Admiral Mike Franken – Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate – visits Tama Co.

On his campaign journey, Senator candidate Admiral Mike Franken, Democrat of Sioux County, stopped by Toledo Heights Park on Saturday, August 20th, to talk to Tama County residents. -Photo by Vanessa Roudabush

On his campaign journey, U.S. Senate candidate Admiral Mike Franken, a Democrat originally from Sioux County, stopped by Toledo Heights Park on Saturday, August 20, to talk to Tama County residents.

When Franken began considering his decision to run for Iowa Senate, he thought to himself, “You’ve got the experience, you’ve got the education, you got the health, and your spouse says it’s okay. You should think about it and talk about it. Okay, you know what? I’ll do this. I’ll undertake this. I’ll don that rucksack, and I’ll march forward. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Franken is the youngest of nine children. He’s the son of a World War II veteran who married the one-room school teacher at Garfield #7. “I grew up in a house that didn’t get a bathroom inside until between kids five and seven; we went outside, but fortunately, I was the last one, so it was there when I was there. [My childhood] was a real bootstrap kind of existence, but my mom made sure we did well in school.”

Franken’s professional career began in his father’s machine shop doing smith-work, working as a farmhand, and three years at a slaughterhouse in Sioux Center. In 1978 he received a Navy scholarship and graduated from the Naval Postgrad School’s college of physics. He received further education from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Seminar XXI, The University of Virginia School of executive education, the Brookings Institution’s legislative affairs curriculum, and Babson College’s business leadership program.

Franken also served 39 years in the U.S. Navy from 1978-2017 and was deployed to areas of Africa, Europe, Indo-Pacific, and the Middle East and served in the Gulf War. He was stationed on the USS King, USS Dahlgren, and USS Barry and was the commanding officer of the USS Winston S. Churchill. Franken has received the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and Navy Distinguished Service Medal, three Defense Superior Service Medals, and two Legion of Merit awards.

Liston and Lando Bollinger of Ames traveled all the way to Tama County to meet and intensely interview Senator candidate Franken. -Photo by Vanessa Roudabush

Franken has tremendous experience in the Pentagon, starting with a legislative tour with Senator Edward Kennedy. He held nine jobs in Washington D.C., working on multiple strategies, policy, and planning positions. Franken gained valuable experience with governmental bodies while working for the Clinton administration in the senatorial office, in the Department of Defense during the Bush administration, and as President Obama’s Chief of Legislative Affairs.

Franken explains, “If you get pulled in there early, you have a tendency to get that noisiness on you because you know how to work things in there. That became a standard bar opportunity for me to learn how legislative affairs work.”

Franken was the first Defense POW/MIA Account Agency director in 2015. “We had the highest concentration, I believe, of forensic anthropologists in the entire United States, and a lot of them were women, Ph. Ds, a really smart group, traveling the world finding remains [of U.S. soldiers] to bring them home to closure, so they could have a funeral.”

Franken understands Americans’ struggles: “These are interesting times in the United States today. We are struggling. We’ve got animosity amongst our friends. Dinners are awkward. Family relationships are strained. We all know it. We’ve had an assault on our capital. We’ve had an assault on democracy. It is an interesting situation where there are people who applaud that assault on democracy. There’s an interesting thing where a person who is certainly guilty of an unbelievable number of infractions that most of us Iowans wouldn’t want to have in our house. [They] actually play to be a candidate in the next election.”

“Our senator, Senator Grassley, who had a history of being rather bi-partisan in many measures, has now gone on in a purely partisan way and is solely responsible for giving us the most partisan Supreme Court in the history of our Country. His legacy has been redefined by his decisions in the last 15-20 years, and that’s very unique.”

Franken reminisces, “I remember a time in the 1990s when I worked at the senate where I went seamlessly in Own Hatchet’s office and John Warner and John McCain and never thought twice about it. Today, that divisiveness is real, and this same group of leadership that had us completely coalesced as a nation, beginning in 2002. Now has led us apart, and a lot of it is artificial and have promoted ideas that are completely, I think, inimical to the way we were thinking in the past. ‘Where let’s take rights away from women. Let’s make voting harder. Let’s remove some of the long-held environmental thought processes that we’ve had from industries’ perspectives. Let’s tear down the very tenants of democracy by describing what is wrong is actually right and what is day is actually night.’ That’s what I hear coming from many segments of the republican party.”

When asked about the corruption of products due to lobbying and corporate buyout, “I don’t take corporate pact money, I only take donor money from citizens, and we’ve outraged Chuck Grassley by a factor of two over the last two quarters.”

While Iowa has yet to pass the American Anti-Corruption Act, which will help to stop political bribery, provide transparent documentation of politicians’ funding and fix broken elections so the people, not the political establishment, are in control, there’s hope that Senator candidate Franken will support this bill as he is very outspoken about the current political corruption here in the U.S.

“Here’s the thing: unless we change the manner in which we elect our elected officials unless we change the amount the dark money, the corporate money that gets shoveled in, the use of seconds to build up your coffers and to, in essence, do your bidding one-step removed, unless we change that the power of the incumbent, the power of money and politics. I’m for term limits, that’s how serious it is. You need to get rid of this because people get bought. A great example is: I was talking to a business the other day, and they said, ‘We’re 100% behind you. Then a Washington D.C. office calls and says, ‘Ya know, we can’t go against the incumbent.’ Now, why is that? Oh, it’s because they’ve given money to him, and they want that investment to go to fruition. They don’t care who’s his relief, as long as he stays in the office one more year. Keep in mind that he’s not been good to them because he’s been bought by big pharma, and they’re more of a hospital organization. This is where we are in the world and unless we see the world more clearly, we’re going to have problems.”

Franken was asked what he could do to better Iowa and the Country, “The biggest issue in Iowa is immigration. Every cooperation I go to, every farmer, every milking operation, and seamstresses needs people. And we are shedding young people out of Iowa, some of that has to do with a wage scale that’s available, some of it has to do with the quality of life, some of it has to do with the thought process of being an affront to say young women, some of it has to do with the anxiety-ridden aspects of working here but also cost of education and opportunities. We’ve got to back that up with other policies. [In] 2013, we had a decent immigration plan, and we didn’t come to fruition on it, we didn’t close the deal on it, and we haven’t yet. We need to ensure that we have a flow of people in here to help us build up [Iowa] industry.”

Franken met with a traditional Republican couple who run one of the largest private manufacturing companies in Iowa, quoting, “We’re going with you because we know the Republicans will not give us an immigration plan. They’ll use that as a club to hammer Democrats and the issues that don’t exist on the southern board but say they do. Our business, we are going to move our expansion to South Carolina and elsewhere because they got jobs and [Iowa] doesn’t. They’ve got young people. We don’t. They’re a more concentrated area, we can bring people in, and we just can’t do that in Iowa.”

Franken explains, “Iowa has a great situation here with our wind, the potential for solar and ethanol to have the cheapest energy grid in the nation, right here, which will be beneficial for the enhancement of businesses. In Iowa, we can do this. We just haven’t leaned into the problem.”

Franken’s campaign states, “Country over party, people over politics. We need to come together. We need to think more clearly. And as the senior most military officer to ever run for the U.S. Senate, I think I offer an interesting perspective in the shadow of January 6th.”

“I believe you shouldn’t have just an overwhelming desire to be a senator. You have to view it somewhat as a duty. It’s a good thing to have a long history [in the military and government] and to have a resume to match. Although there’s an allure to go to South Padre Island at my age to play pickleball, but there’s nothing more important than doing this.”