COMMENTARY: Why was Rep. Franson afraid?
By Lucas Dolan, Washington, D.C.
In one of the best episodes of The West Wing, President Bartlet says: "I'm the President of the
United States, not the president of the people who agree with me." Unfortunately for our
community, Representative Mary Franson (R-8B) does not ascribe to a similar view of the duties
of her elected office.
Franson finally met with the Alexandria Area High School chapter of High School Democrats on
Wednesday. But let's be clear: it shouldn't take days of media pressure in local, state, and
national outlets for engaged students in a small community to have access to their elected
representative. Why was this meeting so hard to set up? By my count, Franson offered at least
three disparate justifications for her treatment of the students. Starting on December 15,
Franson's reasoning was strictly limited to the group's partisan nature, citing its campaign
activities on behalf of her opponent, Gail Kulp. December 18, on Twitter, it shifted to a concern
about not wanting to "appear to be bullying" minors. That same night, on Fox 9 news, Franson
repeated the first two arguments along with the novel excuse that it would be inappropriate to
meet alone with minors.
I found Franson's sudden sensitivity over the issue of bullying most intriguing — for two reasons.
First, in 2014, she referred to anti-bullying legislation as "fascism, Minnesota-style." Second,
throughout her online interactions with the students, Franson's tone was dismissive, patronizing,
and at times reminiscent of a Scooby-Doo villain denouncing "meddling kids." Franson
suggested the school use this as a teaching opportunity regarding how young people should
interact with legislators, but it is clear to me Franson is the one who needs a lesson in how to
interact in a mature and respectful manner with her constituents.
This is not the first time that Franson has embarrassed our community. There is not enough
space here to provide even a cursory overview of her collection of shockingly ignorant and
offensive statements (transphobic comments about Minneapolis city council members, false
statements about Earth Day, comparing welfare recipients to animals, etc.), but such hostility
towards polite, young community leaders is a new low that people of good conscience across the political spectrum should be able to join together in denouncing.
While this is a local event, it is important not to lose sight of the larger political context within
which it is occurring — one where a party that receives 49 percent of the vote nationwide has
succeeded in occupying an overwhelming majority of electoral offices. Ms. Franson's view of
representation appears to be that it is owed only to those who agree with and support her. If this
perspective becomes enacted nationwide by a ruling party, then our system of government begins to look much less like democracy and more like mass clientelism.
We should support young people seeking to get engaged in the political process. While no citizen expects a sitting representative to aid the political activities of a group opposed to her
policies, we all expect civil dialogue. It may have been prior to these students' formative
political experiences, but most of us are old enough to remember when Bob Cunniff came within
12 votes of defeating Franson in 2012. Franson would also do well to remember this.
None of the contradictory explanations offered by Representative Franson explain her reluctance to meet with this group of students. I suspect the real explanation is that Ms. Franson was afraid: She was afraid that these students would be more in touch with our civic culture, more committed to our democratic values, and more capable of reasoned political discourse.
Lucas Dolan is an Alexandria native and PhD Student at American University. He researches right-wing populism and authoritarianism.