Franke takes a full plate to Congress
In 1979, when Randy Franke was running his first political campaign, a friend gave him some good advice: Lose the beard and buy some new suits. Franke took that advice and ended up on the Marion County (Oregon) Commission, whereupon he asked for more advice.
Whatever you do, he was told, don’t let the other commissioners stick you with solid waste. Now, 15 years later, Franke is beardless, nattily-attired and one of the country’s leading county voices on the issue of solid waste. At some point, you’ve gotta make your own choices.
Franke became an expert on solid waste when he shepherded the county’s waste-to-energy plant through an approval process that involved a voter referendum. His expertise has made him a familiar face on Capitol Hill, where he testifies frequently on behalf of the National Association of Counties (NACo) on matters concerning the Clean Air Act, landfill regulations and flow control, an issue he sees as critical in 1995.
As NACo president, working with the new Congress is high on Franke’s “To Do” list. Despite the fact that a number of local government groups have privately expressed concern about congressional budget-cutting talk, Franke sees an opportunity. “Any time there’s a dramatic change,” he says, “there’s an opportunity. The question is how quickly can we solidify our policy positions with those of the governors and the U.S. Conference of Mayors and go in a joint force to Congress?”
The danger, he notes, is putting too many issues on the table at once. Unfortunately, a number of things demand NACo attention, including getting money appropriated to implement the Payments in Lieu of Taxes legislation, health care, welfare reform and, Franke says, “the whole issue of infrastructure investment from Community Development Block Grants to highway funding.”
The spectrum of issues that NACo hopes to see addressed by Congress reflects the broad range of Franke’s interests. His committee, agency, project and coalition memberships take up six pages of an impressive resume and include interests as diverse as prison overcrowding (Franke’s masters degree is in corrections), roads, children and families, criminal justice, taxes and the YMCA. He was recently appointed to Oregon’s Land Conservation and Development Commission.
“I don’t know how he does it,” marvels Association of Oregon Counties Executive Director Bob Cantine. “It wears me out watching him.”
On a national level, NACo Executive Director Larry Naake notes, Franke is in a unique position to make a difference with this Congress. “He’s a Republican who already has a working relationship with a number of the new members,” Naake says. “And he’s extremely well-organized and articulate. People react well to Randy.”
That should help in getting Congress to consider one of NACo’s – and Franke’s – pet issues, a Children’s Initiatives program, the implementation of which is probably the major goal of Franke’s presidency. The program addresses welfare reform, health care, “anything that affects children”, Franke says.
With welfare reform likely to drive much of the 1995 national agenda, the program is NACo’s way of ensuring that children – and local governments – are not left behind in the push to slash budgets.
Welfare reform, in fact, is a no-brainer as far as Franke is concerned. “Obviously, something needs to happen,” he says. “And I think we in NACo are generally in agreement with most of the governors in that we would like to let the states deal with it. I’d rather take my chances with the Oregon legislature than with Congress. Local governments have a good relationship with the state house in Oregon, although I realize that is not the case everywhere. Unfortunately, if it is left up to Congress, we will end up with a cookie-cutter approach that just won’t work everywhere.”