Jesus Wouldn't Do That

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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.

Franks took out a loan of $219,000 on his home in Glendale on July 3, 2003, according to records on file at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office.

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."

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.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey