WASHINGTON -- Sen. Paul Wellstone, among the last of the unapologetic liberals, came to the Senate saying he despised North Carolina Republican Jesse Helms, an archconservative.
A dozen years later they were working together on human rights issues, and Wellstone paid a warm tribute to his old nemesis on the Senate floor.
Their relationship was emblematic of how Wellstone, who died Friday in a plane crash with his wife and a daughter, learned to work across party lines even while remaining probably the most liberal U.S. senator.
"The goal is to be an outsider effective on the inside," he said in a recent interview. "There is something tricky here. Rock the boat, for sure, but don't get it to the point where people hate your guts so every time your name is next to an amendment, they're looking for a way to vote no."
The Senate, in recess for next month's elections, will convene Monday to pass a resolution honoring Wellstone. The late senator's desk will be draped in black.
Wellstone, 58, remained true to his outsider image, becoming the only senator facing a tough re-election challenge who voted "no" to authorizing military force against Iraq. Although the White House has tried hard to defeat Wellstone this year, polls after the vote showed Wellstone's stand did not hurt him. The latest polls showed he had a slight lead over his GOP challenger, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.
Wellstone, whose plane went down as he campaigned for a third term, had been a college professor and community activist before launching a long shot bid for Senate in 1990. Touring the state in a rickety green bus, he shocked the political establishment by unseating Republican Sen. Rudy Boschwitz.
Mother Jones magazine saluted Wellstone as "the first 1960s radical elected to the U.S. Senate," and he easily won re-election in 1996.
"He was the pied piper of modern politics -- so many people heard him and wanted to follow him in his fight," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. "His loss is monumental."
Wellstone also was known for his sense of humor. When he made a brief and futile run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1998, he said conspiratorially to an Associated Press reporter that he really didn't think he had a chance to win.
"I'm short, I'm Jewish, and I'm a liberal," he whispered.
A former champion 126-pound wrestler from the University of North Carolina with a rock of a handshake, he announced this year that he suffered from a mild form of multiple sclerosis. He walked with a pronounced limp.
Still, he often was the last person in the Senate at night, giving speeches and advocating his positions late into the evening, long after most others had gone home.
In his 2001 book, "The Conscience of a Liberal: Reclaiming the Compassionate Agenda," Wellstone wrote that he spent 80 percent of his time playing defense, blocking what he viewed as harmful Republican legislation.
As a senator, he helped block drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, patent extensions for lucrative prescription drugs like Claritin and legislation that would make it harder for people to declare bankruptcy.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, called Wellstone a "good Samaritan helping those left on the roadside of life."
Wellstone's crusade against the bankruptcy reform legislation was particularly passionate.
"Are single women with children deadbeats? This bill assumes that they are," Wellstone said before voting against the Senate measure in July.
His Iraq vote this month was reminiscent of a vote he cast during his 1996 campaign, when he was the only senator up for re-election to vote against an overhaul of the nation's welfare system.
He also won passage of legislation to crack down on international sex trafficking, ban gifts of $50 or more for members of Congress and provide more money for homeless veterans.
A tireless advocate for the mentally ill, Wellstone, along with Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., in 1996 won passage of "mental health parity" legislation. The law banned health plans from putting stricter annual and lifetime limits for mental disorders than they put on other illnesses.
But the two senators have been unable to win an expansion of that legislation to ban things like higher co-payments or fewer doctor visit allowances -- even after President Bush endorsed the cause earlier this year -- because of opposition by business groups and GOP House leaders.
Wellstone became a champion of veterans after getting off to rocky start with them. Shortly after taking office, he staged a news conference in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to protest going to war with Iraq, angering many veterans. But he went on to develop a close relationship with veterans groups, even winning the endorsement of the Veterans of Foreign Wars this year.
In seeking re-election this year, Wellstone reneged on his pledge of 1990 to run no more than twice, which led some people to suggest that Washington had changed him.
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