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Franken says Grassley has been in office long enough, and Iowa needs a change

Franken says Grassley has been in office long enough, and Iowa needs a change
Michael Franken, Democratic candidate for U.S. senator for Iowa, talks with almost 40 people at a meet-and-greet Sunday afternoon in Charles City. Press photo by Bob Steenson
By Bob Steenson,

For Democratic candidates to win in Iowa they can’t cater to fringe party issues, the candidate for a U.S. Senate seat told a gathering of about 40 people Sunday afternoon.

“You can’t be over the edge on your viewpoints, because you won’t get elected,” said Michael Franken, a retired three-star Navy admiral from Sioux City, who is challenging Sen. Chuck Grassley for the seat Grassley has held for more than 40 years.

Franken and his wife, Jordan, stopped in Charles City at the home of Todd and Ann Prichard for an open “meet and greet.”

Franken, age 64, started out with his biography then opened the gathering up to questions.

He said grew up in Sioux County where his father had a machine shop and his mother was a school teacher. He helped out in his dad’s shop, did some farm work and construction work, started in a slaughterhouse at age 17 and worked there for three years before winning a Navy scholarship and starting what was originally intended as a short military career.

That short career turned into 39 years that included service on four Navy destroyers including the last one as commanding officer, commander of a destroyer squadron, commander of a task group for the aircraft carrier Eisenhower strike group, and commanding the combined joint task force responsible for the U.S. military in East Africa and the Indian Ocean, as well as several senior policy and strategy positions in Washington.

Franken said he served under every president going back to Jimmy Carter, but when Donald Trump was elected, “I didn’t think it was right to work for him … and I decided not to do that.

“He was a scoundrel coming into office and he remains a scoundrel to this day, and I’m being kind with my description,” he said.

Franken ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate two years ago but was defeated by Theresa Greenfield, who then lost when Sen. Joni Ernst won re-election.

This year, Franken won the party primary election against Abby Finkenauer, who had been considered by many to be the front-runner.

Moving into questions and answers, Franken was asked what he would do about gun violence. Reciting the statistic that now the No. 1 cause of death of children and adolescents is firearms related, a woman asked, “If our kids aren’t safe, what else matters?”

Franken said he grew up with firearms and with his service in the military, no one was going to “gun-splain” to him about using the correct terminology regarding firearms.

“The NRA (National Rifle Association) will cower and run,” he said.

“My job is to demand responsible firearm ownership in America,” he said, noting the training and registration required when the military sells weapons to civilians.

“This has been bastardized and made a culture war by the Republicans. And many of the Republicans would like to break from the party specifically on this issue,” he said.

A man at the gathering said, “I’m not a person who thinks we need to take away guns. But I think we need to have strong, good laws that address the acquisition and ownership of guns.”

“I’m 100% on board with that,” Franken said.

He added, “Unless you want to get tough as people, unless you’re willing to put up the morbidity report of that child, on a billboard, even a photograph, then you’re not ready for this struggle.”

Asked about health care, Franken said he and his wife were the beneficiaries of 40 years of military health care, including preventive care, eyesight and dental, and that should be the standard for everyone.

“We have the best health-care providers in the world, facilities, etc., but the least usable system, especially for mental health, especially for those who most need it from an ADA perspective,” he said.

“Military veterans live longer than non-veterans, because at a time of our life we are cared for,” he said. “Everybody should have this.”

Responding to a different question, Franken said Iowa should have the cheapest electrical grid in the nation.

“My goal is 6 cents a kilowatt hour, using on a day like today solar, to supplant the wind, to use ethanol to supplant the power generation in the gap periods.”

He said he was against the proposed pipelines that would carry off ethanol plant carbon dioxide to be buried underground, calling them “just not smart, folks.”

He said a better idea would be to use the CO2 in state to provide a new farm base, growing more market-to-table produce, creating co-ops for the production of speciality crops, using grow houses to produce multiple crops a year.

The current business model is growing crops for the benefit of a large ag consortium, where both the producers and the purchasers are squeezed, and Grassley has supported that model for 60 years as an Iowa legislator, then in Congress, Fraken said.

The producers are “rather stooges for a process they have no control over,” he said, adding that one in four hogs being raised in Iowa is owned by a Chinese consortium (Smithfield).

Answering another question, Franken said his top issue is protecting democracy and voter rights.

“If you believe this Jan. 6 thing was just a one-off, I think you’re wrong. It was a rough-hewn attempt to take over your vote. It’s now being practiced, routinized, with legislation and with administration” in states across the country, he said.

Another broad focus is on quality of life, “which brings in education, health care, and a number of other issues,” he said.

“I also believe a more energetic and fair business culture, tax culture, anti-corporate perspective – not anti-corporate as much as pro-individual humanity perspective in the way we treat each other – must be done.

On getting money out of politics, Franken said one answer is term limits, and he would start with the Supreme Court.

“Chuck Grassley’s legacy, unfortunately, is giving us the most partisan Supreme Court we’ve had since 1934. A Supreme Court that is not shy about legislating from the bench. And it’s going to go on awhile,” he said.

“We need to pass laws that upend the Supreme Court rulings. And if we need to set aside the filibuster, then we must do that,” he said.

Regarding the economy, Franken said that other than inflation, the economy is reasonably good for most people, and that inflation is leveling off.

He said high gas prices aren’t because of a lack of crude oil, but are due to a lack of processing distilleries, and no oil company is going to invest the amount of money it takes to build a new distillery when the future of gasoline is “perhaps very hesitant.”

“It’s not a good plan,” he said. “It’s market forces.”

Inflation is a simple consequence of the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates too low for too long, and both the Trump and the Biden administrations “have egg on their faces,” he said.

Regarding his opponent, Franken noted that the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll on Sunday showed him only 8 points behind Grassley, and for the first time since Grassley first ran for the U.S. Senate in 1980, his approval rating is below 50%.

Franken said Grassley’s name-recognition is as high as it can get, and a lot of people have voted for him over the years out of habit, including some who aren’t Republicans.

Franken said, on the other hand, he is still becoming known to people and has an opportunity to grow his favorability rating as the campaign progresses.

It depends on people getting out the vote, bringing in independents, bringing in Republicans who are looking for a different way, he said.

“I don’t think you should be in elected office for 40-some years. I just don’t, I don’t care who you are,” he said.

Franken says Grassley has been in office long enough, and Iowa needs a change
Michael Franken, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, talks with Jenn Wolff of Waverly at a meet-and-greet event for Franken Sunday afternoon in Charles City. Wolff is the Democratic candidate for Iowa Senate District 29 which includes most of Floyd County. Press photo by Bob Steenson
Franken says Grassley has been in office long enough, and Iowa needs a change
Michael Franken (right), Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate for Iowa, and Iowa Rep. Todd Prichard (D- Charles City) listen to other Democratic candidates for office this fall introduce themselves at a meet and greet for Franken at Prichard’s home Sunday afternoon. Prichard is not seeking re-election. Press photo by Bob Steenson

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