Emil Franzi

Emil Franzi, local political legend, dies at 78.

Courtesy Photo

Editor’s note: Longtime Pima County political operative, radio host and former Explorer News columnist Emil Franzi died last Wednesday, June 7. He was 78.

The Explorer asked Republican National Committeeman Bruce Ash to share his thoughts on Franzi. This is his tribute.

Emil Franzi’s passing marks the end of an era. He was a lion in word, deed and spirit. There are few men like him around anymore. He was my most unforgettable character, dear friend and a significant member of our family.

Franzi was not only my friend. He was my mentor. My political Dutch Uncle. I did my best to soak up his knowledge of politics and history. I wished I had listened better. I had hoped we would have had more time together.

We talked nearly every day and while there was always something new to discuss, he frequently went back to stories about his political exploits with California pols like Johnny Rousselot and Dick Rutan to make his points about how politics should be waged in the 21st century.

He was a political partner with Maureen Reagan and served as California State Chair of the Young Republicans when that was still a big deal in the ’60s. He was a real operator. Franzi butted heads with party legends like Morton Blackwell and Karl Rove and frequently prevailed. 

Originally from New England and later Glendale, California, he came to Tucson and attended the University of Arizona by way of a bout with pneumonia while attending UC Santa Barbara. He worked as an operative in Illinois and California but always called Tucson his home. He raised three great daughters and also helped raise a number of youngsters as a foster parent with his wife Kathy. His family also included many stray dogs and cats. He was very fond of his pets—Franzi told me they had more sense than most elected officials. Late in his life he led the fight for a new Pima County animal care center.

Emil took me under his wing from the first time we met in 2004. His encouragement and tutoring was essential to whatever political successes I have enjoyed as a Republican activist.

Our radio experiences were certainly the most enjoyable of our relationship. Franzi’s radio career spanned three decades. We were sort of like Frick and Frack. Franzi was the aggressor and the experienced broadcaster. I was the new kid. Listeners loved “Inside Track,” and his rants were epic. I could only stand by and listen once he got going on one of his stemwinders.

Emil was fiercely loyal to his political friends and was often feared by those on the other side of the aisle. He refused to be a precinct committeeman because he wanted to be able to beat up party and elected officials when he needed to (which was frequently).

He was in David Nolan’s living room when they formed the Libertarian Party and was a Libertarian Party official for some time. 

Franzi was hard to figure. A tough guy who on his radio show referred to the Japanese and Germans in WWII and “Nips” and “Krauts.” No one else could get away with using that language in the 21st century and no one ever challenged him on using those terms. Not me, either. He was, however, in his personal life a very tolerant man and a softie. He was a conservative who described himself sometimes as a “paleothic” but also leaned green because believed in conservation. He often said conservation was good politics, too.

Franzi was a lover of classical music and opera who probably knew more about music and opera than most professors. He wrote Tucson Symphony notes for several years and went to the symphony all the time with his wife and mother-in-law. 

Franzi loved the Old West and worked for many years to preserve local western heritage through the Empire Ranch Foundation and “Voices of the West,” the radio show he did for about a decade (and loved much more than “Inside Track”). The show was very successful and he was honored by the Western Authors Association—an award that meant a lot to him. The Empire Ranch Round Up will miss Franzi this fall.

Franzi loved each of his very successful daughters and his only granddaughter Julia was his pride and joy. She shares Franzi’s spirit, intellect and love of reading books.

Franzi was extraordinarily well read. He always had three or four books underway at any time. His Christmas gifts to friends were frequently books on history, politics or warfare. I think I’ll take time this summer to read some of those books which have been gathering dust on my shelf.

I will miss him until the time comes we see each other again.




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