Democratic State Representative Bruce Franks Jr., representing District 78 in St. Louis, joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh on Thursday to reflect on his first year as a state lawmaker. He also discussed the challenges facing his district and the state of Missouri going forward.
Last year, Franks, a south St. Louis native, faced off against Rep. Penny Hubbard in the 78th District Democratic primary. While he initially lost the vote, he filed a legal challenge concerning the way absentee ballots were administered. He won that challenge and, in a revote, defeated Hubbard.
In his freshman lawmaking year, Franks was part of what St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum called an “unruly but substantial” legislative session.
Through the session, Franks was able to secure $4 million for a youth summer jobs program in St. Louis and Kansas City. He was also an outspoken proponent of keeping St. Louis’ new minimum wage (which ultimately failed) and a vocal opponent of a bill making it harder to successfully sue for employment discrimination, among other issues.
Franks said that his expectations of polarization in the Capitol did not pan out to be as insurmountable as he believed heading into the session.
“I went in there with my shoulders high, as if it would be like a war between two sides,” Franks said. “But, it is all about relationships and communication. Going down there and actually getting stuff done across the aisles was surprising to me. … I feel as the freshman legislators and as a caucus as a whole, we were able to really get some things done.”
A selection of Franks’ comments during the program is below. To hear the full discussion, listen to the audio file above or tune in on Wednesday, July 19, for a rebroadcast of the interview, which was pre-empted by coverage of President Donald Trump and French President Macron’s news conference.
What else is necessary to get the most disadvantaged of us up to an acceptable level?
“Realistically, I think livable wages are one of the most important things we could push for,” Franks said. “These jobs that you make minimum wage at are not the jobs that are meant to feed a family off of. When your community only has these low-wage jobs, where there are so many challenges and barriers, this is how you have to raise a family. My mom raised us on White Castle paychecks for four to five years, me and my brother. We need to be able to recognize people need livable wages and that people just need a little bit of help.”
Do you think Eric Greitens was a different person as a candidate than a governor?
“I think he’s different as a governor than he was as a candidate,” Franks said. “I know what the paper says. The paper says he’s a Republican. I don’t know what he is. He’s shown he’s not willing to take forth in bi-partisanship.”
What are you looking for in a new police chief in St. Louis?
“They have to understand that St. Louis is unique,” Franks said. “… You have to understand every single part of St. Louis, the history of St. Louis, the racial divide within the city and the department. We need people to stand up and do things differently. Not the old way. Actually get in here and talk about accountability, talk about racial disparities and be innovative and creative in the way we are doing things. We know police are here to enforce, but community policing and engagement could help turn our city around.”
Were you supportive of the mayor’s removal of Chief Dotson?
“So, no, and I’ll tell you why,” Franks said. “There was a growing consensus that people wanted Sam Dotson out of there, but I think it was the way she went about it. If you are going to bring in somebody new, in my opinion, it makes sense to make that transition a little smoother, but as the mayor, you have that right. That’s one thing all the candidates talked about. It’s not disagreeing with the removal, but how it went.”
Krewson was also supportive, but maybe a little iffy, about Greitens’ anti-crime plan
“That speaks to a leader in the government that doesn’t necessarily understand the components of certain communities,” Franks said. “Crime prevention looks different in certain communities. Crime is an overarching issue we all agree on, but over-enforcement and police presence is some of what our more affluent communities would like when that happens near their community. In other communities, yeah, we want more police but we want them walking the streets … depending on where you live, that looks different and we have to have leaders that truly understand that.”
There was a time you were considering running for mayor as a write-in candidate. What changed your mind?
“I decided not to because we’ve had a Senate seat open all year and we’re just about to fill a seat in the House,” Franks said. “But we fought hard for the seat in the 78th District. The community came together, we ran three races to get there, so for the people not to be represented for the rest of the session and into 2018, that was unacceptable. There were a lot of rumors like ‘Oh, it was the governor,’ it was this, it was that, but nothing will stop me from doing what the people want me to do. And when that idea came around, people all around St. Louis were pushing me to do it. That was something I was ready for. I don’t get caught up in political aspirations, I get caught up in actually fixing what’s going on.”
Is running for mayor of St. Louis something you would entertain?
“I would, but being on a state level now, in Missouri … I’ll say this, going to Washington, D.C., is not an option,” Franks said. “I think there’s so much to be done here. There are gaps to be filled and relationships to be made. I really like being in the legislature, in the House, so I think moving up on the state level is more in my eyes.”
What are your legislative priorities for when you go back?
“As far as legislative priorities, a ‘good time’ credit bill for inmates participating in certain programs and getting certain certificates, to get time knocked off, that’s one thing I’ll be adamant about,” Franks said. “My HB183, Christopher Harris Day, youth violence prevention bill, which actually passed the House and went to the Senate and because of bureaucracy it was taken off the calendar. And then a House resolution to identify gun violence as a public health epidemic, so we can funnel funds where they’re needed.”
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.