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U.S. Senate candidate Mike Franken says he's running again because he thinks his expertise is needed to defend democracy

Retired Navy Admiral Mike Franken poses in front of the old Franklin Jr. High building in Des Moines where he has a campaign office on April 28, 2022. Franken, of Sioux City, is one of three Democrats running in Iowa's U.S. Senate primary race in hopes of facing Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.
Clay Masters
Retired Navy Admiral Mike Franken poses in front of the old Franklin Jr. High building in Des Moines, where he has a campaign office. Franken, of Sioux City, is one of three Democrats running in Iowa's U.S. Senate primary race in hopes of facing Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.

IPR Morning Edition host Clay Masters sits down with one of the Democratic U.S. Senate candidates for a conversation about federal college loan forgiveness, climate change and connecting with rural voters.

Mike Franken is one of three Democrats running in hopes of facing Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley in November. Franken is a retired Navy admiral and ran unsuccessfully for his party's nomination in a different U.S. Senate race here two years ago.

“In the aftermath of Jan. 6, having worked overseas defended the American way of life [and] worked for this country so hard, I thought as life becomes more compressed over the age of 60, things that you do are more meaningful," Franken said. "I can't think of anything more meaningful than to provide my expertise to maintain democracy in this country because I saw it under threat.”

Franklin lives in Sioux City and IPR’s Clay Masters caught up with him last week at his field office in an old junior high in Des Moines.

Clay Masters: A lot of rural voters in Iowa have shifted more and more towards the Republican Party, especially with the rise of Donald Trump. What is your message to those rural voters, those blue collar voters that maybe once voted Democratic with some of the strong labor union support that was built in the state that have now gone to the Republican side?

Mike Franken: My message to them is 'I'm one of you, I am from rural Iowa, big family, public school. My dad was a machinist World War II vet, wounded in World War II. Grandfather [was] wounded in World War I. My family used military, my brother-in-law and myself, to go to college and do bigger things than what rural Lebanon, Iowa offered. My broad perspective is a product of exposure. And I'm coming back to Iowa, my home where ultimately I'll be buried, to help you in rural America, vote for your best interest because that has been lost.

Two thirds of Democrats and independents that are leaning to the left in a recent Pew survey said that addressing climate change is a top priority for Congress. If you're elected to the U.S. Senate, how would you prioritize action on climate change?

Well, certainly, I'd be a fan of a carbon tax and incremental and build to a crescendo of sorts. I think Iowa is in the catbird seat in terms of being value added from a climate perspective. Our farmers making slight changes to our farming practices, or hugely monumental changes to our farming practices can change Iowa's place and make our farmers instead of the villains they often are categorized as with water issues, to be heroes from a climate change perspective. Iowa will be a net beneficiary of that.

So, you think farmers are villainized in this state?

I think they are in many states for the issues that happened to our water. I mean, this is the nitrates in our water, etc. I mean, it's clear that every year water in Iowa gets worse. And the question is, how does that happen? Well, it's a combination of climate change, and of course, agricultural runoff. And that includes livestock and field runoffs. There are not a lot of other polluters other than that, that cause issues with water. So, I would like to be helpful with legislation that changes that equation.

There's an interesting alliance that's formed in the wake of these proposed carbon capture pipelines in the state between landowners who are concerned about eminent domain. And also environmentalists, who have long been saying that the carbon capture and sequestration is not an effective way to combat climate change. Do you think there's something to be said about trying to capitalize on the conversations that are happening around these proposed pipelines in the state?

Well, you know, I believe we're stepping on a very slippery slope when we look to have a government funded, government subsidized process that ultimately will reap private rewards, at the expense of instituting eminent domain for something like this, and I'm very questioning the wisdom and the logic behind this. And I have not heard a convincing argument on why I would be for CO2 pipelines.

President Biden has said that in the coming weeks, he will have some kind of an answer about loan forgiveness. What is the threshold? President Biden said he doesn't want to go above $50,000. What is your take on loan forgiveness and college debt?

Well, we've got to be very careful here because we don't want to cause a unnecessary schism in the party, in youth and in the blue collar, working class of America, and those that went to college, some of whom didn't graduate, etc. I just think we need to be very careful here. There was a time when you could work a summer job and pay for college. Those days are gone. So, we should address things like an enhanced Pell Grant program, zero interest loans for education, the ability to rewicker your loan program, forgiveness programs involved with volunteering for larger projects like a volunteer national service program. There's a host of issues which we should have, which provide an alternative. Certainly, the cost of college has gone ridiculously high and there's not a pay scale associated with it. I just think we need as a party, we need to be very careful about loan forgiveness.

Masters spoke with Franken before the Supreme Court's initial draft majority opinion regarding abortion. Franken tweeted on Monday night that “it's a direct attack on women and 100% unacceptable and that the government should not be allowed to regulate women's health.”

Abby Finkenauer and Glenn Hurst are also running in the Iowa Democratic Party's U.S. Senate primary race. Sen. Chuck Grassley faces state Sen. Jim Carlin as a Republican challenger.

There are several ways to vote in this year's primary you can vote in person at your county auditor's office beginning May 18. You canrequest an absentee ballot anytime up through May 23. It will have to be received by your county auditor by 8 p.m. on primary day, or you can vote in person on June 7.

Clay Masters is the senior politics reporter for MPR News.