Gov. Ventura says he was so upset by the partisan tone of the public eulogies for Paul Wellstone that he may appoint an independent to fill Wellstone's seat. Twenty-thousand people showed up at Williams Arena for a memorial service for Wellstone, his wife and daughter and three other campaign staffers, who died in a plane crash last Friday. Republican Party officials and many others also said they were upset that the service turned political.
Ventura says he was "disgusted" that the public Wellstone memorial turned into a political rally. Ventura walked out of the memorial service, which ended with calls to continue Wellstone's legacy at the polls. Ventura says turning a memorial into a political event was despicable.
"I went to pay my respects in the manner we were asked to do so, and I think that it was very deceitful to turn it into a political rally," he said. "I know the head of the Democratic Party is trying to sit and say, these were spontaneous speeches and all that - well, if you believe that..."
As a result of the event, Ventura now says he's thinking about appointing an Independence Party member to Wellstone's seat.
State law gives Ventura the power to make an appointment to fill the seat until the results of next Tuesday's election are certified. Ventura said earlier that he would likely appoint a Democrat to maintain Minnesota's seat in Congress. He said he's more inclined to appoint a regular citizen to Wellstone's seat.
Ventura said he walked out after Wellstone campaign treasurer Rick Kahn started urging the crowd to vote DFL when they go to the polls next week. Kahn put five Republican senators and Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad in an awkward position when he asked them to work to keep Wellstone's seat in Democratic hands.
"It's time to remember those eight families. Because after all of the hooha here and the tension is gone, they're going to have to go home in the evenings and deal without a mother, without a father, without a spouse."
- Rudy Boschwitz
"Can you not hear your friend calling you one last time to step forward on his behalf to keep his legacy alive and help us win this election for Paul Wellstone?" Kahn said.
Many callers, who said they were both Democrats and Republicans, flooded talk radio stations with complaints about the partisan tone of the event. In addition to booing Ventura, the crowd also booed Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican.
Republican Party Chair Ron Eibensteiner said Democrats used Wellstone's memorial service for "hardball political campaigning." He says the party received hundreds of calls from angry viewers and raised $150,000 last night alone.
Eibensteiner says he's sending letters to all of the TV and radio stations that aired the memorial requesting that they provide ample coverage to Republican candidates in the last week of the election.
He cited President Bush's scheduled Sunday visit as an example. "To many people this looked like a political rally and we the Republican Party are asking for equal time. We think that's only fair and appropriate," he said.
An expert on media law at the think-tank Poynter Institute says Republicans may have a valid ethical concern, but they don't have a legal claim to equal time.
Wellstone campaign Manager Jeff Blodgett says he, too, was surprised by the partisan tone of the memorial service. He says he's sorry for how the memorial unfolded. He said the campaign asked the family members of those who died to choose a speaker to talk about the individual.
Blodgett says nothing in the program was scripted, as several Republicans allege. "We did not know what people were saying. I was as surprised as everyone else by a portion of one of the addresses. And I just wanted to say that I deeply regret if people take offense or if people were taken by surprise. It certainly was not our intention," he said.
While many are complaining about portions of the memorial service, one Republican who knows Wellstone well says he didn't take offense. Former Senator Rudy Boschwitz lost to Wellstone twice and attended the event.
"Very frankly that's the way that Paul Wellstone would have enjoyed it most. It's time to remember those eight families. Because after all of the hooha here and the tension is gone, they're going to have to go home in the evenings and deal without a mother, without a father, without a spouse. We have to all keep that in mind," Boschwitz said.
Both parties say they'll conduct a vigorous campaign in the final six days of the election to ensure their voters get out to the polls. It's expected that both the DFL and Republicans will hold a number of rallies on behalf of their candidates.More from MPR