Retiree Champion Wellstone Killed in Plane Crash

October 25, 2002 ( - Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota), a strong supporter of retiree rights, was killed today when his small chartered plane crashed near an airport runway in northeast Minnesota.

The 58-year-old senator, in the midst of a re-election campaign for a third Senate term, died along with members of his family and staff, as well as the plane’s two pilots. Wellstone’s campaign had chartered the plane to ferry the senator and his party to a funeral.

While Wellstone championed a number of liberal causes, just a month ago he introduced a new bill in the Senate that would have barred employers from canceling or changing retiree health care benefits once a person is retired (see Wellstone Takes Pension Fight to Senate ).

In August, Wellstone had joined with Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), and Mark Dayton (D-Minnesota) in a bill that would have increased the maximum pensions of manufacturing workers who participate in a retirement plan taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) (see Democrats Want PBGC Pension Boost ).

Wellstone, a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, had also sponsored the Retirement Security Protection Act of 2002 in the wake of the Enron controversy. That bill called for a minimum 30-day notice on conversion blackouts, a requirement incorporated in the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting reform bill that President Bush signed into law this summer. However, his bill would have limited blackouts to just 10 business days.

Wellstone’s bill also would have imposed caps on the amount workers could invest in company stock, and would have allowed workers to transfer balances from that investment after a year of participation.

In political terms, Wellstone’s death throws the battle for control of the Senate back into uncharted territory. The impact on the November ballot remains unclear, though presumably his name will remain on the ballot. However, for the remainder of the “lame duck” session, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura will likely name a replacement.