Jesus Wouldn't Do That

Trent Franks is no fiscal conservative. And he's the worst kind of Christian.

If consumers pay more for prescriptions and seniors lose coverage, there was one clear winner following the Medicare vote.

Guess who?

PAC money from the medical establishment started to flow toward Congressman Franks. In March, the American Hospital Association gave him $1,000. A week later, it gave him another $1,000. That same month, the American Society of International Pain Physicians gave him $1,000, as did the Physical Therapy PAC. In June, CIGNA threw in $1,000. Executives from Blue Cross, Sun Health, Arrowhead Healthcare, Tri-West Health -- they all did their part. Doctors, too, began to notice Congressman Franks.

In 2002, Franks swore he would never take PAC money. In this election cycle alone he took a quarter of a million dollars, according to public records, with more on the way.

By the time he took $500 from AzScam felon Bobby Raymond, Congressman Franks had a long history with Arizona's most wretched and corrupt public officials. As recently as last month, he underscored his willingness to hang with those who should be hanged.

Congressman Franks' core mentors look like the front row of a Johnny Cash Folsom Prison concert. The lineup includes: notorious multimillion-dollar swindler and current ex-convict Charles Keating; impeached and disgraced governor Evan Mecham; prosecuted, convicted, overturned-on-a-technicality, pardoned pension-fund looter, pastry chef and former governor J. Fife Symington III.

Can you hear that lonesome whistle cry . . . ?

Having lost his seat in the House in 1986 after a single term, Franks landed as director of the Governor's Office for Children in 1987. Franks' appointment drew flak like a German Zeppelin over an English day care center during the Great War.

Identifying himself as "an oil field consultant," Franks' credentials for the appointment by the cartoonishly dysfunctional Governor Evan Mecham consisted of a couple of engineering classes. Unhindered by a college degree, Franks stressed his lack of academic pretension when he proclaimed that a diploma "is not necessarily proof of an educated person."

A sheepskin might, however, signal the ability to count without fingers and toes, a talent that came into question in this case when Franks proclaimed that he would protect children, "regardless of age."

Public response from child advocates at the time to the appointment hit a consistent, unhappy tone: "I had never heard of Mr. Franks until yesterday," or, "It really is, I'm afraid, the end of an era," and, "This gentleman doesn't enjoy the greatest reputation."

With no training, no education, no degree, no program, no children of his own, no reputation, Franks rolled up his oil-stained sleeves, went to work and promptly sought to grease the palm of the infamous Charles Keating.

Not yet indicted and jailed for looting savings and loans, and with the Keating Five influence-peddling scandal still over the horizon, the developer was, nonetheless, a man of reputation who'd fled Cincinnati for Phoenix after a good tarring from the Securities and Exchange Commission related to sharp business practices. Keating built subdivisions in Arizona and organized charity events to fund legal challenges to the sex industry and adult magazines.

Keating's pornophobic obsessions lined up nicely with Franks'.

Franks announced that he would use the Office for Children to rid the state of kid pornography, an issue heretofore invisible in the face of documented and unprecedented levels of childhood poverty in Arizona.

Franks spent $47,000 of taxpayers' money in February 1988 to host a conference at Keating's Crescent Hotel in Phoenix. Coincidentally, Keating, his wife and business associates had already donated more than $13,000 to Franks' earlier campaigns for the state Legislature.

Though state code demanded three competitive bids for any expenditure over $10,000, Franks ignored the law as if it were a tax. Franks simply booked the event at his "friend's" resort.

Within weeks of the conference of teenagers at Keating's hotel in 1988, the Arizona House of Representatives voted a bill of impeachment against Franks' champion, Governor Evan Mecham.

Mecham's offenses were as numerous as they were grievous: obstruction of justice, witness tampering, money laundering, pilfering public funds, false financial statements, and phony campaign income and expenditure reports.

The financial irregularities alone involved more than one million dollars.

When the Senate dutifully impeached the state's chief executive, Franks resigned his post but defended Mecham, claiming against all evidence that the state's chief executive was "never given the chance to be the governor he wanted to be" because of "deliberate distortion of the man's real intentions by the media and others in politics."

Beyond the ample legal case presented for impeachment, Franks' stand ignored Mecham's vivid social doctrine, which included the repeal of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as his first official act and the governor's later defense of the term "pickaninny" as a textbook reference to black children.

While Franks' association, indeed his defense of the politically corrupt, extends back through the decades, he has also managed to stay current.

On July 17, former governor J. Fife Symington III hosted a gala fund raiser at his Scottsdale residence for Congressman Franks. Donors were asked to cough up $4,000 each for the opportunity to pose for photographs with Franks, guest of honor Newt Gingrich, and Symington, a dubious lunk who has reinvented himself as a pastry chef.

Eight years ago, Symington, while governor, was indicted on 23 counts by a federal grand jury involving bank fraud and pension fraud with more than $100 million at stake. This followed the Project SLIM bid-rigging scandal that smeared him personally as well as his administration. Symington's 1997 conviction on banking and wire fraud was overturned on a technicality in 1999. In 2001, as prosecutors weighed a second trial, President Bill Clinton announced a stunning pardon as one of his last acts in office.

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