night after the memorial. (Disclosure: I was the News Director at KFAI Radio at the time and coordinating coverage of the fallout of the Senator's death.) He was crying, his face splotchy. He was moved by the intensity of the events, as we all were, even reporters like myself who knew Senator Wellstone, had been on the campaign trail. I remember one of my reporters couldn't stop crying at the memorial. I wanted to shake her and tell her to keep it together, but it just seemed inhumane. I gave her a hug, and asked her if she could make it through, and she did. I wanted to cry too, but I had promises to keep.

Franken moved back to Minnesota after that (he grew up in Saint Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis) and started raising money for the DFL (Minnesota doesn't have Democrats, we have Democrat-Farmer-Labor, thank you very much.) 2002 was a devastating year for the DFL, and Democrats nationally. His hard work paid off: when he announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate, he had won over the notoriously averse-to-change party politics of the DFL.

Franken announced his candidacy in February 2007, won the DFL endorsement that summer, and ran an organized, tight campaign against a tough incumbent, Norm Coleman. The rest as you know is history.

I couldn't help but think of Al Franken's friend, Paul Wellstone, when the judgement came down from the Minnesota Supreme Court. His political career is the phoenix rising out of the ashes of Paul Wellstone's death.

1 comment:

Pamela said...

Well Said Ann! Thanks for writing it.
Pam Colby