Marion County — Vice Admiral Michael T. Franken was heavily involved with key issues that the United States of America faced during his Navy career. Now, the retired Sioux City resident is seeking the Democratic nomination for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat.
Franken tells the Tribune that he grew up in rural Iowa near South Dakota. He was raised a Lutheran, the youngest of nine children to a mother who taught in a one-room schoolhouse. Franken himself did well in school and had options in life.
He went to Morningside College to major in biochemistry, with the intention of becoming a doctor. His brother became a pilot and encouraged him to join the Navy, where he could “goof off.”
The Navy at that time wanted engineers and physicists. He was afforded the opportunity to finish his Bachelor of Science degree at Nebraska, then earn his Master’s in the Navy.
Throughout his career, he worked his way up to the rank of Admiral. He has lived in four countries, including Muslim countries; led troops in Africa and was in charge of the Navy’s legislative affairs. Through his work in Africa, he ran outreach to its nations. He served as the plans and policy person at Central Command and was heavily involved in the build up of troops in Afghanistan and the drawdown of troops in Iraq.
His experience also includes running an international agency that searches, identifies and returns remains of service members to their families. Basically, he describes his work as an Admiral as that of someone in executive management; he oversaw billions of dollars, thousands of personnel and serving other branches of the military in joint operations. Throughout it all, he worked hard, was exposed to a lot and worked with people in all walks of life.
“I was apolitical in uniform,” Franken said. He has been approached in his career by the Republican Party to be a candidate for them, but he also worked for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy early in his career. Franken says he never really thought about politics as an option after his Naval career.
What turned him on to the Democratic Party was the savings and loan “debacle” of the 1980s. He blames the late Ronald Reagan’s policies for his parents’ loss of savings, in which they received only 19 cents on the dollar for everything they had put away. His parents had worked in a machine shop into their 70s, and refused financial assistance from their children.
He was pushed further into Democratic territory with the invasion of Grenada, the Iran-Contra Affair and the situation in Beirut.
“The Republican Party just kind of wished it away,” Franken said. Despite these specific examples tied to the GOP, he remains skeptical of all parties. One of his bosses told him at an early age to “always question authority.” Be honest, do not expect that anyone knows better than you, because “chances are, they don’t.”
Kennedy entrusted him with much work without checking up on him. When the time came for the vote to invade Iraq under George W. Bush, Franken voted against it.
“This is not going to go well,” Franken told the planning board. The rationale for going in was “flaccid” in his opinion, but he was overwhelmed. During the invasion, he served as Donald Rumsfeld’s briefer.
“It’s what that administration wanted to do,” Franken said.
His experience has also taught him that today’s situation with COVID-19 will not be over. He reads science journals and is convinced that even if all of this work to “flatten the curve” is successful, there will be a resurgence.
“I don’t believe in science, I understand science,” Franken said.
If elected, Franken would try to make Iowa one of the states leading the charge against climate change, improved education, pragmatism in government and soil conservation. Losing Iowa’s topsoil is evident along the Missouri River, he says, as the banks of silt have grown and floods have occurred more often. Suggestions to save topsoil include changing crops and changing crop rotations.
Recently, Franken has worked with people at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology trying to make fusion a reality. This is just part of the broad expanse of experience he has over his fellow Democratic primary contenders.
“They choose who they want,” Franken said of voters. In the general election, he wants Iowans to ask themselves if they are happy with Joni Ernst’s performance the past six years. He, too, has military experience like Ernst, as he has been involved in nine of 11 named military operations of the past 40 years.
“I’m pretty rooted in what’s Iowa,” Franken said. “This has always been my home.”