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Paul Wellstone was the only Senator facing reelection who voted against welfare reform. He told the Observer in 1997 that he could not in good conscience “vote for a piece of legislation that will impoverish more children or put more children in harm’s way.” When Wellstone spoke with us he was breaking in a presidential campaign speech at an Observer event at Scholz Garden in Austin. In response to his party’s support of welfare reform, which Wellstone considered an abandonment of the nation’s poor, he had followed Robert Kennedy’s . American odyssey down into Harlan County, Kentucky, and through the. Mississippi Delta.Wellstone intended to remind his party of its historical commitment to the nation’s poor and working poor. And to reflect on the possibility of a presidential race of his own. When we discussed the presidential candidacy he ultimately abandoned,Wellstone was honest. He could not conceive of a strategy that would take the retail politics and organizing principles that won him two races in Minnesota into a national presidential campaign. Particularly when the primaries “turn south.” Wellstone was back in Texas a year later, applying his principles to what most of his colleagues in the Senate considered an affair best left to the two senators from Texas. Responding to requests from a coalition of groups in West Texas, Wellstone became the Senate’s greatest single obstacle to a plan that would have made the tiny town of Sierra Blanca the nation’s next nuclear waste dump. Wellstone was the only U.S. Senator to stand with members of the Texas House delegation and residents of Sierra Blanca in opposition to the’ Sierra Blanca site. He joined Lloyd Doggett, Ciro Rodriguez, Sylvestre Reyes, and Sierra Blanca Catholic pastor Rev. Ralph Solis at a Capitol press conference called by opponents of the Sierra Blanca dump in 1998. “The tragedy of Sierra Blanca is part of a larger and very disturbing pattern across the country,” Wellstone said. “In far too many instances, poor people of color simply do not have the political clout to keep waste and pollution out of their communities.” ‘ Wellstone’s attempt to salvage an amendment imposing limits on which states could export their radioactive waste to Texas failed. But the opponents of the dump ultimately won in Texas, where Wellstone’s position angered the utilities, the waste disposal industry, Governor George W. Bush, and Senators Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison. The closing parenthesis on Wellstone’s political career was his vote last month against authorizing President George W. Bush to lead the nation into war against Iraq. Wellstone was the only Senator facing a serious opponent to vote against the war. He did so knowing it could cost him an election in which he faced a Republican opponent with huge national financial backing and campaign support from the president. \(And an utterly wrong-headed and destructiVe campaign by The vote the promise Tony Mazzocchi .niade ‘twelve years agol . ‘ U’S.. SenatorPaul Wellstone died in a’ plane crash in Minnesota on October 25, along with his wife and political collaborator, Sheila; his daughter Mcniia; , campaign aides Mary McEvoy,. Tom Lapic, and ; and two pilots: Louis Dubose is the former editor :of.the.ObseOzer: 1118/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31