Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company
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October 3, 2000, Tuesday, Late Edition -
SECTION: Section B; Page 1; Column
1; Metropolitan Desk
LENGTH: 1494 words
HEADLINE: Franks Record Displays Skill In Legislative
BYLINE: By IVER PETERSON
DATELINE: TRENTON, Oct. 2
For nearly two weeks now,
Jon S. Corzine has been blasting his Republican opponent for the Senate,
Representative Bob Franks, as a Newt Gingrich puppet and right-wing Grinch who
tried to steal old people's Medicare entitlements.
But a look at Mr.
Franks's seven years in the House of Representatives discloses a man who may
talk a good conservative line at times but who actually occupies the capacious
center-right middle ground where so many other Northeastern Republicans have
made their careers. Mr. Franks defends basic abortion rights but is willing to
see their application limited, for example. He usually lets the environment
trump private property, but not always. He supports Republican -- and suburban
-- antitax positions but is far more liberal on gun control than most
"Just the way Democrats talk a fabulous liberal game about
oppression and suffering but end up voting the goodies for the middle class they
need to get elected," David Rebovich, a political scientist at Rider University
said, "Bob Franks may have talked a conservative game, but he really hasn't
deviated very much from the mainstream middle of New Jersey Republicanism."
In fact, Mr. Franks is less likely to be defined by his stands on issues
than by his skills as a Republican leader and strategist and as legislative deal
"I've always seen him as a fiscal conservative and a procedural
populist," said Stephen A. Salmore, a retired Rutgers political scientist and
Republican campaign consultant who has never worked for Mr. Franks.
"He's someone who knows how to go about building coalitions and putting
together grass-roots support for legislation."
Mr. Salmore added, "He's
willing to take risks -- he was for term limits when most of the people in the
party were running away from the idea."
Over the years, Mr. Franks's
most consistent position was against taxes and in favor of spending cuts,
including when those cuts involved reductions in social programs he generally
favors. The measure Mr. Corzine condemned him for supporting, the 1995 budget
omnibus bill, contained cuts in Medicare spending over several years, for
example, although Mr. Franks insists that he voted for the measure only because
he knew it would not survive the more moderate Senate. In fact, the Medicare
elements in the bill were softened before they became law.
interesting to hear Mr. Corzine attacking the hard choices I had to make," Mr.
Franks said in an interview, "because those hard choices brought about the first
balanced budget in a generation and have created the foundation for the
prosperity America is enjoying today."
Mr. Franks's conservatism was
also displayed on crime bills and foreign policy, where he generally held to the
Republican position, including support for the immediate deployment of an
antimissile defense system. In 1994, he voted against keeping United States
troops in Haiti and a year later, against the president and in favor of ending
the United States arms embargo against Bosnians resisting Serb fighters. But a
1996 antiterrorism bill sponsored by southern conservatives that would have
denied some constitutional protections to aliens was too strong for Mr. Franks,
who backed the president in opposing it.
On campaign finance and
Congressional ethics issues, Mr. Franks shows a consistent Republican dislike
for new regulations. In 1993, he voted against limiting outside money in
Congressional races in return for federal funding of them, and in 1994 he voted
against tightening restrictions on lobbyists' gifts to members of Congress. But
in 1999, he voted for a bill that set limits on soft money and issue campaigns
in elections. The appeal of that bill, to the dismay of many Democrats, was that
it required unions to tell their members what part of their dues were spent on
Mr. Franks acquired a reputation for caution early
in his years in the New Jersey State Legislature, and it emerged in Washington
during the impeachment debate. To the consternation of Republican leaders, Mr.
Franks did not commit himself to a pro-impeachment vote until the last minute,
believing, he says, that the president might avoid the vote by confessing and
Abortion and reproductive-rights bills came up nearly every
year of Mr. Franks's tenure, and his votes show a man threading his way through
an ideological minefield.
In 1993, he voted against the Hyde Amendment
to the welfare law, which would have banned federal financing of abortion
services for the poor except in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother's
like was in danger. The measure did not pass. In 1994, he supported the
administration position by voting to establish federal criminal and civil
penalties for using or threatening force to block abortion clinics or against
patients and workers in them.
In the next three years, Mr. Franks voted
consistently with the rest of his party in support of measures to ban the
so-called partial birth abortion procedure, measures that either did not pass
the Senate or the President's veto. The partial birth abortion bill in 1997 went
further than most, rejecting even exceptions for the woman's health, and
although even a handful of Republicans considered the bill too harsh to support,
Mr. Franks voted for it.
In 1999, Mr. Franks supported the fetal
protection bill, which the administration opposed. The bill recognized the fetus
as a separate being under federal law and imposed penalties for injuring the
fetus in a crime against a pregnant woman. The bill passed the House and Senate
but not by enough to overcome a promised presidential veto.
has consistently supported rights to contraception, however, and in 1998 he
voted with 47 other Republicans for a bill by Nita M. Lowey, a New York
Democrat, requiring health plans for federal workers to include prescription
plans with contraceptive coverage.
Franks has supported Democratic-backed measures extending health protection
generally. In one of his first votes in Congress in 1993, he voted for one of
President Clinton's key campaign pledges, the Family and Medical Leave Act,
which guarantees workers unpaid time off to care for a new baby or a sick family
On managed care, Mr. Franks has tried to walk a fine line
between the Democrats, who favored handing patients broader rights to sue their
health maintenance organizations over care and reimbursements, and the
Republican leadership, which has been more concerned with protecting the
emerging managed care system from lawsuits.
In 1998, Mr. Franks voted
for a Republican leadership bill opposed by the Clinton administration that
tried to split the differences. It would have created a two-step appeals process
for patients and expanded opportunities for private medical care savings
The Senate did not take up this measure, and the next year Mr.
Franks voted against his leadership and with the administration for an alternate
Patients' Bill of Rights that enforced coverage for emergency room visits and
for gynecological and pediatric care, and that allowed patients or their heirs
to sue in state court in cases of injury or death from an H.M.O.'s coverage
decision. The measure has passed the House of Representatives but has not yet
been taken up by the Senate.
Also in 1999, Mr. Franks voted with a wide
majority for a law outlawing physician-assisted suicide, a measure aimed at
overturning the Oregon law that allows the practice within strict guidelines.
Gun control advocates have usually been able to count on Mr. Franks's
vote. In 1993, he voted with 53 other Republicans in favor of the
administration's Brady Bill, which imposed a five-day waiting period on all
handgun purchases to allow for background checks on the buyer. He helped the
administration again in 1994 by voting for the president's assault weapons ban
against certain high-capacity semiautomatic rifles.
And in 1999, he
voted to reject, along with many gun control advocates, a jumbled proposal to
require background checks before guns could be sold at gun shows. The law
provided only 24 hours for the checks, causing even gun control advocates to
consider it worthless.
Although Mr. Franks has not made a name for
himself as a champion of a particular cause, he has consistently come down hard
on law and order issues, as befits the concerns of his mostly suburban
constituency. He has introduced legislation to limit the comforts of life in
federal prisons, for example, by limiting the playing of musical instruments to
one hour a day and banning all hot plates.
In 1994, Mr. Franks and a
minority of other House Republicans voted with the administration for the final
version of the Omnibus Crime Bill, a massive prison-building and
police-recruiting measure that banned several new kinds of semiautomatic weapons
but contained millions for measures like afterschool programs for young people.
Photos: Representative Bob Franks of New Jersey is known for putting together
grass-roots support for legislation. Discussing budget matters with Mr. Franks,
center, in a Senate hallway in 1997 were, from left, David J. Hoppe, chief of
staff to Senator Trent Lott, and Representatives John R. Kasich of Ohio, Gary A.
Condit of California and Christopher Shays of Connecticut. (Paul Hosefros/The
New York Times)(pg. B1); Representative Bob Franks meeting voters at a
Republican fund-raiser in Ocean County, N.J., last week. (Laura Pedrick for The
New York Times)(pg. B5)
LOAD-DATE: October 3, 2000