WASHINGTON – Sen. Norm Coleman attended Woodstock and even did a video for a planned museum commemorating the famous music festival. But the Minnesota Republican recently voted against spending $1 million to help with the effort, saying government has better things to do with its money.
"I was at Woodstock. I have been to the site of the Woodstock museum," Coleman said last week. "It's a wonderful museum. That doesn't mean the government has to pay for it."
This month, in a mostly party-line 52-42 vote, Coleman voted with the majority to strip the $1 million earmark sought by New York Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer, both Democrats. In another tie to the past, Coleman and Schumer attended high school together in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, just a few years before Woodstock.
Coleman, a former long-haired anti-war student activist, described his museum video as "kind of a historical -- a U.S. senator, and I was at Woodstock. It may appear someday in the museum."
"As somebody who was there, who has actually seen the facility, I have an appreciation for it, but the vote was about federal dollars," he said.
Officially, the Woodstock museum is known as the Museum at Bethel Woods, and is due to open next year. Bethel is the upstate New York town where organizers eventually put on the three-day Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969. Museum officials declined to share the Coleman video.
Last week, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tried to capitalize on the brouhaha over the earmark, running a TV ad that mocks fellow presidential candidate Clinton for the spending proposal.
"A few days ago, Senator Clinton tried to spend $1 million on the Woodstock concert museum," McCain says in the ad, his words from Sunday's debate on Fox News Channel played along with psychedelic music and colors. "Now my friends, I wasn't there. I'm sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event."
Then, as footage shows McCain strapped to a bed as a POW in Vietnam, he adds, "I was tied up at the time." McCain, a Navy pilot, was shot down in 1967 and spent 5 1/2 years in a North Vietnamese prison.
While McCain tries to use Woodstock against Clinton, Republicans once talked up Coleman's participation in the event.
In 2002, Ken Mehlman, the White House political director at the time, tried to favorably compare candidate Coleman with the incumbent senator, Minnesota Democrat Paul Wellstone.
"Only one of two candidates attended Woodstock. Norm Coleman," Mehlman told reporters, according to The New York Times. As to whether that was a good thing, he responded: "I think it's good. Voters like people who are who they really are."
Wellstone died in a plane crash just days later, and his replacement, former Vice President Walter Mondale, lost the election to Coleman.