Dean Barkley had been appointed director of the Office of Strategic and Long Range Planning (known as Minnesota Planning) by Governor Jesse Ventura in January 1999. An early activist in the Minnesota Reform Party, Barkley ran for the U.S. House in 1992 and the U.S. Senate in 1994 and 1996 and was chairman of Jesse Ventura's successful gubernatorial campaign. Prior to entering government, Barkley practiced law and ran several small businesses.
Governor Ventura appointed Barkley to complete the Senate term of Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash on October 25. Barkley served until the 107th Congress ended on January 3, 2003, when he was replaced by Norm Coleman, Wellstone's successor elected on November 5, 2002.
Barkley's appointment was somewhat controversial, as Governor Ventura had previously stated that he would not appoint a replacement for Wellstone, preferring to wait for the election results. Ventura's subsequent reversal was explained by him as being due to his disgust at Wellstone's memorial service being used as a political rally by members of the two major parties, compounded by the fact that the established political structure refused to take the third-party candidate for the position seriously, or to allow that person to participate in pre-election debates.
During his short tenure, Barkley passed legislation establishing a memorial for Senator Wellstone and provided the pivotal vote in clearing the final passage of the Homeland Security Act. Barkley briefly considered resigning a few days early to give incoming Senator Coleman higher seniority but decided against it upon learning that the seniority would only affect office space and other perks but not committee assignments.