Last year required several Saturday morning trips to the state Capitol to catch up on desk work. Each time, state Rep. Bobby Franklin and two or three of his like-minded friends beat me there.
Though we had enjoyed a modest friendship over the past seven years, we never talked on those weekend occasions. Primarily because Franklin and his small band had duct-taped their mouths shut in a silent protest against abortion. The fact that Franklin neither sought — nor received — any press attention for these vigils, held outside whether rain or shine, wasn’t unusual.
It was just part of his daily regimen, Bobby being Bobby.
A private burial for Franklin, a 14-year veteran of the state Capitol, was held Friday. A public memorial service will be held Monday morning in Cumming.
Even if it’s not so stated from the pulpit, the theme of the service will be the ultimate loneliness of a man who put the purity of his politics above nearly everything else.
So far as we know, the 56-year-old, divorced Republican from Marietta went to bed on a Friday, after complaining of chest pains. No one came looking for him until Tuesday morning.
In person, Franklin was as kind and soft-spoken as his bookish countenance advertised. But he was a difficult man to live with in the state Capitol. And probably outside, too.
Perhaps the most conservative lawmaker in the Capitol, Franklin was a thorn in the side of three House speakers, famous for using the red “no” button on his desk more than any of his colleagues.
Some called him Dr. No. At one point, only half in jest, he donned the mask of the Lone Ranger. “What he believed in — there was no compromise,” said Pat Gartland, a friend and former head of the Georgia Christian Coalition. He was the one to knock on Franklin’s door Tuesday.
This past year. Franklin introduced the first 21 bills of the legislative session. Not that many of them moved. There was a bill to permit guns in church. Another to do away with driver’s licenses. Women were angered by his proposed change to the state’s rape law that would have replaced the word “victim” with “accuser.”
Franklin’s most cherished piece of legislation was a state constitutional amendment to bestow the title of human being on every union of sperm and egg.
Critics said it would have subjected women who miscarried to criminal investigations. It never passed committee muster. But if you rang Franklin’s house, his answering machine would thank you for calling to congratulate him on the wisdom of his “personhood” legislation. And then it would beep.
Yet it wasn’t just the left that the devout Presbyterian aggravated. “Even the tea party got alienated from him, because he’d tell them where they were screwing up,” Gartland said.
In 2010, Georgia Right to Life pushed a bill to make it a crime for doctors to perform abortions on women who seek the procedure because of the race or gender of the fetus. Franklin opposed it, arguing that it amounted to a back-handed acceptance of abortion in cases where race and sex discrimination weren’t involved. The bill failed.
It is hard to explain why the unexpected death of such a contrarian sparked not even a hint of celebration from his traditional opponents. But House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams, an African-American, took a crack at it, in a WABE (90.1FM) interview.
“I never found Bobby to be anything other than thoughtful and respectful about his position,” Abrams said. ‘It was never mean and never hostile, and it was always, I think, well-intentioned.”
Abrams, when away from the Capitol, writes romantic suspense novels aimed at black women. Only two of her 235 colleagues in the Capitol have read every one of her books. “One of them was Bobby Franklin,” she said. “I would get a report on each one.”
Franklin’s high-water mark came in 2003. With Sonny Perdue as the new governor, the Legislature was in a furious debate over his proposal to hold a statewide referendum on whether Georgia should return to the 1956 state flag and its Confederate battle emblem.
From the House press gallery, I’d spotted an image on the laptop that sat upon Franklin’s desk — an attractive rendering of an older non-volatile Georgia flag based on the Stars and Bars. When I approached Franklin, he shut the laptop and politely asked me to keep my mouth shut for a few days. I did.
The Franklin flag became the immediate ancestor of the one that flies above every school and courthouse in the state. The design was altered in the Senate by George Hooks, a Democrat from Americus. The phrase “In God We Trust” was stripped from the white stripe. In typical fashion, when the flag bill returned to the House for a final vote, Franklin voted “no.”
Bobby Franklin had become something of a recluse recently. He’d lost his bookkeeping job last year, and was living on a skeletal legislator’s salary.
Gartland and his wife adopted him. “I just appreciated someone taking a stand and not waiting to stick his finger up in the air,” Gartland said.
Franklin was in good spirits that last Friday. He’d landed some work. And he had been given a look at a new map of his House district. House Republican leaders, he feared, would punish him by filling his district with new and unfamiliar voters.
“Friday, when he called me, he said they didn’t do much to his district. So he was happy. He was flying high,” Gartland said. Thus, Franklin went to bed happy.
Four days later, when police arrived, they would find the state flag that he inspired — and voted against — hanging from his front porch.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider