The Georgia General Assembly’s perhaps most controversial member, Rep. Bobby Franklin, was found dead in his home Tuesday morning. Early indications are he died of natural causes.
Franklin, R-Marietta, was found dead in his bed by Cobb County police who were called by his longtime friend and church member, Pat Gartland, who said Franklin had complained of chest pains last week.
Police ruled out foul play early and were awaiting more information from the medical examiner.
“He was a good man,” said Gartland. “He was one of the few politicians who stood by what he believed in, whether you agreed with it or not.”
Franklin, 54 and the father of three children, was first elected to represent the northeast area of Cobb County in 1996. Over the years he became well known for conservative and controversial political stances that sometimes made him the target of of women’s advocacy groups and earned criticism from a wide variety of sources, including the Huffington Post and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
He also became known for filing controversial bills, including his annual anti-abortion legislation that this year included a provision that could make miscarriages criminal in certain circumstances. He also introduced legislation this year that would change the rape law to replace the word “victim” with “accuser.”
Cobb County delegation chairman Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, described Franklin as a private, principled man.
“Rep. Franklin would want his legacy to be one of principled leadership. He was very fond of saying it is never the right time to do the wrong thing,” Setzler said. “He would want to be remembered first as a person of faith and second as a person who loved his country and loved liberty.”
Within 10 days Gov. Nathan Deal will set a special election to fill the remainder of Franklin's term, which ends Dec. 31, 2012.
As condolences poured in from political colleagues, the message from many was the same: Franklin bonded by principle.
House Democratic Caucus Leader Stacy Abrams didn't always agree with Franklin, but lauded his dedication.
“Bobby Franklin was one of the most principled members of the General Assembly,”Abrams said. “While he certainly was controversial, he was never vitriolic and was never mean. This is a very sad day for Georgia.”
Franklin could also often be a thorn in the side of Republican leadership. While his go-it-alone attitude was rarely problematic, he could tie up committee meetings for hours. A member of the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, he would frequently attempt to add anti-abortion language to unrelated bills to the exasperation of his colleagues.
He also was unafraid to challenge the speaker of the House, an act somewhat akin to challenging a king. On several occasions, even challenging a member of the same party, Franklin would force a vote of the full House in an attempt to overrule the speaker. This was true under both former Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, and current Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.
But Franklin's contrarian nature also put him in political danger. As lawmakers begin the process of redrawing the state's legislative districts following the U.S. Census, there was a chance that Franklin's self-isolation from the party would cost him his seat. His district in northern Cobb is well under the 54,000 residents that each of the 180 House seats needs and it was -- and still is -- a possibility that his district will be merged with another.
A Republican lawmaker who more readily went along with his own party might have been able to count on protection when it came time to draw the maps. Now, the state might never know if Franklin would have been drawn out of office.
Staff writer Chris Joyner contributed to this article.
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