Published on
The Star-Tribune (Minnesota)

Through His Work For Wellstone Act, Son Is Adding To His Father's Legacy

Doug Grow

There are places David Wellstone would rather be.

On the charter fishing boat he operates in Hawaii, for example. Or his home near Santa Cruz, Calif., not far from brother Mark's place.

But Washington calls again. The bill that was supposed to be his father's legacy, the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act, is back before Congress, and David is spending considerable time at the Capitol trying to push it over the top.

The legislation would require insurance companies to offer as much coverage for the treatment of mental illnesses and addictions as for other medical and surgical needs.

Sen. Paul Wellstone began pushing this legislation in 1992. The feisty Democrat was joined on the House side by Republican Jim Ramstad.

The two became close friends because of their shared interest in the fundamental fairness of this bill.

Over the years, it's come close to passing in the Senate. It's come close to passing in the House. But always, the insurance industry has been able to throw up enough last-minute obstacles to stop it.

"Sometimes I'd get down about how difficult it's been to get this passed," said Ramstad. "Paul would always say, 'Jim, remember, it took 40 years for civil rights bills to get passed. We can't get discouraged.' "

When Wellstone, his wife, daughter and five others were killed in a plane crash in 2002, teary-eyed pols attached Wellstone's name to the act and said they'd pass the legislation in his memory.

Talk is cheap in Washington. The bill still hasn't been passed.

But it's close again. It has overwhelming support in the House, though the Senate version of the bill is so watered down that it doesn't even carry the late senator's name.

Still, Ramstad, Wellstone and the Wellstone Alliance believe it's time to push the House bill hard and hope for the best from the Senate.

And so David has been spending considerable time in D.C., a living reminder of all the vows that were made when his father died.

He's so intent on getting this work done that he's wearing a suit for his Washington trips. David, a carpenter, fisherman and wrestling coach (his 12-year-old son is a California champion), is not typically a suit-and-tie sort of guy.

"His dad would roll over in his grave," said Ramstad, laughing about seeing David Wellstone in Washington attire. "But he'd also be really proud. David's got a great heart, and he's doing everything he can to get this done."

Said Wellstone, "It feels good to work on this. It brings back a lot of good memories."

Though both David and Mark are voluntary members of the Wellstone Alliance and though both have their father's passion for society's underdogs, they tend to shy from the limelight. That's one reason they call California home now.

"After the crash it was just a little too hard to try to live up to his name in Minnesota," said David.

But, for the time being, that's exactly what he's doing in D.C.

Doug Grow

© 2007 Star Tribune

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