By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Congressman Trent Franks clutches a Bible to his breast as justification for holding office the way that a swashbuckler uses a parrot as part of the get-up.
Franks' loud Christianity prompts him to challenge laws separating church and state. He is insistent that prayer, Christian prayer, specifically, must be reinserted into the classroom. More alarmingly, he supports a pro-life stance that is breathtaking in its virulence.
Here is an example of what I am talking about:
In his first bid for Congress in District 2, he distributed a faith-based tape to selected households. The film carried a note from the candidate's wife who wrote that Franks' "deep Christian faith and courage have always sustained our family."
The video featured a speaker from Mission Media.
Mission Media is interesting on a number of fronts. Based not in Arizona but in Idaho, records at the Secretary of State's office in Boise show that it is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation that, amongst other things, makes religious videos about missionary work.
In 2002, the Franks campaign paid Mission Media $3,000. In the campaign video, Mission Media's board officer, Michael Boerner, appeared urging viewers to vote for Franks.
Yet the articles of incorporation state clearly that as a 501(c)(3), the business "shall not participate in statements, any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office."
Mission Media apparently violated both the spirit and the letter of the law. On July 7, 2003, Mission Media was administratively dissolved by the state of Idaho "for failure to file the required annual report . . ."
Though reinstated this year, the company and the Franks video are a stark reminder of what happens when church, state and demagoguery mix.
In the video, Franks declared that abortion is "the greatest human holocaust in the history of mankind."
In a choreographed video, there are no slips of the tongue. Nor is this the first time that Franks shed any pretext of civil discourse.
After September 11, 2001, I think decency ought to compel religious zealots to loosen the grip upon public microphones, legislative ballots and incendiary rhetoric. Franks mailed his "holocaust" tape less than a year after the terrorist attack.
Murphy, for the record, is pro-life except in cases of rape, incest and threats to the mother's life. But he finds Franks' "murder for profit" crack simply "unreasonable."
"How do you respond to something like that?" wondered Murphy.
You might well wonder how someone who is such a thoughtless exemplar of Christian values could win a seat in Congress. The answer is that Franks' election flabbergasted most. In a crowded primary in a Republican district, 73 percent of the voters chose someone else; he prevailed with only 27 percent of the vote. His appeal rested upon relentlessly selling his faith as well as his fiscal restraint.
Here was God's servant, a man who would not accept money from PACs, a man who would always vote to lower taxes, entitlements, and debt because special interests had no claim upon his soul.
Yet during his first year in Washington, his sermonizing about the hereafter was quickly replaced by a quiet respect for the here and now.
Facing six-figure personal debt, Franks abandoned his moral stand on PACs and took checks from big business lobbyists like a Dan Rostenkowski staffer. At one point, Franks had a higher percentage of PAC funds in his war chest than any member of Congress.
The man had bills to pay. He made no secret of the pressure. His own campaign owed Trent Franks more than $300,000, and big business had an open checkbook.
And yet, the Congressman needed more.
By the time he returned to the halls of Congress in the fall, Trent Franks was staring down the barrel of more than a half-million dollars of personal debt.
That autumn his much-touted governmental parsimony evaporated like gun smoke in a hurricane.
In November, legislators considered a staggering expansion of the entitlements under Medicare. The bill, widely hailed as a giveaway to insurance companies, hospitals and doctors, promised to generate staggering debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the package would cost more than $400 billion over 10 years and an estimated 20 percent of seniors would lose their employer-sponsored insurance coverage.
"The legislation most reminds me of the ancient medieval practice of leeching," announced Senator John McCain. "Every special interest in Washington is attaching itself to this legislation and sucking Medicare dry. We do not need leeching; what we need is reform."
Congressman Franks announced his opposition to the bill, then went so far as to sign a written pledge to fight against the legislation. But in the end he became the swing vote to pass the bill, literally, in the midnight hour.
Murphy finds Franks' Medicare vote appalling.
"I would never have voted for that," said Murphy. "He signed a pledge promising he would not vote for that bill. A guy ought to be strong enough to say no and mean it. I never would have voted for that legislation, and the issue needs to be revisited. Drug prices have gone up at three times the rate of inflation since that bill passed."