Retired Navy Vice Adm. Michael Franken became the fourth candidate to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, in 2020.
In an introductory campaign video released Monday morning, Franken announced, “Iowans need a senator who will go against the grain in Washington and do what’s right for Iowa.”
Franken who grew up in Sioux Center, Iowa, but moved to Sioux City, Iowa this year shortly after retiring from the Navy on October 1, 2018.
Franken most recently served as the U.S. Africa Command’s deputy for military operations. In that role, he was responsible to the commander for promoting the national security interests of the United States by strengthening the security capabilities of African nations, to include the conduct of military operations that create an environment conducive to development and responsible governance.
He also served as the initial director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), special assistant to the director of the Navy Staff, the Joint Staff J5 (Strategic Plans and Policy) interim chief of staff, the Department of the Navy Chief of Legislative Affairs, command of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HoA) in Djibouti, Africa, and nearly three years as vice director, Strategy, Plans and Policy (J5) at U.S. Central Command.
Franken was the first commanding officer of USS Winston S. Churchill, a missile destroyer, and served with three other destroyers: USS King, USS Dahlgren, and USS Barry. As commodore, he commanded Destroyer Squadron 28 and Task Group 152.0 for the Eisenhower Strike Group.
Franken in the video said he was “trained to not bow for political pressure and to do what is right.” He said he objected to the invasion of Iraq in 2002 during a work group put together by the Bush White House as a young captain representing the Navy.
He said when the room, that included generals and high-ranking political officials, voted on three different invasion plans, “I voted for a fourth option – no.”
“I wasn’t surprised when everyone else in the room did the White House’s bidding,” Franken said noting that he was “disappointed when Congress also fell in line.”
He said that today Washington is even worse. “Republicans are afraid to ever stand up to Donald Trump and D.C. Democrats aren’t bold enough to confront the climate crisis,
Franken’s entry makes a four-way race for the Democratic nomination that includes Kimberly Graham, Eddie Mauro, and Theresa Greenfield. Greenfield is the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee choice, so Franken dinging D.C. Democrats in his campaign video is not particularly risky for his campaign.
We know very little about the policy positions he would pursue, but his comment that “D.C. Democrats aren’t bold enough to confront” the “climate crisis” or the health care industry is intriguing considering Democrats have rallied around plans like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All.
Does Franken mean they are not bold because these plans are unrealistic or because they are not progressive enough? He describes himself as a progressive Democrat on his Twitter account so one has to wonder what “bold” looks like to him.
His military background alone makes him an intriguing potential challenger to Ernst who is the first female combat veteran elected to the U.S. Senate.
Whether that background is one that grassroots Democrats find appealing remains to be seen.