Iowa Democratic Senate candidate and military veteran Mike Franken says he fought to defend Americans' right to freedom of speech—unless that freedom is used to criticize President Joe Biden.
Franken during a June campaign stop said he had requested the mayor of Sumner, Iowa, to take down a "Let's Go Brandon, F— Biden" flag outside a resident's house downtown. The Iowa Democratic nominee, who served as a Navy vice admiral, claimed he spoke for all veterans when he said he "did not serve" for a citizen to fly such a flag.
"Mayor, what the hell? … I speak for all veterans, categorically speaking, not for that person," Franken said he wrote in a letter to the mayor. "I did not serve my nation for him, or her, whoever lives there. Shame on, shame on your town for that. I was gonna stop at your VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars], and I said, ‘I'll keep on riding,' because I probably would have lost my cool."
"Republicans are attacking the basic pillars of civic authority—they've taken away all norms of that activity, where you've got an F— Biden sign on Main Street," Franken said. "It's not civil."
Franken, who is running against Republican incumbent senator Chuck Grassley, saw his campaign manager resign on Wednesday because the Iowa Democrat is reportedly too difficult of a boss to work for. His appeal to civility came moments after he accused Republicans of leading a capitalist-evangelical cabal to "dumb down" youth through "a war on education."
This is not the first time Franken has supported using the power of government to chill speech. In January 2021, the retired Navy vice admiral took credit for banning Fox News from broadcasting to American troops stationed in East Africa.
"As the commander of military forces in E Africa, I asked the American Forces Network (TV) to replace Fox News during meal hours," Franken said. "Why? Because they were inimical to America's outreach overseas. Put troops in jeopardy. Made my job harder. … I pulled the plug."
Republican lawmakers like Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), an Army veteran, said Franken's remarks demonstrate "how far out of step Iowa Democrats have gotten from Iowa voters."
"This is the kind of liberal with stars on their shoulders who turns off America's young men and women from joining our military," Cotton said last week at an event in Iowa for Republican congressional hopeful Zach Nunn. "Mike Franken speaks for himself—and only himself. He does not speak for America's veterans."
Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), the first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate, said Franken "should know better than to attack an Iowan for exercising his or her First Amendment rights."
"The military oath of office requires service members to protect and defend the Constitution," Ernst said in a statement with Grassley. "Mike Franken's claim to speak on behalf of ‘all veterans' while he attempts to silence a fellow Iowan's right to free speech is appalling and un-American. … All Americans have the right to express their political viewpoints however they see fit."
The mayor of Sumner said he would not remove the "Let's Go Brandon" flag, according to Franken. Sumner's mayor and Franken's campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Franken campaign manager Julie Stauch apparently resumed her role the day after she resigned, according to the Iowa Field Report, telling the outlet she and the campaign had reached an agreement.
National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Sen. Rick Scott (R., Fla.) said Franken's comments make him "unfit for office."
"As a veteran, I am disgusted that Mike Franken claimed he served in the military only for people who held the same beliefs as him," Scott said in a statement. "I applaud Senator Grassley for keeping his commitment to meet with voters, whoever they vote for, every year through his annual 99 county meetings and other events he hosts in Iowa. Iowa families deserve a senator who is willing to serve them, even when they may have different views on issues."
Update 10:21 a.m.: This piece has been updated to note Franken campaign manager Julie Stauch resumed her role after having resigned.