Richard "Dick" Franson has made his last run for elected office.
Franson died at age 86 on May 27 after seeking public office through six decades — winning just once in nearly 30 attempts to get elected.
His only electoral victory came in his first race, in 1963, when he was elected as Minneapolis alderman. He lost the seat two years later. Then, in 1970, he won more than 119,000 votes in his bid for lieutenant governor — while serving in Vietnam.
"That was the needle in his arm, and he couldn't stop after that," said former Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Spartz, one of many incumbents Franson challenged.
With an authoritative demeanor some compared to fictional TV newsman Ted Baxter, Franson ran for mayor, school board, governor, U.S. Congress (twice), for U.S. Senate several times, for secretary of state and state auditor, for the Minneapolis levy-setting board — even for state railroad and warehouse commissioner.
He did so with a relentless optimism that he would form a winning coalition based on military veterans, abortion opponents and senior citizens. He cranked out missives to reporters sent via fax machine at all hours, sometimes laboring most of the night on his typewritten communiqués. For a 1994 Twin Cities Reader profile, the late journalist David Carr ran a photo of Franson and a fax with the headline: "Dick Franson's political machine."
"He loved being in the action, loved trying to make a difference, and he had issues he wanted to express," said his son Tim Franson, of Savage.
Born in Little Falls, Minn., Franson grew up in a low-income family just south of downtown Minneapolis, the son of a labor organizer from whom he learned DFL allegiance. He once told an interviewer that he declared his intent to go into politics while still in grade school. He went on to run the mile in track at Central High School, earned surveyor credentials at Dunwoody Institute, and a degree in public administration from Metro State University.
To make a living, Franson surveyed land, sold dairy products and worked in real estate. But he built his political persona on his 22-year military career, which included active duty during the Korean War as an Army first sergeant, in Vietnam as a Navy Seabee, and as a miliary reservist who specialized in recruiting. His candidacy announcements and position statements typically featured him in military dress uniform with service ribbons. "He had a habit of referring to himself in the third person," said Twin Cities Business reporter Burl Gilyard, who once profiled Franson.
Franson opted to launch his political career in the Nokomis-area 12th Ward, where many constituents shared his conservative DFL credentials. His election in 1963 helped give the Liberal caucus, as DFLers elected on the nonpartisan ballot were known then, a one-vote majority. Franson supported the clearance of homes along the proposed Hiawatha freeway, including imposition of a $200 assessment spread over 20 years to help pay city costs.
In 1965, Republican Arne Carlson launched his political career by challenging Franson. He mailed campaign literature to ward households attacking Franson over what he alleged was a tax increase, and defeated Franson by several hundred votes. Franson sued under the state corrupt practices act, which forbade making false campaign statements. A district judge ruled in his favor, which would have required a new election, but the state Supreme Court ruled that Franson's challenge had been served a day late.
Franson never forgave Carlson for derailing his political career, and demanded an apology for decades afterward. "Every time Arne would go somewhere, Franson would show up and nip at his heels," said longtime DFL lawyer Brian Rice.
Throughout his life, Franson clung to an abiding love of the military and service.
Despite a pacemaker and a bout of cancer, he volunteered in his 60s to return to active duty to serve in Kuwait. The military didn't accept.
He wore his uniform in February when he attended Mystic Lake casino to celebrate his birthday.
Franson is also survived by another son, Todd, and a daughter Terri; a grandchild; and two sisters. A service has been held.