I’d just secured the last part of my barter share from a local CSA — a large bag of heads of garlic. I put seven or eight of them into a lunch bag and headed along Highway One toward Iowa City to meet with U.S. Senate candidate Michael Franken.
Franken is running for the Democratic nomination in the June 2 primary. He has a plan.
He believes he can address three key aspects of incumbent Senator Joni Ernst’s appeal: (1) He was raised in rural western Iowa and said, “We were as rural as they get.” (2) As a general grade officer he has a different kind of military experience from Ernst. (3) He had plenty of experience in castrating hogs during his farm upbringing, and worked a stint in a slaughterhouse. He believes these three things address Ernst’s popularity and provide him a good chance to win in the general election.
On Feb. 8, I had my third conversation with the retired Navy Vice Admiral at a coffee shop near Interstate 80. The first two were the result of his fundraising call time. The third was on assignment for Blog for Iowa. I presented the bag of garlic as a gift and began the interview.
Franken returned to Sioux City in 2017 after serving a distinguished naval career. His last assignment was as Deputy Director of Military Operations for the United States Africa Command. If one names a significant military action since 9-11, Franken was most likely involved. His work included military operations in Libya, Mogadishu, Somalia, and combating pirates near the Horn of Africa. Unlike Ernst, Franken has a diverse portfolio of command experience, the gold standard of military service.
Of the primary candidates in the race, Franken has the longest resume of experience working on legislation in the Congress. In 1996 his legislative work began with an assignment as legislative affairs for Senator Ted Kennedy. It continued in between other assignments, totaling ten years in legislative affairs, with his most recent assignment finishing in 2015. He believes his work as a legislative assistant gives him a sound foothold to get things done for Iowans should he succeed in the primary and defeat Joni Ernst.
The unique story about his opposition to the 2003 Iraq War was highlighted in his announcement video which can be found here.
According to Open Secrets, the campaign has raised a total of $333,719, spent $208,934, and has cash on hand of $124,784 as of Dec. 31, 2019.
BFIA: Name two or three of the major naval operations in which you participated.
FRANKEN: I’m very unique in terms of after 9-11 I only served operationally in the Navy one time. The rest of the times were all joint. Due to my exposure early on, due to my relationships developed mostly in Washington, D.C., and at U.S Central Command, and U.S. Pacific Command, I was acceptable replacement for often-times Army officers, U.S. Seals, Marines, etc. There have been eleven, as I recall, named operations since 9-11. I participated in nine of them.
BFIA: Why Iowa after military service?
FRANKEN: As you get more senior in life you’ve got options. What was reasonably apparent was I’ve worked for every president and been in the military since the Carter administration. I just didn’t care as a three-star going back to Washington D.C. with the expectation that I would have a position that close to the administration. I just didn’t want to do that. My prerogative after 36 years of active service.
I requested to retire and (it was) granted by the Trump administration. I came back to a consulting business in Washington D.C. (Chartwell Strategic Advisors, LLC.) where my wife and I owned a home. We have a special needs daughter whose treatment happens in Washington.
When it got to be after the 2018 election I wanted to ensure that the Democratic party had someone who negated the items which got Joni Ernst elected so that it was a level playing field for an aspirant in the Democratic Party. When I saw that not unfold to my liking, I gathered a team together, submitted my nominating papers, and embarked on a run to represent the State of Iowa as best I can.
BFIA: Why does your experience best qualify you to be the Democratic nominee?
FRANKEN: The prime objective is Joni Ernst rode three horses to her candidacy, a. the ruralness, b. the military, and c. the pig thing. So first of all ruralness.
BFIA: Have you ever castrated a hog?
FRANKEN: Hell yes! I can castrate a hog with my eyes shut. I worked three years in a hog-kill plant — stick pen, rendering, chitterlings table, head table, floor… four months, 2,500 hogs a day. I can do it with my eyes shut. Thank you very much young lady I know the difference between the curly end and the snouty end.
My father planted a machine shop. The nearest town was Hudson, S.D. He did it specifically so there would be a long distance between him and any city for implement repair. We got running water in our bathroom just a couple of years before I was born. I’m the youngest of nine.
I mean, I know how to make soap. We had home made soap. We all knew how to sew. We butchered animals in the back. I mean we were as rural as they get… Don’t tell me about Iowa values… piling in the station wagon all of us to go to church on Sunday morning. When I took a bath the water was the color of tea and was tepid because I was last. I’m pretty rural. All those rural homonyms, I got you on that.
BFIA: Ours is a progressive blog. What is your message to our readers?
FRANKEN: Job number one is to congeal around a presidential candidate who can win in the general election against President Trump. Step number one. When the party, when the machinations happen and we congeal around a candidate, fall in, build up your voting base, get those, convince those who are on the fence that four more years of this will not be beneficial to the State of Iowa. All they need to do to see whether I’m right about that is to look in the rear view mirror.
Ask some basic questions. From a national security perspective are you more assured of your future? Is the sanctity of the family farm better? Is education better? Is health care better? I’m sure your stock portfolio is better but how many people does that pertain to? Tell me if you like the national discourse that’s presently going on. Do you think it’s going to improve? Step number one, do that.
I’m that guy that talks about sacrifice. If you are 85 percent for candidate such and such, and 95 percent for something and you’ve got your nose bent out of line because the guy or woman got 85, then frankly be happy that we have such great candidates that you even can choose from more than one. If you look at the cast of characters from 2016, the Republicans weren’t so blessed. Yahoos versus professionals. Let’s march forward.
Step number two. We need to control the senate from the Supreme Court designation to controlling the unhelpful tendencies of a potential second term. First and foremost we need to control the senate.
When you march forward to the general election and you look at the primary. Look at the primary in terms of ties, not who is nice, who they know, who they think would be fine. “Fine” is a bad word. Who’s going to win? Don’t think in four letters think in three letters, “win.” Who can beat Joni Ernst? Who can sit toe to toe, debate her, expose her voting record, pick it apart, corral a national effort behind the person to beat her.
She will have all of the strength of the Republican party behind her. Money will be no object for the Republicans to maintain that seat. You need to win her on the essence of the discussion. You need to punish her in every debate. She needs to whimper in the corner because she’s been supporting special interests in this state, at the behest of special interests and corporate greed, and been hammering the citizens of this state into the rich soil.
If you can’t choose which candidate is that, can do that, then let’s have a debate among the Democratic candidates well before the primary. in every county we can. I’m game. I sign up.
~ Editor’s note: The garlic presented to the campaign was appreciated as some were experiencing cold symptoms. Admiral Franken posted his garlic cold treatment the next day. During the interview he provided responses to addressing the climate crisis, the national debt and the deficit. Any errors in transcription belong to the author. His campaign website is frankenforiowa.org/about.