State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr. (D-St. Louis) held a town hall and voter empowerment meeting on Saturday, February 17, where residents could casually ask him questions in an open forum at Central Library in downtown St. Louis. He also asked people to pledge to register 50 individuals to vote and handed out voter registration kits.
At one point in the meeting, a woman – who appeared to be white and middle-aged – brought up the fact that U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, could lose her seat to a Republican challenger (likely Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley) in the November general election.
The entire exchange was so telling of the challenges that McCaskill faces this fall that we transcribed it and lightly edited it for length.
Woman in the crowd: When you talk about voter registration and getting out the vote, how you are working in your district to further, not just your chances, but for other candidates?
Bruce Franks: Before I became state representative, we registered every young person to vote. Between December 2014 and December 2015, we registered 2,000 people between the ages of 18 and 24. But it’s not just enough to register them, you have to have events that speak to their needs and their interest levels. We would register folks to vote all year long and continue to engage them by inviting them out to neighborhood meetings and giving them things to read.
Woman: I understand engaging them, but getting them out to vote on the actual day.
Franks: We say that we want folks to engage and they have to exercise their right to vote and it’s their fault if they don’t vote. But in getting out the vote, they have to have something or someone to vote for. It’s not just enough to say to go vote for somebody or a particular proposition. Why should they vote for this person? Sometimes they feel like they don’t have a choice, because neither candidate speaks to the need of their community. Best way to get out the vote is to have someone to vote for.
Those of us who are politically engaged, we need to do better at vetting candidates and educating our community about the candidates. The next politicians aren’t going to be the ones who have been doing it for 16 years or their kids. The community organizers and teachers and the people who are in the community dealing with the real issues – those should be the next politicians.
Woman: We have a potential tragedy in Missouri. We could lose a Senate seat. Hawley could win, and McCaskill could lose. She may not be speaking to folks, but we have an opportunity to lose an important seat in the Senate. How can we get folks out to vote for that, understanding that it’s touchy?
Franks: As a black man in a poor black community, how would you express to me the need to vote for Claire McCaskill?
Woman: That’s a good question.
Franks: I understand what you’re saying. I’m going to vote for Claire. I so appreciate this question, but we have folks who don’t come from this particular community and don’t understand the barriers and challenges. They come in and they say, “Listen, we could lose a Senate seat.” And they’re telling us that we can lose a senator that we never knew existed because this person hasn’t shown up in our community. This person hasn’t spoken to our needs.
I understand that Claire votes good on some stuff and doesn’t vote good on other stuff. We can go back and forth on that all day. But when people start to bring up specifics, you try to telling that mother who lost her 14-year-old kid who doesn’t get to reap the benefits from anything that she’s voting for that you have to save this Senate seat – that you have to vote for this person.
I was asked this at the Hadley Township meeting. A lady said, “Well, something’s better than nothing.” I said, “Not when you already have nothing.”
Woman: Let me push back. Look at what you are getting with [U.S. Senator Roy] Blunt[R-MO]. You’re getting a lot less with Blunt.
Franks: Can I push back right there? As a black man from a poor black community who voted for Jason Kander, who would vote for Jason Kander any day over Blunt: One thing I can tell you about Roy Blunt is Roy Blunt is the chair of appropriations. He appropriates the federal funding that comes down that funds Youth Build (a program that connects low-income youth with jobs and educational opportunities). The entire Youth Build program. One place Senator Blunt has always fought for and made sure we had funding was Youth Build in St. Louis.
Woman: That’s … he’s giving you crumbs!
Franks: When I’m saving young black lives every day, we can’t consider that crumbs. That’s a whole loaf. What happens is, now we are talking about folks who, chances are, are having trouble voting for Claire. So, her votes on the good stuff, those are crumbs. Her rhetoric, those are crumbs. But when we have tangible things that we are seeing each and every day that are saving young people’s lives, who had no hope, who come from a disenfranchised community, we can’t consider that crumbs. I’m not lobbying here for Roy Blunt. I’m never going to vote for Roy Blunt, and I told him that to his face. But I will thank him for doing this particular piece of his job.
I’m going to vote for Claire, but Claire is going to have to bring her ass to St. Louis. Period. (Applause.) She’s going to have to show up, and it’s not just about talking. You have made some folks upset and if there is a reason why you voted this way, then you need to effectively communicate that. You have to talk to the Hispanic population in my community and explain why, because they were ready to shut it down. I understand where you’re coming from, but relaying that to folks who feel underrepresented, it’s tough.
Woman: I don’t like a lot of what she’s done either. But the last thing I want is another Roy Blunt. We can’t sectionalize ourselves so much that we lose. It would be a tragedy to lose that seat.
A black woman in the crowd: It would be a tragedy to let her go again just because she’s a Democrat. Because that thinking there would have put a pedophile in the Senate. She has got to earn the vote. And being MIA won’t get her mine. And just don’t show up when it’s election time.