Arizona’s Christian Right congressman Trent Franks (8th Congressional District) unexpectedly announced his pending resignation from Congress on Thursday after creeping out two staff members in his office by talking about surrogate pregnancy for he and his wife.
It is not at all clear from published reports whether Franks approached these two staffers about becoming the surrogate. That would give this story an entirely different context.
Rep. Franks told reporters that he would let his statement speak for him, which attempts to frame the incident in a light most favorable to him. (My Spidey senses are tingling that there is more to this story):
Franks’ full statement:
I have always tried to create a very warm and supportive atmosphere for every last person who has ever worked in my congressional office. It is my deepest conviction that there are many staffers, former and present, who would readily volunteer to substantiate this fact.
Given the nature of numerous allegations and reports across America in recent weeks, I want to first make one thing completely clear. I have absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff.
However, I do want to take full and personal responsibility for the ways I have broached a topic that, unbeknownst to me until very recently, made certain individuals uncomfortable. And so, I want to shed light on how those conversations came about.
My wife and I have long struggled with infertility. We experienced three miscarriages.
We pursued adoption on more than one occasion only to have the adoptive mothers in each case change their mind prior to giving birth.
A wonderful and loving lady, to whom we will be forever grateful, acted as a gestational surrogate for our twins and was able to carry them successfully to live birth. The process by which they were conceived was a pro-life approach that did not discard or throw away any embryos.
My son and daughter are unspeakable gifts of God that have brought us our greatest earthly happiness in the 37 years we have been married.
When our twins were approximately 3 years old, we made a second attempt with a second surrogate who was also not genetically related to the child. Sadly, that pregnancy also resulted in miscarriage.
We continued to have a desire to have at least one additional sibling, for which our children had made repeated requests.
Due to my familiarity and experience with the process of surrogacy, I clearly became insensitive as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others.
I have recently learned that the Ethics Committee is reviewing an inquiry regarding my discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable. I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress.
We are in an unusual moment in history – there is collective focus on a very important problem of justice and sexual impropriety. It is so important that we get this right for everyone, especially for victims.
But in the midst of this current cultural and media climate, I am deeply convinced I would be unable to complete a fair House Ethics investigation before distorted and sensationalized versions of this story would put me, my family, my staff, and my noble colleagues in the House of Representatives through hyperbolized public excoriation. Rather than allow a sensationalized trial by media damage those things I love most, this morning I notified House leadership that I will be leaving Congress as of January 31st, 2018. It is with the greatest sadness, that for the sake of the causes I deeply love, I must now step back from the battle I have spent over three decades fighting. I hope my resignation will remain distinct from the great gains we have made. My time in Congress serving my constituents, America and the Constitution is and will remain one of God’s greatest gift to me in life.
Before being elected to Congress, Franks served in the Arizona Legislature and founded the Arizona Family Research Institute, an organization associated with Dr. James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family.” He is a pro-life (forced birth) advocate of anti-abortion and anti-contraception laws. Frank’s life-long “Focus on the Fetus” helps to explain what may have occurred here.
The Arizona Republic reports, Trent Franks stepping down from Congress amid complaints from 2 former female staffers:
Trent Franks, the dean of Arizona’s House Republicans, announced he is stepping down after learning the House Ethics Committee was investigating him for sexual harassment involving two “previous female subordinates,” the congressman said.
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While Franks sought to cast the complaints as without merit, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he found them “credible claims of misconduct.”
“The speaker presented Rep. Franks with the allegations, which he did not deny,” Ryan’s office said in a statement. “The speaker told Rep. Franks that he intended to refer the allegations directly to the House Ethics Committee and told him that he should resign from Congress. The allegations were filed with the Ethics Committee last Friday. And today, the speaker accepted a letter of resignation. The speaker takes seriously his obligation to ensure a safe workplace in the House.”
For its part, the Ethics Committee acknowledged opening an investigation “to determine whether Rep. Trent Franks engaged in conduct that constitutes sexual harassment and/or retaliation for opposing sexual harassment.”
A social conservative
In his eight terms representing the West Valley, Franks has been a stalwart social conservative on Capitol Hill, frequently citing the Bible and denouncing abortion. He has long made protecting children a centerpiece of his work in Washington.
While Franks, 60, has often been quick to invoke religious-based morality, he has been largely silent on the unfolding national reckoning on sexual harassment.
For example, Franks appears to have said nothing in his usual social-media channels about Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in next week’s election to permanently fill an Alabama senate seat. Several women have accused Moore of seeking intimate relations with them decades ago when they were younger than 18 and he was in his 30s.
Last week Franks declined to answer a request by The Arizona Republic about whether he was aware of any legal settlements to resolve claims against him involving sexual harassment or creating a hostile workplace for women.
Franks is among the wealthiest members of Congress, with a net worth between $5 million and $54 million, based on House financial disclosures for 2016. His wealth is largely tied to stock in Trinity Petroleum, an oil and gas company operated with his brothers.
Franks has kept a relatively low profile for much of his congressional tenure. But he created a brief stir in 2013 when he suggested the incidence pregnancy from rape is “very low.” He has introduced various measures intended to limit, if not end, abortion.
Last year, he again came under fire for a comment that appeared to minimize the gravity of Russian interference in the presidential election.
“The bottom line is if they succeeded, if Russia succeeded in giving the American people information that was accurate, then they merely did what the media should have done,” he said in an interview with MSNBC. He later said his comments had been misconstrued.
Franks is a member of the House Armed Services and Judiciary committees. He chairs a subcommittee on the Constitution and civil justice and is vice chair of a subcommittee on emerging threats.
According to his website, Franks chairs the Congressional Coalition on Adoption,
the Congressional Foster Youth Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on Orphans and Vulnerable Children.
He is also a member of the House Freedom Caucus, a group that has frequently battled GOP leadership in an effort to push more-conservative legislation, as well as the Republican Study Committee that helps develop policy.
Franks has been mentioned as a possible candidate or appointee.
For his part, Franks publicly said he had no plans to run for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, but was vague about his interest in succeeding Sen. John McCain, who has brain cancer.
Franks considered running for the Senate in 2012.
Interest in replacing Franks
Even before Franks made it official, Republican state Sens. Debbie Lesko and Kimberly Yee told The Republic they are interested in running for the seat.
Lesko, a Peoria Republican who is wrapping up her ninth year serving at the state Capitol, said she is “definitely interested” in running if Franks resigns.
“People have asked me throughout the years, ‘Why don’t you run for Congress,’” she told The Republic. “I’ve said I’m perfectly satisfied with the job Trent Franks has done, but if he ever decides to move up, retire or resign, I’d definitely be interested.
“And it seems all of the sudden, that may happen.”
Asked about her interest in Frank’s House seat, Yee, who has already announced her candidacy for state Treasurer, told The Republic in a text message, “Yes. I am interested.”
Two other GOP state lawmakers were believed to be considering it — state Sen. Steve Montenegro and Rep. Phil Lovas.
Neither Montenegro nor Lovas could be immediately reached for comment.
And Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman said he, too, is considering a bid for the seat. He said he needed to talk to his family before making a decision: “I would say yeah, I’m considering it, especially with the windfall of calls I’m getting.”
What happens next is that Governor Ducey will call a special election for this coming spring, and then there will be the regular primary election in August and general election in November. It will be a multi-election campaign that could prove to be costly for all who run.
Democrats have not seriously contested the 8th congressional district for some time because (1) it has a heavy Republican voter registration edge, and (2) Trent Franks is independently wealthy and can also draw on unlimited campaign contributions from Christian Right organizations. That equation has depressed Democratic voter participation in the 8th congressional district.
With an open congressional seat and a special election (low voter turnout), this equation has now changed. It’s time for Democrats to field someone seen as a serious candidate who can raise enough money to run a credible campaign in a Republican voter registration edge district. This Democrat may not win but can revive moribund Democratic voter participation in the 8th district and begin to rebuild an organization for the future.
Whoever wins this seat in 2018 will still be vulnerable in 2020, running for reelection after one term. After that, with redistricting in 2022, this seat will likely be locked down for the next decade.