To some, a 40-year military career in the United States Navy might not seem like the background needed for someone looking to become an advocate for rural America. But retired Vice Adm. Michael Franken believes his military experience fits perfectly when it comes to being a voice for rural issues.
Franken is seeking the Democratic nomination for Senate and hopes to challenge Republican Senator Joni Ernst in the 2020 general election. Besides Franken, Democrats Theresa Greenfield, Eddie Mauro, Kimberly Clark and Independent Suzanne Herzog are also seeking the nomination.
Franken is from Lebanon, a small community in far northwest Iowa. He visited the Manchester Press office before an appearance with Delaware County Democrats Nov. 4.
“If you were going to craft a capability set from an experience perspective, you generally want to have the experiences for whatever reason they occurred, that I had,” he explained.
With degrees in engineering and physics, Franken’s military service took him around the world. He has served on formative operational assignments in guided-missile destroyers and served as the U.S. Africa Command’s deputy for military operations. There he was responsible to the commander for promoting the national security interests of the United States by strengthening the security capabilities of African nations. He presented the worldwide orders book to Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 2003 to 2005, and was the first military officer to serve as a legislative fellow for the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
Franken is the most senior military person to run for a congressional seat in the history of the United States.
He has heard from Iowa farmers who are struggling as a result of the trade war with China.
“I spent a lot of time overseas and ran the China account in two different jobs. China isn’t going to heel on this. They are in a position of strength and have other countries willing to sell commodities to them. They can endure this longer than the United States can. It’s going to be hard to get them back and it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Franken said to counter the tariff war with China, the United States must find new partners. “When you do trade policies, you find like-minded nations and agree on the principles you will proceed with.”
Franken wrote 27 bilateral and multi-lateral agreements while in the Navy, and said those experiences have prepared him to negotiate trade agreements. “You approach these things from a position of strength and unity. You corral your alliances and you know what’s important and know where your decision flexibility is.”
He said who is involved in negotiations is also important. “You’ve got to get into the room with the experts who do this for a living. You don’t get in there with family members, you don’t do things with tweets or with hair-brained dis-proven heretics. This administration did that and now they don’t know where they are going.”
Franken was critical of Senator Ernst, accusing her of being derelict in her duties as senator when it comes to investigating President Trump over Ukraine.
“Regardless of the malfeasance expected or thought to have occurred, you must at least do a preliminary investigation. You’ve got to find the facts. Senator Ernst has said she’s seen the transcript over Ukraine and a quid pro quo of the president’s political rivals and that there is nothing there. She got elected wearing her veteran colors, she can’t excuse that now that she is in office. You have to hold onto your principles and she gave up those principles when she said this wasn’t a big deal.”
Franken addressed what he believes health care should look like in America.
“To me, the stretch goal is the standard of health care I benefited from for nearly 40 years in the military. It was dental, mental and physical. However, we can, with the highest level of efficacy, deliver that type of care effectively and cost-effective, that should be the standard for America.”
He believes drug prices could be reduced by as much as 45% and that effective insurance may come from a public/private partnership.
“Ultimately in America, we want clean air, clean water, a safe and healthy food supply and comprehensive cradle-to-grave health care. We want to ensure all the rungs of the ladder are there for every American to reach their desire and ability to climb the ladder of success. It’s a five-step process that should be America. I sense that was the kind of America I remembered in Lebanon and that is one we should all aspire to.”
Franken said he’s never lost his Iowa values. “I took off from Iowa but I returned. My roots and Iowa values are here. We need to have fewer people of the gilded class representing us. Our president is about as un-rural as any president ever.”
He said rural America needs to look in the mirror. “They need to look and ask themselves ‘what’s important to me’? To me, it’s really easy. How about your children’s children, the sanctity of the family farm and the promise that your children will have a better life than yours?”
Franken said he welcomes that debate with anyone. “I’m happy to have that debate about who is an American and what are the ideals of rural America. I hope I’m the face of rural America.”