UPDATE WEDNESDAY: Franson's comments about food stamps stir controversyComments that Representative Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, made about food stamps on a Friday video sparked a barrage of complaints - even death threats.
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
Comments that Representative Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, made about food stamps on a Friday video sparked a barrage of complaints - even death threats.
The backlash was so threatening that Franson, who pulled the video and offered an apology, filed a complaint with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating.
Franson made the comments as part of a week-in-review video she posted on YouTube.
Here's what she said:
"I'll read you this little funny clip that we got from a friend. It says, 'Isn't it ironic that the food stamp program, part of the Department of Agriculture, is pleased to be distributing the greatest amount of food stamps ever. Meanwhile, the Park Service, also part of the Department of Agriculture, asks us to please not feed the animals, because the animals may grow dependent and not learn to take care of themselves.' "
Franson added that welfare reform bills should bring people up out of the clutches of poverty by providing a safety net, not a safety hammock.
Some accused Franson of comparing people getting food stamps to feeding animals.
A Democrat-leaning group, the Alliance for a Better Minnesota (ABM), launched a petition drive demanding that Franson make an apology video. As of Monday morning, ABM claimed that more than 1,000 people signed the petition.
"These sorts of outrageous and mean-spirited comments have no business being spoken by an elected official in Minnesota," the group's statement read. "Mary Franson must be held accountable, using the same methods that she used to blast low-income Minnesotans."
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, released a statement on Sunday, saying "Franson's attempt to find humor in the plight of the many Minnesotans who continue to struggle in today's economy is a sad reflection on the state of our politics."
Thissen added that that many people receiving food stamps have played by the rules but have been left behind in the tough economy of the last few years. "And since the recession began thousands more children have fallen into poverty - especially in rural Minnesota. Minnesotans are looking for hope and a focus on what we hold in common, not mean-spiritedness," he said.
When contacted by the Echo Press Monday, Franson again offered an apology to those who were offended by her remarks, which, she emphasized, came from an e-mail that was forwarded to her.
"For those who are offended, I'm sorry," she said, "but the truth remains that we have to do some things to get people off welfare and back to work."
Franson said that people misinterpreted her comments.
"No way in the video did I say poor people are like animals - absolutely not," she said. "Those who are upset don't want to confront the real issue - government dependency."
Franson said that the welfare program is set up to help the poorest of the poor get a hand up. Instead, some are using it as an excuse to not improve their situation.
She said local communities should be more involved in helping the less fortunate.
"Look at Douglas County - how many manufacturing jobs do we have?" she said, referring to the surplus of openings. "They may not be sexy jobs but guess what? They pay pretty darn well."
Franson said that those lobbying for more welfare funding try to argue that welfare checks haven't been raised in decades when they should be focusing on what can be done to get more people off of government assistance.
Franson said that as a single mom of three children, she knows what it's like to be poor.
"I don't hate the poor - I am the poor," she said. "I know what it's like - cereal and peanut butter sandwiches. I've been where these people are. But what do you do - feel sorry for yourself or try to get yourself out of it?"
Franson said that special interest groups that support additional welfare spending have their own reasons for doing so. "If the poor get better on their own, where do their agencies go?" she said.
Franson said she's received about 130 e-mails about her comments. They're not all negative. "A lot of people told me to stick to my guns," she said.
A few, however, resorted to vicious name-calling. One even threatened to use explosive devices against her entire family.
"Instead of getting angry why not take that energy and put it into getting more people out of poverty?" she said. "Government dependency is not the answer."
Brad Lake, Douglas County Sheriff's Office chief deputy, confirmed that the e-mail threats against Franson are being investigated. Since the case is still active, Lake couldn't comment on the specifics but he said that similar cases handled by the sheriff's office have led to charges involving disorderly conduct, terroristic threats and stalking.
Lake said that people should understand that no matter what type of communication they use, including Facebook, e-mails and texting, they can be held responsible for what they put out there - and face criminal consequences.