Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing on human trafficking in Washington, D.C., on September 25, 2017. Photo: SCIA
National | Politics

Lawmakers with connections to Indian Country resign due to sexual harassment

Two lawmakers, one Democrat and one Republican and both with ties to Indian Country, announced their resignations due to sexual harassment allegations.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) will be stepping down after several women accused him of harassment. Though the activity in question occurred before he joined Congress, he said he could no longer remain an effective voice for "Native Americans who have been overlooked for far too long."

"I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party," Franken said in a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday.

He was referring to Republican President Donald Trump, who bragged about sexually assaulting women, and Roy Moore, a Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama who has faced numerous allegations about his behavior towards young women.

Though he lacked experience in tribal issues, Franken quickly joined the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs after winning his first election in 2009. He attended nearly every hearing and meeting since then, something not even most of the committee's other members can claim.

Franken made violence and mistreatment of Native women among his top priorities. In January, he forced Attorney General Jeff Sessions to admit he didn't know much about violence against Native women despite opposing tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians when he was in the Senate.

Yet it was Franken's past treatment of women that led to his downfall. Moore, incidentally, is seeking to replace the seat vacated by Sessions.

The second lawmaker who announced his resignation has a different record on Indian issues. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Arizona), who is stepping down after asking female staffers to act as surrogates for his children, repeatedly introduced bills to undermine the rights of the Tohono O'odham Nation.

The tribe was promised land after the federal government flooded one of its reservations in Arizona. Franks tried to prevent the tribe from using its restored lands for a casino, a tactic that failed after the tribe won a slew of victories in the federal and state courts.

The tribe opened the facility and eventually reached a settlement with Arizona to address outstanding issues affecting the property. Despite the tribe's successes, Franks always kept the threat of legislation alive, something he won't be able to do once he leaves Congress early next year after being told he was under an ethics investigation.

"Rather than allow a sensationalized trial by media damage those things I love most, this morning I notified House leadership that I will be leaving Congress as of January 31st, 2018," Franks wrote in a statement posted by The Washington Times. He acknowledged that his announcement came amid an "unusual moment in history – there is collective focus on a very important problem of justice and sexual impropriety."

Franken's open seat will be filled by the Minnesota governor pending a special election later in 2018. Franks was due for re-election next year but a special election is also expected to be called in Arizona.

Read More on the Story:
Sen. Al Franken to leave U.S. Senate, says he can no longer be effective (The Minneapolis Star Tribune December 8, 2017)
Trent Franks stepping down from Congress amid complaints from 2 former female staffers (The Arizona Republic December 8, 2017)
Franken announces he will resign from the Senate as harassment issue rocks Congress (The Washington Post December 7, 2017)
Al Franken to Resign From Senate Amid Harassment Allegations (The New York Times December 7, 2017)
Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, who asked staffers if they would bear his child as a surrogate, says he will resign (The Washington Post December 7, 2017)
House Republican Trent Franks Resigns Amid Harassment Investigation (The New York Times December 7, 2017)