As a U.S. Navy lieutenant flying just after Operation Desert Storm in the spring of 1991, U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, R-Lakeland, was snaking his S-3B Viking combat jet through a valley in northern Iraq on a pitch-black night, looking for Iraqi tanks that were attacking Kurdish villages and then retreating to hiding spots before the sun came up.
His mission was to catch them in the act and his navigator was concentrating on watching any Iraqi tanks and recording their actions.
“I just had this gnawing sense that just something didn’t look right. And it was very dark, but there were stars up high,” Franklin said, noting they were flying very low to the ground in this rural, primitive valley. “Just suddenly, you know, just the windscreen in front of me just started getting — it was dark. There were no stars anywhere and I just had this uneasy feeling and started just pulling backstick and suddenly things started coming into focus right in front of me and I just hauled back on the stick as hard as I could.”
Franklin and his crew came within about 200 feet – more than half a football field – to slamming into the side of a mountain. He said in those days, global positioning satellites (GPS) were very new. And there were no maps on cellphone because there were very few privately owned cellphones then. They were depending on a paper map, but were actually flying through the wrong valley.
“Next thing you know, we were up at about 35,000 feet and my right-seater was like, ‘What the hell’s going on? And what are we doing?’” Franklin recalled 31 years later, sitting in his third-floor downtown Lakeland office. “And it was only at that point that I said, ‘Man we just about flew into the side of that mountain there.’ Legs were shaking and the whole deal.”
Lakeland Veterans Day Observance
- When: Saturday, 10 a.m.
- Where: Veterans Park, 701 W. Lime St.
- What: Unveiling of Spanish-American War Monument followed at 11 a.m. by a parade from the RP Funding Center down Lemon Street to Munn Park
Franklin, a 1986 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, said that while Iraqis would shoot at his jets during that time, that moment was the hairiest one he had during a combat mission. In addition to enforcing two no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, he also flew combat missions over Bosnia and Kosovo in the mid 1990s during his 26-year service – 14 years on active duty and 12 years in the reserves.
He will commemorate Veteran’s Day at a breakfast at Heritage Baptist Church at 7 am. Friday to thank more than 60,000 veterans who live in Polk County.
Franklin sat down with LkldNow last week to talk about his military service, his time as a city commissioner and his work in Congress, including his third day in office -– Jan. 6, 2021 –- when the U.S. Capitol was attacked by a mob bent on stopping the certification of Joe Biden as president –- something he voted against.
Dreams of flying
Days before his 5th birthday, Franklin and his family were living in Houston just after his father, Jim Franklin, had left the U.S. Air Force. He remembers going downtown to watch a ticker-tape parade for Apollo 11 Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. But it wasn’t the men who walked on the moon that grabbed his attention.
“The Blue Angels flew over and they were flying F4 Phantoms,” Franklin remembered about the precision flying team. “I didn’t really know about whether they were Navy or Air Force at the time. I just knew that they were military jets and I loved it — kind of fell in love with the idea of that from the age of 5. So I just grew up wanting to fly in the military.”
His father eventually moved the Franklin family to Thomaston, Ga., in 1970 where Jim became chairman of the local School Board and worked to consolidate city and county schools because his father recognized that it was not financially feasible to maintain separate city and county school systems.
“He said it was probably the darkest part of his life,” Franklin revealed about his father while he was on the Lakeland City Commission and grappling with where to move the Confederate monument and how to pay for it. “We had vandalism, he had threats made against him. It was the right idea, but it was at the wrong time.”
Franklin attended Lakeland High School. Classmate Natalie Oldenkamp said he “was a good kid, smart, well-liked and popular.” She said a photo of him participating in the Presidential Classroom program showed “he was destined to be a political star.”
As a senior at Lakeland High School in the 1981-82 school year, Franklin applied to all of the military academies – and the clean cut, high-achieving young man was accepted to all of them. He eventually chose the U.S. Naval Academy because he wanted to fly jets off of aircraft carriers –- adding that anybody can take off from land.
Admiral William J. Crowe, who was then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke at Franklin’s academy graduation in 1986. According to the Associated Press, Crowe told the officers that if they remember anything about his speech, he hoped it would be that it was given by an admiral who “was high on life and service and on doing a good job, that he counseled open-mindedness and believed that people should laugh a good deal — particularly at themselves.”
More than 1,000 classmates and Franklin threw their dress white hats into the air to mark the end of graduation and their time at the storied academy.
From there, he went to Naval flight school in Pensacola. And that’s where he learned what became his mantra as a pilot.
“Our first simulator flight in Pensacola, I had the toughest, meanest SOB on the base. He was the instructor that everyone was just terrified of,” Franklin said. “He was this old, retired Marine from World War II. Just stereotypically looked like a bulldog — crew cut and had a little stub of a cigar in his mouth and he just terrified everybody. I think he just reveled in the fact that everybody was scared of him.”
Franklin said the flight instructor had been a pilot in the South Pacific, fighting against the Japanese, and following Franklin’s first simulator ride, he asked Franklin what his career goals were, what he wanted to do as an aviator.
“Well, you know, I want to be a fighter pilot and I want to fly off carriers and you know, I’m not looking for war, but if we have combat … you know all the stuff — and he just cuts me off,” Franklin said, adding that the instructor used an expletive to describe his aspirations.
“He said, ‘I’ll tell you what you want to do.’ Okay, here it is like the burning bush speaking. He says, ‘You want to survive because you want to live so that one day you can put your grandkids on your knee and tell them what you did back when you were in the Navy and you were a naval aviator. And the only way you’re going to do that is if your takeoffs equal landings. And that was sage advice.”
Franklin said there was more advice, all written in the blood of the people who were wounded or perished before him. One was that, when it comes to flying low, you can only tie the record.
“You’re not going to outdo anything anyone’s ever done before,” he recalled the instructor saying. “So just, you know, try to be safe and bring your airplane home. That’s what the taxpayers want. It’s what your family wants to see.”
While home on leave in 1989, a friend of Franklin’s set him up on a blind date with a young woman from Brandon. Franklin showed up at the old Lakeland Yacht and Country Club decked out in his dress uniform and met his future wife, Amy Wood.
“She used to joke years later … she goes, ‘I always thought you were taller when I met you, but it must have been the uniform,’” laughed the 5-foot, 11-inch Franklin. “So I’ve always told folks, yeah, the Navy dress uniform kind of helped a lot.”
During the summer of the following year, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, claiming it was historically part of Iraq before the WWI partition that divvied up the Middle East. Franklin and his squadron members began preparing to be deployed. The war planning and cobbling together a coalition of nations took several months.
Franklin got leave for Thanksgiving weekend and he and Amy planned their wedding, bringing his friends in the squadron with him to Central Florida.
“It was the only time I could get leave to get away,” Franklin said. “I got a call on the Saturday morning of our wedding from my commanding officer. He says, ‘I got good news, and bad news.’ And I had half the squadron with me … So the C.O. knew that half the phone calls he needed to make could be done with one by just calling me and he said, ‘So, Good news, bad news. You can still get married tonight.’ Is that the good news or the bad news? ‘Well, that’s the good news.’ Okay, so what’s the bad news? ‘Well, bad news is you’ve got to get back here tomorrow because we’re deploying on Monday. So I was supposed to go on a honeymoon. That didn’t happen.”
He said he left for deployment three times, but was brought back twice. He finally made it to the USS Forrestal in March 1991, after the initial air war was finished. But coalition forces needed to guard against Hussein possibly invading Kuwait again and stop him from attacking Kurdish forces in northern Iraq. Franklin was assigned that task.
His carrier was in the Mediterranean, so he would fly into Turkey, head toward the Syrian border and then fly into Northern Iraq to try to find Iraqis firing on the Kurds. And that’s where he had his close call with a mountain.
He also participated in Operation Provide Comfort, which dropped aid bundles to Kurdish refugees.
In all, he flew off the decks of 13 aircraft carriers. The mid-90s saw him serving over Bosnia. In mid-1999, he left active duty and returned home to Lakeland and worked at Lanier Upshaw Insurance, where his father was chief executive officer. He remained in the U.S. Naval Reserves and, one weekend a month, worked at the Navy area of Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base. He requested to work on the crisis response team, which was trained to respond to emergency situations for about 30 days at a time.
Two years later, Franklin was in a weekly sales meeting at the Lanier Upshaw officewhen someone came in and said something was happening in New York and they should watch the television.
“As soon as I saw the footage of the first plane going in the tower, I knew that it was just a matter of time ’til I got the phone call and, sure enough, I did within about 20 minutes,” Franklin remembered the call. “He said, ‘Pack all your stuff. As soon as we figure out what’s going on with the airspace, you’re going to be shipping out.’ ”
But U.S. airspace was closed for several days. The following Saturday, Sept. 15, he woke up early to report for duty and opened his bedroom door. He found his oldest child, Amanda, who was 7 at the time and is now 29, asleep on the floor in the hallway.
“She was just curled up in a little ball out by the door and I was like ‘What’s going on?’ and pick her up,” Franklin said. “She was so worried that I was going to leave and that she wouldn’t be able to see me again because she had remembered my most recent deployment before that — I was deployed all the way up until the time I left active duty, so she remember that one. She was just sad to see me go again. That was tough. That was really hard.”
Within days, he wound up at the Navy’s Middle East Fleet Central Command in Bahrain at an air operations center, where he stayed for six weeks. He described the center as like NASA’s mission control in Houston, but on steroids. Commander Franklin’s job: help to plan the initial strikes on Afghanistan.
“We had contingencies for just about everything on earth, seemed like, but the one place that we didn’t have any plan — any war plan — for was for Afghanistan,” Franklin said. “I just don’t think anybody ever imagined why on earth we would go fight in Afghanistan. And so we had to create the whole war plan from scratch. So that was a pretty heavy month of planning and during that time, work and coordinating with folks back at MacDill, CENTCOM.”
Franklin was allowed to rotate out in late October and thought his involvement was done for the time being. But he was wrong. Around Christmas, the phone rang again at 4 p.m. on a Friday. A chief petty officer was calling to tell him to report for duty on Monday morning at 7:30 a.m. to the reserve office in St. Petersburg and plan to be away for not less than a year. Franklin thought one of his buddies was playing a joke on him. But the woman on the phone was very serious.
“No sir, I assure you, I’m making a lot of calls this afternoon and you’re being recalled to active duty,” she told him. He asked what he would be assigned to do so he would know what to pack. She told him that they were speaking on an unsecured line and so she couldn’t tell him, but added that he knew what his area of responsibility was, so he thought he would be going back to Bahrain.
He hung up the phone and had one hour until the close of business that day to plan his life and rearrange his business dealings for at least the next 12 months.
On Monday morning, the people he had served with in Bahrain were all in St. Petersburg, waiting to hear what their orders were. The first man, a Navy captain, was assigned as the naval attache to Kirachi, Pakistan, for two years without his family. The man, who was in his 50s, had a daughter in her senior year of high school and a son in his junior year. Franklin said the man broke down in tears. The next captain was assigned to Kuwait and a third man was sent to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Franklin said he thought it was not looking too good for him
“They finally got to me, and they said, ‘I don’t know whose butt you kissed, but you’re actually going to CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa,” Franklin said. “And I thought the other guys who had already gotten their orders were going to kill me.”
Franklin spent the next 13 months traveling between CENTCOM and the Persian Gulf Region. As the U.S. was working to draw more countries into a coalition, about 40 or 50 countries wound up with offices in a mobile village at CENTCOM, which Franklin said looked like a trailer park. Part of Franklin’s responsibility was to give the daily coalition briefing to the various countries, to keep them informed about what was happening – or as informed as the U.S. wanted them to be. Franklin said at times it could be awkward.
“We’d have our information that was very classified, and I’d have to get it filtered down to what we could share. And there were some things you could share with some countries that you couldn’t share with others,” Franklin said. “Really, it was almost like the bar scene in Star Wars, with all the different types of critters running around and you had to be very careful all the time, thinking of who you’re talking to.”
In addition, the U.S. military knew that people arriving at MacDill weren’t always doing the job they said they were.
“They were all spying on one another … We knew that some of them, they had multiple hats they were wearing and part of their goal of being there was to find out what they could about the other countries,” he said. “So it was always a little bit of policing to do.”
As the War in Afghanistan continued for more than a year, the U.S. was also trying to gear up to invade Iraq in 2003.
“At the same time, we’re doing these other war plans, kind of behind the scenes, and that’s what we’re really trying to get the other coalition countries more involved in so we can focus on other issues,” Franklin said. “And there was a continuous flurry of folks like (Secretary of Defense) Donald Rumsfeld and the others from DOD were coming back and forth. So we knew things are going on. We didn’t know exactly what was going on at my level, but we were making contingency plans for Iraq.”
Franklin is frustrated that the U.S. took its focus off Afghanistan before that war was finished and pivoted to Iraq. He said part of that pivot plan was to help the Afghanis create its own army to defend itself against the Taliban – and that became his focus, along with two other Navy officers.
“I was there for the birth of the Afghan National Army,” Franklin said. “So imagine this, you know, me, another aviator, and another guy who was a ship driver, for the three that were tapped to do the initial stand up of the Afghan National Army, we didn’t know anything about the army. But all the real army guys were busy planning for Iraq. But they put three of us Navy commanders in charge. And so we’re pulling out all these publications, these army things just figuring out their vernacular, the acronyms, because it’s a whole different language. And so when they didn’t perform as well as they should have early on, I still go back to: it’s because we put three Navy guys in charge of trying to create the Afghan army – Larry, Curly and Moe – that’s what it felt like … And years later, when, when everything went south and their military couldn’t be relied upon to do it, do things properly, I harken back to the fact there were three of us three Navy commanders.”
He said he never imagined at the time that the U.S. would remain in Afghanistan for 20 years, but added that the country’s exit – ordered under President Donald Trump and carried out on President Joseph Biden’s watch, was a disaster.
In 2003, Franklin became Lanier Upshaw’s president and two years later, he succeeded his father as CEO.
Another kind of service
Back at his Naval Academy graduation in 1986, Admiral Crowe said the world is ″more exciting and vibrant today that it ever has been … The bottom line is you should direct your energies to further improving our condition without being burdened with worrying about our decline and fall.″
But things changed in 36 years and the U.S. decline is something that Franklin does worry about. In 2017, as he listened to some of his Republican friends in Lakeland complain about the state of things, he decided to do something about it.
“I just finally got fed up with the complaining and nobody was willing to actually go do it and we all need to shut up,” Franklin said. “Put up or shut up and I thought, well, I don’t know if I can do anything to make any change or not. But at least I’ll be able to say that I tried.”
That year, he ran for a non-partisan seat on the Lakeland City Commission against Sandy Toledo and won 64.6% to Toledo’s 35.4%.
Franklin made a name for himself on the commission as astute, even-keeled and fiscally conservative.
During the sometimes contentious debate over moving Lakeland’s Confederate monument out of downtown’s Munn Park, it was Franklin’s voice that swayed commissioners on where to move the cenotaph. At the time he noted that he had Southern and Confederate branches of his ancestry. But he felt like the monument belonged not in Lakeland’s old Roselawn Cemetery where Confederate veterans are buried, but in Veteran’s Memorial Park with all the other memorials to those who served.
“Because former Confederate soldiers have been recognized by the U.S. government as veterans and their families granted benefits as such, I don’t think it’s proper for us to treat them differently,” Franklin said at the time. “They deserve to be honored just as we have honored those of our other wars. … My hope is that, given the context of Veterans Park, relocating the Confederate monument there will send a strong signal to Lakelanders, present and future, that we are simply honoring and remembering our war dead. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Following Franklin’s talk, the vote was unanimous for Veteran’s Memorial Park.
But the cost to move the 26-foot-tall statue and pedestal was estimated to be $225,000 and, six months later, Franklin couldn’t convince his colleagues not to use money collected from red-light runners who were caught on camera, for the three-quarters-of-a-mile relocation, instead of private money raised for the project by people like then-School Board member Billy Townsend. They had only reached $26,000 in fundraising, a little more than one-tenth of what was needed. The vote was 5-2, with Bill “Tiger” Read joining Franklin.
Run for Congress
In April 2019, The Tampa Bay Times reported that incumbent Congressman Ross Spano, a Republican, had failed to file required financial disclosure forms.
Spano had said that nearly $175,000 he loaned his campaign came from his own personal funds, but it was later revealed that Spano had received $180,000 in loans from several friends.
The House Ethics Committee began looking into the matter and by November 2019, Spano was under criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Spano denied any wrongdoing. His attorney acknowledged that Spano “misreported” the funds and filed an amended report with the Federal Elections Commission. The Department of Justice is continuing to investigate the matter.
But the damage had been done and Franklin decided to run against Spano, announcing his campaign in March 2020. Franklin beat Spano in the primary, 51.2% to 48.8%. He then bested Democrat and former television investigative reporter Alan Cohn in the general election, 55.4% to 44.6%.
Scott and Amy Franklin attended freshman orientation following the election in 2020, including tours of the capitol and his new office, along with how things work on Capitol Hill, and a tour of the White House decorated for Christmas. He returned to Lakeland for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays before being sworn in on January 3, 2021.
January 6, 2021
Three days later – his third day on the job — Franklin was closer to hand-to-hand combat than he had been in the military, other than in training exercises.
At 1 p.m. Franklin was on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, listening to other members discuss an objection to certifying Arizona’s Electoral College votes for Biden’s presidency. He said he was sitting with Kat Cammack of Ocala and Byron Donalds of Southwest Florida – both Republicans and also newcomers to their House seats. Cammack was the youngest member of the 117th Congress.
Franklin said because of COVID, he had met very few other lawmakers and didn’t even know his way around the sprawling Capitol complex that includes tunnels and underground walkways leading from multiple House and Senate office buildings into the main Capitol building.
“It was kind of surreal experience,” the congressman said of the events of that day.
Franklin said he had his cellphone and knew that the Trump rally was taking place on the Ellipse, across from the White House.
“We had Capitol police come in and tell us, just give us an update, ‘Okay, there’s a rally going on over there. But we’ll keep you informed on what’s going on. We’ve got a nice security perimeter, so everything should be good,’ ” Franklin recalled being told.
He said about 45 minutes later, the same officer came in and interrupted the proceedings and walked up to a speaker’s podium to tell them there is a mass of people gathered outside the Capitol, but they were still confident that their security perimeter would hold. A little while later, he came in again to say their first line of defense had been breached, but they had called in reinforcements – the District of Columbia Police.
“He comes back in later and says yeah, we’re kind of getting into a bit of a crisis mode, here,” Franklin recalled. “Security lines have been breached. There’s reports of folks trying to get into the Capitol, but you’re still safe here and we’ve got a good secure perimeter around the chamber.”
Last week, Franklin compared it to the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, with the situation getting worse and worse until someone says, “Fellows, it’s been good to know ya.”
He said they then could hear noise outside the House chamber getting louder and louder to the point that it was interrupting conversation on the floor. He said his chief of staff, Melissa Kelly – a longtime Congressional staff member – was watching events unfold on television and texting him updates.
Finally, he said, rioters had gotten to the doors of the House chamber and Speaker’s Lobby.
“We knew that it was really serious at that point because all of a sudden, Capitol Police, plainclothes folks, started coming from all (directions) into the chamber from the Speaker’s Lobby, and started barricading furniture around the doors,” Franklin said. “And then you can just hear people shouting and everything. And finally, you know, someone had broken out some glass in one of the doors and then at that point, they came up and said the Capitol is not secure. We’ve been overrun. We need to evacuate and get you guys out of here. Then it was just a total chaos. I mean, just pounding on the doors, all the glass. If there was any glass around it you could just hear glass breaking. So we just we all started evacuating.”
Franklin said there was talk that tear gas had been thrown into the chamber and so the members began pulling out tear gas hoods that were stored under their seats. But they hadn’t been trained to use them and some members were struggling with them. Franklin said he pulled his out, but because he didn’t see any tear gas, didn’t put his on.
“People started activating them, which really added to the chaos because there was a big, really loud kind of noise that the gas mask would make when it was activated,” Franklin said. “We started eggressing from the chamber and they were kind of ushering us out to the Speaker’s Lobby, which is behind the dais up there and there was like a stairwell that I now know — I see it all the time — I hadn’t even noticed it before, but it was one that would take us down to the basement and out a different way. But the problem is it’s very narrow, a spiral staircase.”
Franklin said the staircase created a bottleneck and some of the elderly members, who don’t move as quickly as Franklin, 58, (who maintains a fit physique) struggled to get down the steps.
“It’s total mayhem at the doors at the end of the Speaker’s Lobby. That’s actually where Ashli Babbit was shot. So we’re going down the stairs and I’m not certain that I heard the gun shot — THE gun shot — I’m pretty sure it was. That was only about 40 or 50 feet away from us where that happened,” Franklin said, referring to the rioter who was shot by Capitol Police as she tried to climb through a broken door into the House Speaker’s Lobby adjoining the House chamber.
“There’s been a lot of talk about whether that should have happened. I’ll tell you, there was no other line of defense. That was THE last line between the mob outside the door and all the members of Congress trying to get out of that room,” Franklin said. “So I don’t know what would have happened had that been breached and they had come in. I’m sure, you know, the crowd doesn’t know who all the rest of us are, so I’m not really sure how that would have gone. But thankfully, you know, security — once that one shot was fired, that basically ended everything. All those people that were trying to press through, it just immediately dissolved.”
He was also unaware that several rioters were in custody and pinned to the floor in a side hallway as members filed past them.
“I didn’t even know where we’re going at the time. Again, I didn’t have my bearings,” Franklin said, adding that they went to a large room in an office building. “Spent several hours there, sort of on lockdown. I think that’s when I was texting different folks from back home.”
This reporter reached out to Franklin at the time and he responded that he was safe and unharmed, although wouldn’t reveal his location.
“I was honestly not scared — I was more angry than anything,” Franklin said. “I was shocked at what was going on and just really outraged that it was happening. To be candid, I didn’t ever really feel fear for myself at that point … it didn’t strike me as being that (dangerous), I just thought it was a bunch of folks out of control. My first thought was, ‘How in the heck has this gotten to this point that we have all these people — because we have all these security things you’ve got to go through — how did we get to this point?’”
As a naval officer trained in warfare and security issues, Franklin wondered how the crowd wasn’t being controlled.
“I kept thinking, I wish somebody would just fire a shot in the air and just let these people know that, you know, this isn’t going to stand,” Franklin said. “Obviously, it’s tragic that anybody was shot and killed that day and horrible, certainly, for the officers that were put in that kind of situation that should have never been. There’s still a lot we need to unpack from that day and learn about the failures. And hopefully, we’ll get to that, but we had solid intelligence that there were people who were going to do bad things that day … And we know that because there was intelligence – the FBI knew about it, the FBI shared it with Capitol Police, and yet they were not prepared.”
Franklin said he thought the reason there weren’t more Capitol and D.C. Police officers there was because of riots in Portland, Oregon, the previous summer and civil rights complaints about police officers there using military machinery and anti-riot techniques.
“I think some of it goes back to, you know, the summer before when people saw our police and things like that in Portland, tried to put down riots. And (the Speakers office) didn’t want the optics of that,” Franklin said. “They didn’t think it was going to end up being as bad as it was. It just wouldn’t be a good look to have overly militaristic, militaristic police response, but it’s really what we needed that day. It should have been there because there were people who were armed and ready to go that day for sure.”
Polk residents charged
Six Polk County residents have been charged with participating in the insurrection on Jan. 6:
- Jonathan Pollock of Lakeland — felony charges of assaulting law-enforcement officers using a dangerous weapon, three felony counts of civil disorder and charges of entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted area with a deadly or dangerous weapon; and engaging in physical violence in a restricted area with a deadly or dangerous weapon. He remains wanted by the FBI.
- Olivia Pollock of Lakeland – Jonathan’s sister. Assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon, theft of government property, entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds, entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds, engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds, act of physical violence in the Capitol Grounds or buildings.
- Joshua Doolin of Polk City — Assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon, theft of government property, entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds, entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds, engaging in lhysical violence in a restricted building or grounds, act of physical violence in the Capitol Grounds or buildings.
- Joseph Hutchinson III, formerly of Lakeland and now living in Georgia — Assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon, theft of government property, entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds, entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds, engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds, act of physical violence in the Capitol Grounds or buildings.
- Corinne Montoni of Lakeland – Obstruction of an official proceeding, entering and remaining, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly conduct, parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a capitol building, aiding and abetting the commission of these offenses against the United States.
- Brian Boele of Lakeland — Assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon, entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon, entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds, engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon, act of physical violence in the Capitol Grounds or buildings.
Franklin said he thinks a lot of the people who showed up at the Capitol that day wound up participating in something they hadn’t planned on, but that there were also people who absolutely intended to stop the Electoral College process and harm lawmakers.
“My personal opinion is a lot of the crowd, there were a lot of folks who did stupid things that got caught up into something. I think if you asked them later, did you get up this morning knowing that that’s where this day was gonna go? I think a lot of them didn’t,” Franklin said. “But there were certainly folks who went there that day planning to do exactly what happened … And I’m glad to see justice for those who broke the law. I don’t think there were any heroes in that crowd. I think there were a lot of misguided folks and there were absolutely criminals and that they should be punished for what they did.”
The House reconvened at 9 p.m. that night and Franklin voted against certifying the Electoral College votes for several states. He said he has no regrets about that decision or his vote because he believes there were irregularities in some states.
“My concern is that there were a lot of things that were done during COVID that were not approved by the legislatures, that changed the rules in a way that created a lot of potential for uncertainty,” Franklin said. “I don’t know if there was fraud or not. I think Biden did get that many votes — both Trump and Biden got more votes than any other candidates in history. But the Constitution states the only people who can changes the rules are the legislatures — not Congress or local election officials who decided things on the fly during COVID … I’m for making it as easy to vote as possible, but hard as possible to cheat.”
Franklin said that while there is nefarious activity in every election — usually on a small scale — we can’t as a country afford to have our elections thrown into doubt. He added that he has no doubt who won the presidential election in 2020.
“Yeah, I do think (Biden) won — I think at the end of the day, Joe Biden had more votes than Donald Trump,” Franklin said. “I think the reality is those ballots were there.”
Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, analyzed 44 federal decision in 13 cases brought by Trump’s team after the Nov. 3, 2020 election. Of those, Trump won one decision, ruled in his favor by a Republican, President George W. Bush-appointed judge. In the other 43 decision, 29 Republican appointed judges and 14 Democrat judges ruled against Trump.
“The 13 federal cases saw votes by 12 Trump appointees, none of them favorable to Trump,” Wheeler wrote.
He also looked at a total of 150 rulings in Trump election cases at the local, state, appellate and federal levels and the perceived party affiliations of the judges. Of those decisions, 49 Republicans, 51 Democrats and 23 party-unknown judges ruled against Trump, while 26 Republicans and one Democrat ruled in his favor.
“He lost all but one case—and the great majority of judicial votes in all cases disfavored his claims,” Wheeler states.
Franklin thinks back to watching the first elections in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was ousted from power and people joyously holding up their purple ink-stained fingers to prove they had cast their ballot.
“When they finally all had their chance to vote — and women had the chance to vote — they were all so proud,” he said. “That should be one of the greatest privileges we have as Americans.”
He said things are looking better in this election cycle: No one is refusing to concede or declaring themselves the victor before elections supervisors finish their work.
But when he voted not to certify Arizona and Pennsylvania on Jan. 6, 2021, he had doubts about their process. And he refused to allow insurrectionists to interfere with his vote.
“To me, they’re independent things,” he said of the insurrection and the vote. “I had already had planned to vote the way I was going to vote that day. And I didn’t want to let that sort of intimidation one way or the other change my mind on how I did it. My vote didn’t have anything to do with the events of that day. And I certainly don’t condone their conduct.”
He said he also doesn’t condone what the Jan. 6 Committee has done, saying he has only watched the first hearing. He reads the synopses provided to him.
“It’s too political for me. Unfortunately, it just seemed to me, pretty clear from the beginning that the one and only objective of that entire thing was to figure out how to bring enough stuff to get an indictment on Trump,” Franklin said. “And that day, there was a lot more to that day.”
He complained that Republican members of the House had volunteered to serve on the committee, but they were not accepted by committee leaders. Two Republicans – Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, serve on the committee. The other seven members are Democrats.
“If it’s not OK for me to vote no, then why on earth do I even have a vote?
“And so it was it was purely a Democrat hearing from the very beginning. So there was no effort of bipartisanship, which we had after 9-11. And I understand that was different, we were attacked from an outside attacker,” Franklin said. “But that was the conditioning that really vowed to get to the bottom of what happened. What could we have done differently? How can we be better going forward? And that just has not been the focus of this whole January 6 hearings.”
Last month, a man broke into the San Francisco home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, looking for the woman who is second in line to the presidency. The man attacked her husband, 82-year-old Paul Pelosi, with a hammer, giving him a skull fracture and sending him to intensive care.
Franklin said his office receives threats occasionally, but he has taken no added security measures.
“We get crazy folks from time to time that’ll say things and usually it’s words,” Franklin said. “Unfortunately, in this day and age, you have to think a little bit about what people say. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for people to act on crazy talk, but I’m more careful now than I probably would have been.”
He added that he has a concealed carry permit. He did ask that LkldNow not share where his children — Amanda, 29, Will, 26, and Sarah, 24 — are living. They are all working professionally in their chosen careers.
Franklin was re-elected this week with 74.7% of the voters in a sprawling district that includes all of Lakeland east of Florida Avenue/U.S. 98 North and stretches down to Collier County. He was hoping to see the House shift to a Republican majority in the midterms. That has yet to be determined three days after the elections, with some races still too close to call.
He admits he has been frustrated by the partisanship and slow-as-molasses process in Washington to get anything done. He did not get any bills passed in the last two years because Democrats control what makes it to the House floor, adding things aren’t even being heard in subcommittees or committees first.
“I haven’t been able to cause a change yet and I’ve learned very quickly that if you don’t have 218 votes on your side, you’re just a noisemaker. And that’s, unfortunately, that’s where politics has devolved to now, where it’s winner take all. The majority controls everything,” Franklin said. “There’s no deliberation. If you don’t have more votes than the other side, then you’re just basically put at the kids’ table. But there’s so much that needs to be fixed. We’ve got a lot of issues.”
But he has found one bi-partisan group that is trying to forge a way to work together on common issues: The “For Country” caucus, consisting of 15 Republicans and 10 Democrats.
“It was a few guys that had served in Iraq, and saw the dysfunction and thought, this is another mission field for us, you know, there’s a way we can make politics perform better,” Franklin said. “So I reached out to them and their idea is just, it’s a bipartisan group of folks working across the aisle. You have to sign a pledge that you will be a part of this. To be a part of that group, you have to pledge that you will put forth bipartisan legislation with another member of the group every year.”
In addition, Franklin said they also vow not to campaign against one another.
“Some of these folks on the other side of the aisle are in the race of their life right now, but I’m not supporting their opponents,” he said, adding that one lost on Tuesday. “And the idea being that there’s no way you can have trust to work with someone on a day-to-day basis if, all of a sudden, every two years, the campaigns roll around and you’re actively campaigning against them. So you don’t actively support their opponents.”
The final pledge is that you’ll share coffee or a meal with each other once a month.
He said he thought “that’s a ridiculously low bar and they said, ‘Believe it or not, that last one — just being seen in Washington with someone from the other party — you’re going to take so much crap.’”
Franklin sits on the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
He said he and a Democrat lawmaker from California, whom he declined to name, worked on some agriculture legislation together that was passed. And he is hoping to get some things accomplished for military veterans.
One issue has been the closure during COVID of the National Personnel Records Center, the repository of all the hard copies of every service members’ military records.
“The National Personnel Records Center I would have thought would have been, you know, somewhere established in the 21st century, but they clearly aren’t. All of the military records – it’s starting to change now — but pre-COVID were all still hard copies in file cabinets somewhere and nothing had been digitized,” Franklin said. “So when we went on a total lockdown with COVID, there was no access to that. So we had veterans leaving the service, trying to establish evidence of eligibility for benefits and all could not get anything. All the people at the Personnel Records Center are working remotely. Well, you can’t work remotely when every single thing you need to do your job is locked in a file cabinet at work.”
Franklin said even as things began to open up, people were refusing to go to the office to help the nation’s veterans. And while it might sounds trite, Franklin said people who needed care at Veteran’s Administration hospitals were being denied access because they were missing paperwork.
“I was at the point where I’m saying, ‘If you can’t come to your job, we’re gonna fire you and put someone else in that will come back to work,’ ” Franklin said, adding they have slowly returned to work. “At one point, we had close to 600,000 requests for eligibility and people that needed that, but people were literally dying because they can’t get the care that they’re entitled to because they can’t prove elements of service, that kind of thing. So that’s been very frustrating.”
Franklin said a company has opened in Lakeland that is now digitizing the records. He declined to give their name because of the nature of their work, which includes personal information. The Department of Defense treats it as a classified facility. He said he didn’t bring the company here, but he is trying to get them funding to help them expand. He said the company is owned by a veteran and has mostly veteran employees.
Franklin said he is happy a large VA clinic is opening in Lakeland in the next few years because there are so many who need medical and mental health help.
“That’s something I want to get, we’re trying to get more involved in,” Franklin said. “We have far too many veterans who have taken their lives and continue to do so. From my own experience, I’ve known three friends of mine who have killed themselves after leaving the service, so this is something that just stays with them for a long time.”
Franklin said all their friends are second-guessing how they might have helped.
“You know, if you don’t wrestle with that, it’s hard to understand,” he said. “The hard part is looking back and seeing this as friends of these folks, you know, why and we all kind of talk about what did we miss that were there, signs that we should have picked up on?”
For Franklin, serving in Congress is like serving in the military in that he is helping his country and involved in something larger than himself.
“I always felt when I was on active duty, even though I was an infinitesimal piece of a much bigger mission, that, you know, I was proud to be a part of something that was really meaningful,” Franklin said. “The things we would do in our job during the day would be the things that would make world news, but then also conversely, the things that we, you know, that would happen in the world would literally shape what we might be doing the next day. So there’s this need to be connected to that kind of bigger purpose. And I missed that — I really did.”
He said of course he misses the flying and “zipping around, dropping bombs and making noise — turning gas into noise.” But his work in Congress has helped him feel connected again in a way that being in the business world didn’t.
“I would say even though this first, this term in Congress has been weird that a lot of things that are unusual about it — not the norm — hopefully will change. I think feel that connection again, serving on the armed services has been very meaningful. You having a pulse of what’s going on with our military and things around the world today at a level that I never even had really when I was on active duty, but then also being able to have an influence over what those forces are going to look like going forward and I love the connection.”
He said he would like to see all students contribute to the country in some way when they graduate from high school or college, whether that’s joining the military or some other service organization.
“I wish everyone had a chance to serve and I really do think our country would be so much better for it — service of some kind and even not all necessarily military, whether it’s you know, pick another channel. Some sort of way that people contribute something of themselves to the betterment of our country,” Franklin said.
He talked about his love of traveling and seeing different parts of the world, which made him appreciate the United States more and everything it has to offer.
“I love my time in the service. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Franklin said. “I still think it was the greatest privilege of my life. For me, I always call my deployments my U.S. appreciation tours. I love traveling … I appreciate other cultures and what they offer, but we have such an incredible thing here in this country that we are kind of a melting pot. We are a blend of all these cultures. We have so much to be grateful for here. It takes, I think a lot of times, going somewhere else to see that, to really recognize it. I think getting people out of our country to go see what the rest of the world is like might help them appreciate a little more.”
He said students should travel before deciding to go to college or to a trade school or to join the military.
“I think if you can go out, experience the world a little bit, decide, maybe I want to go to college, maybe I don’t, there’s other skills you can do and be a great contributing member of society and we need those desperately,” he said. “But then if you do, if college is the right way, then you have a little focus on what you think you can do with your life. I think that would help us out a whole lot as a country.”
This story has been updated to include judicial rulings involving the 2020 presidential election.
Medals and commendations
Franklin earned numerous medals and commendations, including:
- 1983 — Navy Expeditionary Medal for service aboard the USS Fairfax County
- 1991 — Commendation letter from Rear Admiral W. J. Davis for “professional achievement and superior performance” in support of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm
- 1991 — Sixth Fleet Hook ‘Em Award for exceptional performance in anti-submarine warfare
- 1991 – Liberation of Kuwait Medal for flights into Iraq from May – November 1991
- 1992 — Navy Achievement Medal – “Lt. Franklin’s leadership was instrumental” in a fleet-wide S-3 airframe change for safety
- 1993 – Gold Star added to his Navy Achievement Medal for “superior leadership, outstanding managerial skills and uncompromising drive for excellence … unparalleled ability to motivate and educate aviators”
- 1994 – Second Gold Star added to his Navy Achievement Medal for “exceptional dedication and adept leadership” in three fleet unit evaluations and testing over 120 flight crew personnel
- 1995 – Third Gold Star added to his Navy Achievement Medal for revitalizing several critical programs that increased safety and proposed changes concerning aircraft flap malfunctions
- 1995 – NATO Medal for Service for operations in the former Yugoslavia
- 1996 – Armed Forces Service Medal for participating in operations over Bosnia
- 1997 – Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for an air wing/ship safety program that “groomed a team of professional subordinates that successfully completed over 2,700 carrier landings.”
- 1998 – Navy Unit Commendation for “exceptionally meritorious service while engaged in and supporting combat operations against Iraq during Operation Desert Fox” in December and was part of the fleet that executed 667 combat and combat support sorties with the largest Tomahawk Land Attack Missile campaign in naval history, damaging or destroying Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
- 1998 – Gold Star added to his Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for his “dedication and flawless airborne acumen” during refueling of planes leaving Iraq
- 1998 — Sea Control Wing Atlantic, Senior Pilot of the Year
- 1999 – Sea Service Deployment Ribbon for accumulating 90 consecutive days of sea duty outside of homeport.
- 1999 – Second NATO Medal for operations onboard the USS Enterprise from January through March
- 2000 – Gold Star added to Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for his superb aviation skills and dynamic leadership
- 2002 – Certification of Appreciation for work during Operation Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom after Sept. 11, 2001
- 2002 – Defense Meritorious Service Medal for serving as a Naval Plans Officer and Strategic War Planner while at Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base and was “instrumental in the development of a successful counter-terrorism assistance plan.”
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