The local community reacted with shock today when they learned about the sudden death of U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.). Wellstone, along with his wife, daughter and five others, died when his aircraft crashed into the woods near Eveleth, Minn., about 175 miles north of Minneapolis.

“I feel devastated to hear about his death,” Ann Arbor Adhoc Committee for Peace member Phillis Englebert said. “Senator Wellstone was a true hero for peace.”

State Rep. Andrew Raczkowski (R-Farmington Hills), a current candidate for the U.S. Senate, said while he rarely agreed with Wellstone’s stances on certain issues, he was still stunned by his death.

“He was a young man,” Raczkowski said. “He still had a lot of promise and a lot of ability to give back to his nation.”

Wellstone, a 12-year veteran of the Senate, was in the middle of a tight re-election race for a third term. He was scheduled to debate his opponent Friday night, Republican Norm Coleman, a former mayor of St. Paul.

“He was in a race for his life, neck and neck,” Raczkowski said.
Wellstone was one of the most outspoken liberals in Congress and a strong critic of the Bush administration. Earlier this month, he voted against the resolution to authorize the president to use force against Iraq.

“Paul’s was a passionate and courageous voice for those who needed a voice in Washington — everyday people, seniors, children. Nobody had a bigger heart than Paul Wellstone,” U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) said in a written statement.
Englebert added that he was not “a blow in the wind” politician, but rather someone who cared about Minnesotans and was not afraid to risk unpopular stances.

“He was willing to take chances and then he would educate his constituency as to why he took the stance that he did,” she said.
With the election 12 days away, there are questions as to who will run in Wellstone’s seat and what party now has control in Congress. According to Minnesota state law, a political party is allowed to appoint a replacement on the ballot in case of the death of the nominee. State law also allows for the governor to fill the vacancy of a Senate seat.

Communication studies Prof. Michael Traugott said Independent Gov. Jesse Ventura has two options for keeping the seat full between now and Jan. 1, when the election-winner would take over. He could appoint whichever candidate wins the election to finish Wellstone’s term.

“One reason to do that is it would give that person more seniority than others elected for the first time in November,” Traugott said.

Or, Traugott said, Ventura could make a deal with the Democratic Party to find a replacement.

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