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Senators pay tribute to Wellstone

Tue, Nov. 12, 2002
By Tom Webb
Saint Paul Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., apologized to Senate Republicans who were booed at the controversial memorial for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, saying Tuesday the Wellstones "would have been horrified, as was I."

Speaking from the Senate floor, Dayton offered words intended to heal to all, following two weeks in Minnesota riven by turmoil, bitterness and hurt. Then he mourned his close friend, "Paul," whose desk was shrouded in black, as the full U.S. Senate on Tuesday returned to work. Dayton first thanked the 50-some senators who traveled to Minnesota for Wellstone's memorial service.

"I especially want to thank my Republican colleagues, Senator Lott and Senator Nickles, who attended that evening," Dayton said. "I was not aware until the next day that Senator Lott was treated discourteously by some in the Minnesota crowd. To him and anyone else who suffered that misfortune, I deeply apologize.

"Paul and Sheila would have been horrified, as was I, when I learned about it, as would the people of Minnesota have been," Dayton said. "That is not the way we treat distinguished guests in Minnesota."

Dayton then had generous words for Sen.-elect Norm Coleman, a Republican; for incoming replacement Sen. Dean Barkley, an independent; and for former Vice President Walter Mondale, a Democrat.

Coleman, Dayton said, "conducted himself honorably in the aftermath of that great tragedy, and won, honorably and honestly, an election, and earned the right, with the express will of the people of Minnesota, to serve as United States senator."

Barkley, who officially took the oath of office Tuesday, is "an excellent appointment made by Governor Ventura," Dayton said. "He has earned this honor, he is knowledgeable, he is experienced, he is committed to good government, he has proven that" by serving his state and the independent movement.

And Dayton offered his gratitude, as well, to Mondale.

"Former Vice President Mondale performed a great service to our DFL Party in Minnesota, to our state, and I believe to our democracy, by stepping forward at the last moment, when in hindsight, the situation was impossible, and it seemed possible only because it was Vice President Mondale."

If top Republicans were still nursing any wounds from being booed at the Wellstone memorial, they showed no signs of it Tuesday. Lott offered his own Wellstone tribute on the Senate floor, saying, "the people of Minnesota have an awful lot to be proud of in their senator."

Lott said he traveled to Minnesota to honor a legislator that he liked and appreciated - even though their views seldom matched. "It was the right thing to do, and also, because if the tables had been reversed, and this (memorial) was for me, that Paul would have been there," Lott said. "I really believe that."

Dayton's remarks, delivered as his voice sometimes broke with emotion, also covered the controversial political content of the Wellstone memorial-turned-rally.

"As for the rest of the evening, the eulogists spoke sometimes a little long, they at times became impassioned, political, even partisan - though it was a service for Paul Wellstone," Dayton said.

"The speakers were selected, but they weren't scripted. They were all family and close friends who were still in shock and in great emotional distress, and indeed pain.

"What was most extraordinary about that service that evening - that hopefully will be remembered, now that the campaigns have concluded - was that over 20,000 people came to honor the lives and mourn the tragic deaths of Paul and Sheila and Marcia Wellstone, and Mary McEvoy, Tom Lapic and Will McLaughlin."

Standing just a few feet from Wellstone's empty desk, Dayton said, "I will miss him terribly. As will Minnesota. As will America."

© Copyright 2002, Tallahassee Democrat