Sen. Al Franken, a rising political star only weeks ago, reluctantly announced Thursday he’s resigning from Congress, succumbing to sexual harassment allegations and evaporating support from fellow Democrats. But he fired a defiant parting shot at President Donald Trump and other Republicans he said have survived much worse accusations.
“I of all people am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said.
The 66-year-old Minnesotan, a former “Saturday Night Live” comedian who made a successful leap to liberal U.S. senator, announced his decision in a subdued Senate chamber three weeks after the first accusations of sexual misconduct emerged but just a day after most of his Democratic colleagues proclaimed he had to go. His remarks underscored the bitterness many in the party feel toward a GOP that they say has made a political calculation to tolerate Trump and Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, who have both been accused of sexual assaults that they have denied.
In largely unapologetic remarks that lasted 11 minutes, Franken said “all women deserve to be heard” but asserted that some accusations against him were untrue. He called himself “a champion of women” during his Senate career who fought to improve people’s lives.
“Even on the worst day of my political life, I feel like it’s all been worth it,” he said.
Franken’s departure, which he said would occur in “coming weeks,” made him the latest figure from politics, journalism and the arts to be toppled since October. That’s when the first articles appeared revealing sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein and energizing the #MeToo movement in which women have named men they say abused or harassed them.
Democratic Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will name a temporary successor, who will serve until a special election next November.
Franken’s comments appended a melancholy coda to the political career of the one-time TV funnyman who became one of his party’s most popular and bellicose liberals.
Just two days earlier, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., a civil rights hero who’d been the House’s longest-serving current member, resigned after facing sexual harassment allegations of his own. The two departures underscored the party’s determination to show no tolerance for such behavior, a strategy that can bring stunningly fast conclusions to political careers but that party leaders believe could give them high moral ground on a subject that’s shown no sign of fading.
Later Thursday, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., resigned as well, effective Jan. 3, after admitting he had asked two female staff aides about becoming a surrogate mother. The House Ethics Committee late Thursday also opened an investigation into Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, for allegations he sexually harassed a former staff aide and retaliated against her for complaining of discrimination.
On a 2005 audio tape released shortly before last year’s presidential election, Trump is heard talking about grabbing women, and several women accused him of sexual assaults. Women in Alabama have accused Moore of unwanted sexual contact and pursuing romantic relationships when they were teenagers and he was in his thirties during the 1970s.
Asked about Franken’s comment about him on Thursday, Trump merely replied, “I didn’t hear it, sorry.”
At least eight women had accused Franken of inappropriate sexual behavior. Until this week, he’d said he’d remain in the Senate and cooperate with an investigation into his behavior.
The breaking point came Wednesday, when a former Democratic congressional aide said he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006, an accusation he denied. Hours later, another woman said he’d inappropriately squeezed “a handful of flesh” on her waist while posing for a photo with her in 2009.
The accusations started last month when Leeann Tweeden, now a Los Angeles radio anchor, accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour in Afghanistan. She also released a photo of him with his hands at her breasts as she napped aboard a military plane.
On Thursday, Franken walked to the Senate chamber shortly before noon, hand-in-hand with his wife of 35 years, Franni. As he spoke, members of his family watched from the visitors’ gallery, some sobbing. Franken said that thanks to them, “I’m going to be just fine.”
Almost two-dozen colleagues listened silently at their desks, some dabbing their eyes. Those watching were nearly all Democrats and many were women, including New Yorker Kirsten Gillibrand, who released the first of what became a flood of public statements Wednesday calling for Franken’s resignation. Also present was Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who one Democrat said had spent much of Wednesday persuading his friend to leave.
After Franken spoke, many of his colleagues lined up to hug him.
He said he was leaving because he couldn’t handle an ethics panel investigation while representing his state effectively. He said he’d remain an activist: “I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice.”
A star on “Saturday Night Live,” the Harvard-educated Franken was elected to the Senate in 2008 by 312 votes. In Washington, he distanced himself from his comedic background, largely avoided national reporters and burrowed into consumer issues. He found his voice as a sharp critic of Trump administration officials and has been listed as a potential 2020 presidential contender.
His announcement prompted immediate maneuvering for his seat.
Among the possibilities for Minnesota Gov. Dayton’s temporary appointment is Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, a trusted Dayton ally. The winner of a special election in November 2018 would serve through the end of Franken’s term in January 2021.
Midterm elections are often difficult for the party that holds the White House, and Trump is deeply unpopular. But Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by just 1.5 points in the state, preserving a four-decade run for the Democrats in presidential elections.
It’s tough being a sixth-grader with a crummy credit score.
It’s going to make buying a car and finding an apartment more difficult. Maybe they shouldn’t have maxed out their credit cards on fidget spinners, candy and cellphone apps.
Fortunately, their lousy credit scores were valid only Thursday, when Junior Achievement volunteers were teaching Economics for Success at Franklin Middle School.
Junior Achievement is a national organization that works with local businesses and schools to increase financial literacy, workplace readiness and entrepreneurship, according to Junior Achievement’s website.
On Thursday, students learned:
Wade Hanson, a Junior Achievement volunteer and CPA at Summit Accounting Group, was in charge of explaining to 11- and 12-year-olds how credit scores work.
Most kids are exposed to the idea of credit scores only in television ads featuring adults who seem to be either ignorant or afraid of their credit scores.
Scores can change based on a variety of factors, including the amount of debt a person carries, how fast they are paying off debt, their ratio of credit available and credit used, if they’ve recently opened a credit account, and if they’re paying their bills on time, Hanson explained.
Then, in small groups, students played a game where they picked cards that influenced their scores.
The cards included classics such as “you always max out your credit card,” “You didn’t pay your electric bill on time” and the less likely, “Your credit card is always paid on time.”
One poor kid ended up with a score in the negative, just based on the cards she drew.
Kids seemed to grasp the basics.
“To have a good credit score, you have to use your budget wisely,” said Karma Phillips. “You have to pay your bills.”
Angelina Martinez went straight to the heart of the issue: “Don’t spend your money like crazy.”
Another session gave kids a profession with a monthly salary. A budget planner helped guide them through suggested spending: 10 percent into savings, 25 percent for housing, 15 percent for food.
Hanson said Junior Achievement wants to start financial education early. Youngsters might not completely understand the concept, but they do understand that how they spend and save impacts larger issues such as housing, borrowing for a car and even getting a job.
In the 2016-17 school year, Junior Achievement volunteers gave hundreds of presentations in classrooms in Janesville, Beloit, Elkhorn and East Troy. Those presentations, along with other outreach efforts, helped them reach 3,622 students.
“Whatever their incomes are (in the future), we want students to be good managers of their money,” said Roxanne Van Loon, director of Junior Achievement.
It’s something the state of Wisconsin wants, too.
Gov. Scott Walker recently signed a bill directing each school board to adopt academic standards for financial literacy and incorporate instruction into the curriculum at all grades.
The Janesville School Board has already adopted the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s model academic standards, which include financial literacy, said Patrick Gasper, communications specialist for the Janesville School District.
In addition, a financial literacy course is required at all high schools, including the charter schools, Gasper said.
The course, called “financial literacy,” is taken during the junior year, he said.
The state’s largest business association chose a Janesville couple for a new video designed to persuade more young people to return to Wisconsin and bolster the workforce.
The video shows Will and Katie Springer, two young professionals, talking about how they left Chicago when their first child was born, after Will got a job at a Janesville law firm.
The video emphasizes the short commutes to work, safety and opportunities to be part of a community, all things they didn’t find in Chicago.
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce hopes the message resonates with young people, especially those who left Wisconsin to live in the Chicago area.
Wisconsin is facing a “demographic crisis,” said Kurt Bauer, WMC’s president and CEO, who wants state lawmakers to spend more money on similar efforts.
“If you want your economy to grow, you need more people,” Bauer said.
Bauer put out the word to local affiliates, looking for examples of people who have chosen Wisconsin after choosing Chicago.
John Beckord of Forward Janesville passed it on to members, which is how WMC found the Springers.
Will is from Iowa County in southwest Wisconsin, Katie from Fond du Lac. They both went to college in Wisconsin.
They met and started their family in Chicago, where Will got his law degree and Katie got her master’s degree in psychology.
Will was working for a Chicago law firm and realized that his late hours and long mass-transit commute would mean he would often miss the opportunity to put his first son to bed, he said.
They moved to Janesville in 2012. Now both 33, they were able to afford a house they could never have bought in Chicago, Will said. Both parents work full time.
Will was able to drop off his son at Janesville Community Daycare and still get to work at the Brennan Steil law firm downtown in 10 minutes, he said.
“Anywhere in Janesville, whether you’re grocery shopping or going to any sort of event, it takes 15 minutes max,” Will said.
Katie took jobs in the social service field. She’s now with Rock County in adult protective services.
Their oldest son is now in kindergarten at St. John Vianney School, while their 1-year-old goes to day care in Milton, so Will has a longer commute, but he enjoys the time to think and listen to the radio, he said.
Will still works hours dictated by the needs of his clients, but he can work into the evening and still get home in time to tuck his sons into bed.
“That’s kind of the balance we were looking for,” Will said.
“I can walk down the street with my wife and two boys and feel safe,” he says in the video.
Will likes how the city has blossomed in recent years. He enjoys two new additions, microbrewery Rock County Brewing Company and Lark restaurant. And he likes the downtown redevelopment project known as ARISE.
“I think it’s a really good thing and one of reasons why we’re staying here and we want to be a part of that,” he said of ARISE.
And while the restaurant selection and shopping are nothing like in Chicago, access to bigger cities via the Interstate highways is a plus, he said.
And they’re both much closer to their families.
Will likes being able to get involved in the community and meet new people through his work with Janesville Youth Hockey, where he coaches and is vice president of the board.
WMC’s Bauer, a Beloit native, said when his organization started thinking about the demographic problem, members focused on the need for skilled trades workers, such as welders, electricians and millwrights.
Then they realized the need will be much greater.
UW-Madison Applied Population Laboratory did a study showing the working-age population will grow by only 0.1 percent from 2010 to 2040.
“You can see by that jarring statistic that we need people, period,” Bauer said. “We need bus drivers. We need teachers, people to work in office buildings, you name it.”
Bauer said a lack of workers could lead to a demography-driven recession like the one that hit former economic powerhouse Japan.
But the need is not somewhere in the future, according to WMC. The association surveys its members each year, asking if they have trouble hiring workers.
In 2015, 64 percent of the members—from across the business sector, from manufacturing to services—said they had that problem. By June of this year, the percentage was 77. And a new survey to be released in January will show 80 percent can’t find workers they need.
Last year, WMC produced a video focusing on Milwaukee as a great place for millennials to start careers or businesses, Bauer said
This time, they wanted to appeal specifically to former Wisconsinites who have left the state for the Chicago area, trying to capitalize on the population losses Illinois is suffering, Bauer said.
“Wisconsin is already getting its fair share of refugees from Illinois,” Bauer said.
The point of the new video was to show a young couple finding a great place to raise a family, “and Wisconsin, I think, has that in spades,” Bauer said.
State • 2A, 6A-7A
Schimel protects journalist
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel didn’t ask a journalist to reveal who leaked documents to him that were collected during the investigation of Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign out of respect for the reporter’s free speech rights, Schimel’s spokesman said Thursday.
Democrat plans to join race
Kelda Helen Roys, who worked in the private sector the past five years after a failed run for Congress following two terms in the state Assembly, is joining the crowded Democratic field for Wisconsin governor. She said her message in the governor’s race will be that Gov. Scott Walker must be replaced to make Wisconsin “a place of fairness and opportunity again.”
Local • 3A, 6A
Students work to sort ballots
When Janesville Clerk/Treasurer Dave Godek realized after the 2016 presidential election that city poll workers were having problems with disorganized ballots fed into the city’s voting machines, he reached out to John Klinger, a UW-Rock County professor, who challenged his students to design ways to solve the problem.
Nation/World • 6B
Protests erupt in West Bank
Thousands of Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli forces in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, and demonstrators in the Gaza Strip burned U.S. flags and pictures of President Donald Trump in a show of rage Thursday over the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.