Tuesday, we'll be hosting the newest Blue America endorsee, Montana state Rep. Franke Wilmer, an extraordinary progressive legislator from Bozeman running for Montana's open at-large congressional seat. As I mentioned when I first met her last year, she's currently serving her third term in the state legislature where she has sponsored legislation on behalf of women’s rights, public employees, firefighters, teachers, tipped employees, unions, gay rights, American Indians, and veterans. Her work on behalf of veterans has been recognized twice by Veterans’ groups, most recently being named “Legislator of the Year” by the Vietnam Veterans of America Montana Council. She has the kind of remarkable record of legislative leadership that always interests Blue America.
Now she's a Full Professor at Montana State University teaching courses on International Human Rights, International Law, International Relations Theory and the Politics of War and Peace but just as important as her academic accomplishments and record of public service are her life experiences before completing her graduate degrees. In her early 20s, Franke was a divorced single mother with no child support and few prospects. All she knew was waitressing, so she relied on that again to support herself and her daughter and was determined to eventually complete her college degree. It took her 16 years, often working two jobs and even 2 years working as a carpenter. She finished her B.S. degree in political science with a minor in economics and with the help of scholarships completed a Master’s and Doctorate in 1990. “I know what it’s like not to be able to afford health insurance,” Franke said in a conversation with me last week. “I know what it’s like to take a pocket full of tips to the energy company to pay my heating bill.”
I ran for the legislature in 2006 and am running for Congress now for the same reason I became an academic-- as an expression of my activist commitment to use my time and talents to make the world more humane, more just, and with less preventable suffering. That commitment has primarily been focused on issues of human rights. Coming of age in the Civil Rights and anti-war era (I graduated from high school in 1968-- the spring of assassinations-- MLK and RFK) profoundly shaped my political views. In fact, in high school I was active in efforts to desegregate our town “teen center” and a restaurant owned by our mayor. So to fast-forward-- I have thought of my academic identity more in terms of being an “academic-activist” and as strange as it may sound, that’s probably the best way to think of my work in the legislature where I have sponsored bills on gender pay equity, to create a domestic partner registry, and calling on public speakers and educators to learn the names of Montana’s First Nations in their own indigenous languages.
Please join us Tuesday at 11am (PT), noon in Montana, for a live blogging session with Franke. And if you want to get a jump on the game, please consider contributing to her campaign at our Blue America ActBlue page here