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Retired 3-star admiral launches senate campaign to unseat veteran Joni Ernst in Iowa

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Michael Franken addresses the audience for the first time as Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa commander after assuming the role in a ceremony moments before, May 16, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Austin M. May)
November 04, 2019

Retired U.S Navy Vice Adm. Michael Franken is running in the Iowa Democratic Senate Primary as a potential candidate to challenge Sen. Joni Ernst in 2020.

Franken, 61, is one of five current Democratic candidates looking to challenge the Republican Ernst, who is seeking a second term in office. According to The Gazette, the retired three-star admiral sees himself as a pragmatic progressive candidate, focused on healthcare and environmental issues.

“I think (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell and Sen. Joni Ernst are exemplars of what is fundamentally wrong in Washington,” Franken told The Gazette. “Both sides have some to blame on this, but those two in particular.”

On policy, Franken says he is pragmatic enough to understand what policy is achievable and is progressive enough to pursue the difficult legislative causes prized by progressive voters. He said he would not pursue a government-run, single-payer healthcare.

“Maybe someday we will go there, but I don’t think you can make that switch right off the bat,” he said.

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In an October campaign event, Franken asked his audience, “Is your health care more secure? Do you feel your educational opportunities are better?”

On foreign policy matters, Franken said he would do his best to avoid foreign conflicts, according to Military.com. When President George W. Bush ordered the Pentagon to prepare for the invasion of Iraq, Franken said he stood alone in his opposition to the invasion while serving as the most junior officer present.

According to a Navy career biography, Franken has served on guided-missile destroyers and commanded USS Winston S. Churchill before going on to command Destroyer Squadron 28 and Task Group 152.0 for the Eisenhower Strike Group.

Franken also served as the initial director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), the Department of the Navy Chief of Legislative Affairs and served three years as vice director for Strategy, Plans and Policy (J5) at U.S. Central Command.

Ernst herself is a military veteran.

She retired as a Lt. Col in the Iowa National Guard. According to a biography on her Senate website, Joni served in both the Army Reserves and Iowa National Guard for over 23 year. She led a unit driving convoys through Kuwait and Southern Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and she said served in every leadership position from platoon leader to battalion commander.

Ernst has served on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and has advanced veterans’ healthcare and suicide prevention legislation.

“Working for farmers across Iowa, Joni successfully led efforts to scrap the Obama administration’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which would have regulated about 97 percent of land in Iowa,” Ernst’s campaign website read.

Ernst also touted her efforts to win resources for flood relief in Cedar Rapids.

If Franken wins the Democratic primary, he will go on to face Ernst, who reportedly holds a 57 percent approval rating.