Franken the uniter? Playboy flap brings together political enemies


It’s a rare moment in Minnesota politics: Planned Parenthood extends a thank you to Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague, and Sen. Betsy Wergin, R-Princeton, two legislators with an extremely anti-choice and anti-reproductive health record. But Al Franken’s 2000 essay in Playboy magazine has united the two factions who seem to agree that the article is problematic.

Oberstar revives Franken’s Playboy problem
by Paul Demko, Minnesota Monitor

Just when the furor over Al Franken’s 2000 Playboy article seemed to have dissipated, another Democrat has resuscitated the controversy. This time it’s Rep. Jim Oberstar, the powerful Iron Range DFLer who chairs the House transportation committee, criticizing the U.S. Senate candidate.

In a statement released yesterday, Oberstar labeled the sex fantasy column “amateur and silly,” and called on Franken to disown it. The renewed tumult comes just days before Democrats are set to endorse a candidate at the state convention in Rochester to challenge Sen. Norm Coleman. Franken’s chief opponent for the nomination is college professor and activist Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. Attorney Mike Ciresi, who dropped out of the race in March, is also keeping a close eye on the race.

Last week Rep. Betty McCollum made headlines when she called out Franken for the Playboy piece, saying it was offensive and potentially damaging to other Democrats on the ticket. Other Democrats, including Reps. Tim Walz and Keith Ellison, also criticized the article.

Connie Perpich, senior director for legislative affairs for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, penned a letter criticizing the Franken column and indicating that Planned Parenthood’s political action committee would have trouble endorsing Franken. “We certainly support First Amendment rights of all Americans, but do believe these comments have gone beyond the bounds of what is appropriate for any candidate for elected office,” she wrote. “If half of these allegations are true, it is very difficult for us to foresee the Planned Parenthood of Minnesota Action Fund Board endorsing the candidacy of anyone with such extreme perspectives.”

Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund in Minnesota, also weighed in on the Playboy article. “It has been a long struggle to raise awareness of the dignity of girls and women in our society. It is unthinkable that the citizens of our state will turn their backs on those achievements,” wrote Stoesz. “Minnesotans deserve, and in November will demand, candidates for state and federal office who reflect our values. They must be able to demonstrate not silliness, but maturity and responsibility in addressing issues of sexuality and reproductive health.”

Perpich went out of her way to thank Brod and Wergin for their letter criticizing the Franken article. “We also want to express our appreciation for the perspectives expressed in the letter by Rep. Brod and Sen. Wergin… We are very concerned by the misogynist remarks of some of these statements and find them degrading to women,” wrote Perpich.

Brod and Wergin have a 100 percent rating from the anti-choice group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, and both scored zeroes in rankings by NARAL Pro-choice Minnesota. It’s safe to say that a point of agreement between Brod, Wergin and reproductive choice advocates is rare. Franken has made building that bridge possible.