By Hunter Woodall
WASHINGTON – Minnesota's two senators want to name a federal building in Minneapolis after the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.
Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith are behind the push to honor Wellstone, with Tuesday marking the 20th anniversary of his death in a plane crash near Eveleth 11 days before the 2002 Senate election.
Wellstone, who was 58 and running for a third term when he died, remains deeply influential in DFL politics. Klobuchar called him a mentor and a friend in an interview. While some local places have been named after Wellstone, Klobuchar said the federal government should also take this latest step to "acknowledge his service."
"He just believed in the power of people," Klobuchar said.
The legislation would name a federal building on S. 3rd Avenue in Minneapolis the Paul D. Wellstone Federal Building. It's home to the Minneapolis Passport Agency and also has offices for the National Labor Relations Board and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to the U.S. General Services Administration's website.
"Naming a federal building after him I think is in recognition of how he worked so hard as a progressive to also be effective in the Senate," said Smith.
Wellstone died in a plane crash that also killed his wife, Sheila, daughter Marcia, three campaign workers and two pilots.
A college professor, Wellstone upset incumbent GOP Sen. Rudy Boschwitz in the 1990 election. Notable moments in Wellstone's political career include his voting against war with Iraq both early and late in his tenure while his work focusing on mental health and addiction continues to be a lasting part of his legacy.
"Everyone thinks about him as a fighter for people," Klobuchar said, also noting that Wellstone had "optimism about our country and what we can get done."
While the Senate bill was only introduced last month — and has not made its way through Congress — the late senator's oldest son expressed appreciation about the potential change.
"This is wonderful," Dave Wellstone said. "It continues on that legacy."
The bill counts GOP Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who served with Wellstone, as an early supporter.
"From neighboring states, we often teamed up on agriculture and other issues to find common ground and get things done for Iowans and Minnesotans," Grassley said in a statement. "Although we had very different political philosophies, we shared a common passion for serving our constituents the best we could."
Over the years, other efforts have gone on at the federal level to remember Wellstone. They include President George W. Bush signing legislation into law in 2002 for a community center in St. Paul named after Wellstone and his wife. A group of Muscular Dystrophy Specialized Research Centers also bear the late senator's name, according to the National Institutes of Health.
A bill introduced in 2003 attempted to name the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis for Wellstone, but failed to get enough support.
In remembering the DFL senator, Klobuchar's new bill says that Wellstone's "legacy of advocacy and candor will always be remembered."
"We all need a dose of Paul right now," she said.