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Listen: Bruce Franks Reflects On Time In The Political Spotlight As He Prepares To Leave Office

State Rep. Bruce Franks answers reporter questions outside City Hall on Sept. 29, 2017.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
State Rep. Bruce Franks answers reporter questions outside City Hall on Sept. 29, 2017.

Updated 4:20 p.m., July 30, with audio of "St. Louis on the Air" host Sarah Fenske’s full interview with State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr.State Rep. Bruce Franks is planning to leave office at the end of the month, capping off an unlikely political tenure that placed the Ferguson activist and rapper firmly into the political spotlight.

Once he departs from the General Assembly, Franks will also leave Missouri. He said it’s a necessary move to deal with anxiety and depression exacerbated by a string of tragedies surrounding his friends and family.

Franks announced in May that he was leaving the Missouri House to tend to his mental health. He cited the death of loved ones as major contributors to his depression and anxiety.

He’s planning on officially resigning on July 31, which will allow Gov. Mike Parson to call a special election for the 78th House District.

“I think it hit me that everything I came into the House with, I no longer had,” Franks said. “It hit me that my life is a struggle. I spent so much time trying to help everybody else.”

He went on to say that he fought gun violence every day and helped save lives — but couldn’t save two people close to him.

During an interview in May with St. Louis Public Radio, Franks said he planned to remain active in St. Louis’ political and activism scene. But he said on Monday that he’s instead going to leave the state entirely. 

Franks did not say where he was going, but did add that he’ll be doing some public speaking to promote a documentary about his political career — as well as running an online print shop and honing his craft as a rapper.

He also said he’s found several people to talk to in regard to his mental health.

“That’s one thing about mental health,” Franks said. “Although those professionals, they know what they’re doing, that’s what they go to school for — that might not always be the person that you find solace in.”

A shock to the system

House Democrats, including Bruce Franks Jr., raise their hands to speak about the $10-an-hour minimum wage in St. Louis.
Credit File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
House Democrats, including Bruce Franks Jr., raise their hands to speak about the $10-an-hour minimum wage in St. Louis.

Before winning election to the House in 2016, Franks participated in the protest movement that followed Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson. He chose to enter the electoral arena in 2016, when he unseated state Rep. Penny Hubbard. 

The contest was more high profile than most state legislative races in St. Louis. After allegations of absentee-voting irregularities, a judge ordered a new election that Franks won in a landslide. 

While both Republicans and Democrats forged bonds with Franks during his three-year stint in the House, Franks said, “If I knew what I was getting into, I wouldn’t have done it.

“I’m glad I didn’t know,” Franks said. “Because when I was in it and I was fighting, I was like, ‘I got to be here. I’ve got to be here for the people. I’ve got to be here for every black elected official who came up here and drank the Kool-Aid.’ I’ve got to be the different one that says, ‘No, I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to take this, and I’m not going to sell my vote.’ And so yeah, if I had known, I probably wouldn’t have done it.”

Indeed, Franks’ tenure wasn’t without turmoil. He clashed with U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, a St. Louis Democrat who had backed Hubbard in 2016. And he says that many Democrats around St. Louis saw him as competition.

Then earlier this year, Franks had to forcefully deny any impropriety in his work for a St. Louis mentoring program that was the subject of a report by KMOV. Franks said that story initially affected his ability to get money for summer jobs programs during the 2019 session. And he said he was upset that Republican leaders didn’t defend him once the story aired.

He also said the questions about his work time reporting for the mentoring program was affecting his post-legislative job pursuits. Franks stopped participating in the mentoring program in February 2018.

“The decision to leave St. Louis was separate, because it wasn’t initially, ‘Hey, I need to leave St. Louis,’” Franks said. “It did kind of trickle into that because, ‘I’m going to look for work here; I’m going to look for work there. I want to do this. I want to do that.’ And some of the jobs I got interviewed for, the first thing they asked me was, ‘So, we saw this story on KMOV.’ And I’d explain. And after a while they’d say, ‘OK, we’ll call you back. You’re amazing. Blah, blah, blah.'

“And then you get that email: ‘Oh, we chose to go another route,’” he added.

Once Parson calls a special election, it will be up to Democratic members of the 78th District Legislative Committee to choose someone to run for Franks’ seat. Potential candidates include 7th Ward Democratic Committeeman Marty Murray and 5th Ward Democratic Committeeman Rasheen Aldridge.

Franks, though, does see some positive movement on the political front. He pointed to the emergence of younger political figures in St. Louis and St. Louis County who are willing to assertively challenge the status quo — such as state Reps. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, and Kevin Windham, D-Hillsdale.

“We’ve got all these young folks who get it. Right? And that’s what’s big,” Franks said. “Because five years ago, we didn’t get it. We had a few young ones, but not like us in my opinion. There was an older generation. And even the younger ones kind of were willing to kiss the ring. And we’re like, 'The hell with your ring.’ You can take that elsewhere. And that’s how it needs to be — when you don’t pass the baton, we need to snatch it.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Sarah Fenske on Twitter: @SarahFenkse

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

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Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.