Franken launches another U.S. Senate bid

Retired Navy Vice Admiral Michael Franken, a Sioux County native, recently launched his second U.S. Senate primary bid on the Democratic side. He will vie for a shot to unseat longtime Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley in the 2022 midterm elections.

REGIONAL—Lebanon native Michael Franken is hoping the second time will be the charm when it comes to securing a seat in the U.S. Senate.

The 63-year-old retired Navy vice admiral launched his campaign for the office on Oct. 14, making him the fifth Democratic primary contestant looking to take on Iowa’s longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Franken, who graduated from Sioux Center High School in 1976, ran his first U.S. Senate primary campaign in the 2020 election but lost to Des Moines businesswoman Theresa Greenfield. She then failed to unseat U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) in the general election.

In a phone interview with The REVIEW, Franken said he is running again because he believes “we’re in a difficult world and we are a divided nation” and a nonpolitician in office would be helpful in fixing the problems facing the country.

“I have a compulsion to use the experience that 37 years of military service gave me,” Franken said. “It’s a very unique insight on the world, how the U.S. government operates.”

In Franken’s sophomore year at Morningside College in Sioux City, he transferred to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln on an ROTC scholarship. He graduated with degrees in civil engineering and finance in 1981 and entered the Navy afterward.

His time in the military allowed Franken to travel across the globe until he retired from service as an vice admiral in 2017. His final posting was as deputy director of military operations for the U.S. Africa Command.

He described his campaign in broad terms as being about doing what’s best for all Iowans — rural and urban — and to a greater extent, the country as a whole. For him, that means providing Americans with quality health care, living wages, food security, affordable housing, child care and “the best public education money can buy in the Western world.”

Franken also spoke about the response of political and business leaders to the coronavirus pandemic the past year, in particular to the series of COVID-19 outbreaks in meatpacking plants across the country and in Iowa.

“I would have rectified what turned out to be outbreaks in the packing houses way earlier. I tried to impart a little bit of that knowledge to the governor and availed myself to do so back in 2020, to no avail,” he said, referring to Gov. Kim Reynolds.

He also expressed the need for an altruistic mindset when it comes to getting people vaccinated against COVID-19. He referenced his career in the military, during which he received numerous vaccinations to travel abroad.

“It’s what you do to preserve the mission and to preserve the well-being of those around you,” Franken said.

He also voiced his support for striking John Deere workers after the company failed to reach a contract agreement with the United Auto Workers labor union earlier this month. He visited with workers last Saturday at the picket line in Ankeny.

Franken argued the company’s offer of 5 percent to 6 percent pay raises to workers would be wiped out due to rising inflation and called it, “an affront to the workers.”

“If the rank and file is so significantly against this, then I believe them and I believe that we need to go back and redo that contract and we should do it mosh skosh because farming needs John Deere, the workers need John Deere and America needs John Deere,” he said.

Another topic Franken weighed in on was the potential construction of two carbon dioxide pipelines that would traverse Iowa: the Heartland Greenway System pipeline and the Midwest Carbon Express pipeline.

He noted the projects would receive pushback from landowners over eminent domain issues and feared that sequestered carbon could potentially be used for oil and gas fracking.

“That has to be thought through a little bit better. This is new. There’s much more to know about it. It is something that will be on the senator’s blotter, and I look forward to being central to the discussion, and how this gets rolled out and how it gets executed, if it does indeed happen,” Franken said.

The retired Navy veteran also shared his thoughts on the United States’ recent withdrawal from Afghanistan and the August airport attack in Kabul that killed 60 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops. The Islamic State took credit for the violence.

Franken first noted his history with Afghanistan dates back to 2002 and recalled how President George W. Bush’s administration rescinded an order that the Department of Defense brought to the White House to reduce the country’s footprint in Afghanistan.

Although Franken acknowledged the evacuation of troops from the South Asian country was “a messy affair” and “a hair-on-fire situation,” he said the withdrawal ultimately will go down favorably in history.

“My heart aches for the loss of 13 people, but had we stayed there, our losses would have been more,” he said.

From Franken’s conversations with Iowans thus far in his campaign, he said they are looking for a U.S. Senate candidate to represent them regardless of party lines.

“It will be a bipartisan ballot winner who wins this, and my sense is that after many decades of service, Sen. Grassley has denigrated his position on matters and weakened his heretofore folksy perspective that he was looking out for all of Iowans,” Franken said.

Other Democratic primary candidates hoping for a chance to unseat Grassley are former U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer of Dubuque; former state Rep. Bob Krause of Fairfield, former Crawford County supervisor Dave Muhlbauer of Manilla and family physician Glenn Hurst of Minden.