Susan Nelson explains why Admiral Mike Franken is the candidate who can beat U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, and why progressives should be happy about that. -promoted by Laura Belin
Joni Ernst has got to go.
I am usually focused on issues in a primary, but in this race, I just want to pick a winner. A Republican-controlled Senate is an existential threat to preserving health care and doing something about climate change, and conservative Supreme Court nominees will be stopping progressive legislation for decades to come. Ernst is coming for your Social Security benefits, your health care, and so much more. She has glued herself to President Donald Trump. For all those reasons and more, this is a high-stakes election.
David Weaver wrote on Sunday about what it is going to take to win the U.S. Senate race. He believes Admiral Mike Franken can win, and I agree. I live in Floyd County, one of the rural counties on the eastern edge of the fourth Congressional district. Floyd residents voted for J.D. Scholten, but also voted for Kim Reynolds and Donald Trump. A Des Moines candidate is going to face a challenge in rural counties like this, for reasons David explained. If winning is your first, or only, objective, I agree that Franken is the guy.
But winning is not the only reason I think he is the right choice. I met him at a sparsely-attended event at the Charles City VFW, back in March. I went out of curiosity, and a sense of responsibility to vet all the candidates before deciding. After multiple events with other candidates, the choice was not obvious. I am a progressive. My views are well to the left of my rural neighbors, but I am acutely aware that that they have a substantial say in the outcome of this election.
The good news from my point of view is that Mike Franken is an unapologetically progressive candidate, and not what political scientist Rachel Bitecofer calls an “embarrassed Democrat.” His views on policy issues are in the same ballpark as Elizabeth Warren’s. Like J.D. Scholten, or U.S. Representative Katie Porter, he can sell them to people who are more conservative than he is. After an hour of Q&A, I was on board. I have stayed in touch with him, and he continues to impress me with his intelligence, humility, and humor.
Mike Franken is the very best that Iowa can produce. He’s brilliant, but he doesn’t beat you over the head with it. He is kind, and respectful. He’s a listener. Unlike many more experienced politicians, he serves no word salads in response to pointed questions. He says what he believes. He doesn’t try to sand off the edges to make you happy with his answers, but he is open to changing his mind if you have more information or a better argument. He is funny and charming, and quick on his feet. He made a supporter out of the gun enthusiast in my household while explaining the need for more regulation, and making him jealous by talking about all the weaponry he has had his hands on in the Navy. You had to see him in action to appreciate how deft he is.
I asked him what he would fight for, over Chuck Schumer’s opposition, and, unlike some others, he did not hesitate: health care and climate change, expanding on both issues in a way that demonstrated he has thought a lot about both, and their impact in rural Iowa.
Joni Ernst will have her work cut out her if he is the nominee. You wanna talk pigs? Franken worked in a meatpacking plant when he was in school. Military service? Three-star admiral with an incredible career. Rural roots? Franken’s home town was Lebanon, Iowa. Try to find it on a map. He grew up helping in his father’s machine shop, one of nine children. He added to his mechanical knowledge with an engineering degree and a masters in physics. When he came home to Iowa after 36 years in the Navy, he came to Sioux City, near his home town.
When I saw that he had a Navy career, I assumed he spent it on ships. He was the first commander of USS Winston S. Churchill, and led squadrons of ships in combat. But his talents as a manager and a diplomat made him in demand on shore as well. Early in his career, he was the first military officer to serve on the personal staff of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, giving him an inside view of how the Senate works.
The Navy gave him increasingly big jobs over the years. Franken was in charge of policy, plans, and strategy for Central Command in the Middle East, where he planned how to position US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and drafted bilateral agreements with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, and Pakistan. He led a 4,000-person multinational force in the Horn of Africa, supporting establishment of the nation of South Sudan, and setting the Somali pirates on the run. He created bi-national agreements with international organizations and national governments in eastern Africa, for infrastructure development, aid delivery, and more.
From 2012 to 2014 he was Chief of Legislative Affairs for the Navy in Washington. In 2015, he was the founding director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for the Secretary of Defense. After that, he was Deputy for Military Operations for U.S. Africa Command until he retired, responsible for all military operations on that continent. He would be absolutely formidable, and immune to spin, in Senate hearings on foreign policy and defense budgets.
Mike Franken is an extraordinary public servant, and he seems right for the challenges we will face if we can take back the White House and the Senate. With our government in shambles, extraordinary people will be needed at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, to rebuild what has been destroyed and damaged. He is our best hope in Iowa of defeating one of Trump’s most loyal enablers in the Senate.