Traditional rural values and progressive politics are often presented as contradictions. Not for retired three-star admiral Michael Franken.
The Sioux City resident is running for U.S. Senate to bridge what he called “Iowa values” with policies that are "pragmatic and progressive."
“I saw a lot of poor governance coming down the pike, and good governance being held up by Congress,” Franken said in an interview. “I wanted to do something about it.”
Franken, 62, is running in the Democratic primary for Senate, which will be held in June 2020. At least five candidates have entered the race. The winner will face Sen. Joni Ernst, whose approval rating has recently tumbled to 39%, according to Morning Consult.
Franken spoke with the Quad-City Times Monday afternoon before a meet-and-greet hosted by Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken.
In an already crowded primary, Franken said he’s distinguished by a long resume that includes time driving trucks and working at a pig confinement in addition to experience in national security and legislative process.
At the U.S. Department of Defense, he held several senior roles, including chief of legislative affairs for the Navy, where he presented a $150 billion budget to Congress.
Franken was also the first military officer on the staff of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), the longtime senator who modeled for Franken the sort of bipartisanship he hopes to bring to Washington.
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“I get a substantial amount of funding from individuals who call themselves Republicans,” Franken said. “It isn’t because I’m well right-of-center. It’s because I’m pragmatic and progressive.”
Franken grew up the youngest of nine children on a farm in rural northwest Iowa. His family was “as rural as it gets,” he said, on the “low fringe of the middle class.” He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2017, after 36 years of active service.
His policy platform has three major planks: comprehensive health care, the mitigation of income inequality and an end to the crisis of climate change.
“I think we need to be reasonably radical about rewickering agriculture to address the climate,” he said. “Iowa can do more,” citing practices such as carbon sequestration.
Franken called comprehensive health care a “God-given right for every American,” though he recognized that the mechanics for how to pay for such care need to be debated.
As the income divide continues to grow, Franken blamed “special interests, fueled by Wall Street, that divide us and denigrate the middle-class.” If left unchecked, he said, “it may very well be the end of small-town America as we know it.”
Other Democrats seeking the party’s nomination include Des Moines real estate businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, Des Moines businessman Eddie Mauro and attorney Kimberly Graham, of Indianola.
As of Sept. 30, Franken had $107,129 in cash on hand, according to campaign finance filings with the Federal Election Commission. Greenfield had more than $1.2 million in cash on hand; Mauro had almost $1.1 million, including a $1.1 million loan from the candidate to the campaign; and Graham had $20,152.
When asked what issue most animates him, Franken said he fears that a country “hugely in debt, and still recovering from our previous four or five other international conflicts,” might “stumble ourselves into an overseas conflict again.”
“I’d like to be the face of rural Iowa,” Franken told the Times. “I’m extremely imbued in Iowa values.”
Graham Ambrose is the Iowa politics reporter for the Quad-City Times.