State Rep. Bruce Franks will step down from his St. Louis-based seat, citing a need to deal with his anxiety and depression.
The Democrat said he still wants to make his mark on St. Louis’ politics, even though he’ll no longer be in elected office. He’s also hoping his spotlight on mental health will resonate.
“And especially when you talk about people of color where there’s been this stigma in our community where we don’t talk about it,” Franks said in an interview in his Capitol office. “We don’t get the help. So this is me being transparent as I’ve always been — transparent to a fault in some cases.”
While Franks hasn’t set a resignation date, he said won’t return for the 2020 legislative session. Gov. Mike Parson will have to call a special election for his 78th District House seat that encompasses eastern parts of the city.
Franks burst on the St. Louis political scene in 2016, when he unseated then-state Rep. Penny Hubbard. The contest was more high-profile than most state legislative races in St. Louis. After allegations of absentee-voting irregularities, a judge ordered a new election that Franks won in a landslide.
Upon entering the Missouri House, Franks, who had previously gained a following as a rapper and activist, channeled his past by forcefully speaking out against GOP priorities. He also made an effort to work with Republicans on getting more money for summer-jobs programs.
But Franks said a number of recent events have made his mental health issues worse. He pointed to the deaths of his godson and his best friend in 2018.
“And I think about the people that I’ve helped and fought to help each and every day — I fight to help total strangers. Which I would do at the drop of a hat,” Franks said. “But what got to me is I got into a feeling where I wasn’t able to help my godson and my brother, people I loved. Because I was too busy. I was too busy to answer the phone, too busy to answer texts.
“It really intensified my anxiety and my depression — and especially my survivor’s guilt,” he added. “You start to wonder, 'Why am I here?'”
Franks said there was no other issue behind his decision. He has forcefully denied any impropriety in his work for a St. Louis mentoring program that was the subject of recent scrutiny.
“When it comes to somebody saying ‘Hey, this why I’m leaving,’ you have no choice but to respect that perspective,” Franks said. “Because if you don’t, and you try to reshape this into something that it’s not, then you take away from the underlying issue.”
While Franks said he’s stepping away from elected office, he’s not ready to depart completely from St. Louis’ political or activist scene. Before he was elected to office, Franks participated in protests over Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson and Jason Stockley’s not-guilty verdict.
“I’m not disappearing. I’m not going away,” Franks said. “But I had to make a decision for myself — and I don’t regret it at all.”
Once Parson calls a special election, it will be up to Democratic members of the 78th District Legislative Committee to choose someone to run for Franks’ seat. Potential candidates include 7th Ward Democratic Committeeman Marty Murray and 5th Ward Democratic Committeeman Rasheen Aldridge.
Since Franks’ 78th District is heavily Democratic, whoever gets that party’s nomination will likely be favored in the special election over a possible Republican nominee.
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