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JEFFERSON CITY — A high-profile member of the St. Louis-area delegation in the Missouri Legislature is calling it quits after less than three years in office.

Rep. Bruce Franks, who rode into the Capitol after challenging the status quo in a contested election in 2016, said he is stepping down with a year left in his term to tend to his mental health and his family.

“It’s about taking a step back,” Franks said in an interview Thursday.

Franks announced his decision to his colleagues in the Missouri House on the second-to-last day of the legislative session.

The 34-year-old activist and community organizer moved into the public eye in 2014 during protests over a Ferguson police officer’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

He parlayed that notoriety in 2016 to unseat Democrat Penny Hubbard in the 78th House District, which takes in downtown St. Louis, most of the near north side and parts of the city’s south side.

In Jefferson City, Franks worked to bridge the rural-urban divide that dominates policy discussions under the Dome. His floor speeches often brought hushed tones to the Legislature’s lower chamber as he called for compromise and comity.

He said he was proud of winning support from the Republican majority to fund youth programs in St. Louis during his abbreviated tenure.

“I was able to build some bridges,” Franks said. “But I feel like I can be more effective outside the system.”

“I am not resigning my role as a leader in my community,” he added.

In 2017, Franks helped lead protests after former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley was found not guilty of murder in the death of drug suspect Anthony Lamar Smith.

Critics said a lawmaker should not be advocating for people to stage protests.

His decision comes after St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson launched an investigation and called for a state audit in January of a city jobs agency amid reports of financial mismanagement.

At the time, television station KMOV reported there were discrepancies in time sheets submitted by Franks, who worked as a youth mentor through the program with reported work hours not matching up with events and locations posted on Franks’ social media pages.

Franks said the mentoring job associated with the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment, or SLATE, was not a typical 9-to-5 office position and included late night phone calls.

In August, Franks filed for bankruptcy, saying his sole income is derived from being a state representative: $2,993 a month. He did not report any income from his mentoring position, which he left in February.

Franks said his decision to resign was not motivated by the taint of scandal, but by a desire to show people of color that they can address mental health issues.

He said he has been wracked by anxiety and depression brought on by “survivors guilt.” On his desk in the Capitol is a collage of recently deceased family and friends.

“In December I hit bottom. I’ve lost a lot of people,” Franks said. “We don’t talk about it. We are elected officials, but we are humans.”

Franks had signaled he wanted to run for Sen. Jamilah Nasheed’s 5th Senate District seat when she is forced out by term limits after the November 2020 election.

He didn’t rule out a future run for office, but said he’s relieved to have made a decision to end his service in the House.

“I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” he said.

A special election to fill the post could be scheduled for November by Gov. Mike Parson.

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