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Vol.25, No. 19 Apr. 7, 2000

Sen. Wellstone Shares Political Views With Students

By Ellen S. Smith and Amy Callahan

On Friday evening, March 31, in Roone Arledge Cinema in Lerner Hall, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) spoke to a crowd of students about welfare reform and other issues on the policy agenda. He noted that he was the only Senator up for reelection who voted against welfare reform.

According to his philosophy, America needs policies that raise the minimum wage, expand the earned-income tax credit and provide affordable health care and housing. A good education is the basis for allowing many individuals to move off the poverty rolls. These policies will allow more individuals to work and leave welfare, he said.

Wellstone, a believer in progressive politics, is one of a number of political and public policy individuals who have been invited by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to submit suggestions for reworking the health care system so that all individuals are covered.

For over an hour, the senator discussed his ideas and responded to questions from students on domestic policy and foreign policy issues. He was given a standing ovation at the end of his talk, which was sponsored by the Columbia Political Union, which includes Democrats and Republicans, and the Office of the University Chaplain.

Earlier in the evening, Wellstone attended a dinner at the home of University Chaplain Jewelnel Davis, who worked with Wellstone for many years at Carleton College, when he was a professor there and she was chaplain. A few dozen students, some faculty and administrators, and Provost Jonathan R. Cole sat with the senator in Davis's livingroom, while students shared their concerns with Wellstone.

The students said their priorities for the country included broadening gun control, strengthening race relations, maintaining a woman's right to choose, improving public education in the inner cities, increasing voter turn-out and addressing the problem of police brutality.

"What has happened to American liberalism?" asked one student.

Wellstone subtly suggested liberalism may be on the rebound in his response to another student who asked if he would run for president in 2004: The senator told a story of once being asked by the press if the country was ready for a Jewish president. "That's not the right question. The right question is: Is the country ready for a short, liberal Jewish president."

Dan Burstein, CC'00, president of the New York College Democrats, said, "Senator Wellstone is the face of progressive politics, and he's one of the most dynamic speakers I've ever heard. Anytime students have the privilege to hear him speak is an incredible opportunity."