Local View: Condemnation of Franken unfair
In a way, the anchor of my political destiny rests on U.S. Sen. Al Franken's legacy. I left my 10-year-old son with a neighbor in Reseda, Calif., in 2008 to work for the Democratic Party in Minnesota. For six weeks in Bemidji, I was a field organizer for a coordinated campaign to promote the Democrats' new star Al Franken as well as Collin Peterson and John Persell. I had just finished my master's degree in political science at Cal State Northridge, and it was my brainiac friends, like Jing Cheng Xu, a Berkeley student, who insisted I take the job.
I met Franken three to four times that fall while working for him. He was warm, endearing, and personable. His major selling point was not comedic timing but embracing empathetic issues like senior medical care, the farm bill, and student debt. Franken had solidified his message, and his run for public office was a quest of service. He already was trying to leave the past behind.
One day a female volunteer came into the Bemidji office. My cohort, Pam, asked her to promote Franken alongside Barack Obama as she went door-knocking. "No way," she said. "I do not support the jokes he made about women as a comedian, and I refuse to door-knock for him. I will only do so for Obama." This was the first time I witnessed someone from the same party taking a stand and rejecting Franken as a candidate.
Franken won that year by 312 votes, an outcome contested for six months until he finally could take office. His election wasn't exactly a mandate.
In 2014, I was volunteering for the Democrats. I saw Franken again at the Labor Temple in Duluth. He had a warm handshake, made direct eye contact, and laughed when I told him I sold my car to come work for him in 2008. I told him I rode my bike to my Macy's job in California when I returned from the campaign job in Minnesota. I never regretted my decision to fly to Minnesota to work for him. My conservative friend in Beverly Hills also praised my decision.
In retrospect, I do not think it is fair that Franken is being condemned by some for things he did before he became a U.S senator. We all have a litany of mistakes that could come to the surface if something were at stake.
Franken cares about Minnesotans and took his job seriously.
He was honored by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty for addressing homelessness.
Just a month ago, President Donald Trump signed into law legislation Franken authored called the Family Farmer Bankruptcy Clarification Act, which helps farmers bide more time if they are in debt.
He also designed the 2014 farm bill.
He was instrumental in Wall Street reform.
He created a preventative care program for diabetes in conjunction with the Affordable Care Act.
He helped write the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act, which was enacted in 2013 to help protect victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The act made it unlawful to evict a woman from federally supported housing just because she is a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
Franken, no matter his entertainment past, took on the job of senator with conviction. His swift decision to leave the Senate may have been a move too eager to please top party members.
In observing Trump's demeanor alone, if I was Franken, I would have stayed and leveled a bloody fight for character and dignity and for a public office fought for and earned.
Franken was a top earner and headliner for the Democratic National party, raising $8.3 million for the party in the last five years. He has changed and become a better man.
It was only his choice to step down, and he did so without surveying the full impact.
The Old Testament book of Psalms says our transgressions are forgiven as far as the east is from the west. Maybe Washington should wipe out the memory of minor transgressors and refocus its empathy for the suffering — just like Al Franken did.
Jane Hoffman is a behavior specialist for Traumatic Brain Injuries Residential and Community Services and a special-education assistant at Cooper Elementary School in Superior. She ran for Duluth School Board in 2015.