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Q&A: Freshman Rep. Lehman Franklin on getting three bills through the Legislature and his call to service

Lehman Franklin
Rep. Lehman Franklin, R-Statesboro, addresses the Georgia House on his workers’ compensation bill, HB 480, on March 2, 2023, at the Statehouse in Atlanta. (Credit: Rep. Lehman Franklin/Facebook)

It can be difficult for any legislator to get one bill through, let alone three, especially if you’re a freshman in the Georgia Statehouse, but that’s exactly what Republican Rep. Lehman Franklin did this year.

The 48-year-old Statesboro native was among 53 newly sworn-in legislators in January, and he did not waste any time getting down to work. His three House bills — 285 (public employees’ retirement), 302 (stalking law) and 480 (workers' comp) — passed before “Crossover Day” on March 6, the last chance many bills had to survive. And an amazing feat for a freshman legislator.

Franklin’s journey to the Statehouse took him from Statesboro to The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, where he earned a bachelor’s in business administration. He returned to Statesboro to earn his master’s at Georgia Southern.

He then spent four years in Argentina as a missionary, later helping to establish Marine Reach Ministries in Europe, which led to four years as the marine captain and ministry director aboard a 140-foot sailboat with a crew of 30 in the Mediterranean Sea.

After his return to Georgia, Franklin began working at his family’s business — Franklin Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, GMC and Toyota. Today he is general manager of Franklin Toyota, as well as vice president of the Franklin Automotive Group.

But it wasn’t long before the call to service rang again.  When Jan Tankersley, R-Brooklet, announced her retirement in early 2022, Franklin jumped, running unopposed for her District 160 seat.

“For me [service is] just simply what you’re supposed to do, so when the opportunity came up to serve in the Georgia House, it just seemed like the obvious next step,” he said.

House Speaker Jon Burns appointed Franklin to the House Retirement Committee, of which he’s vice chairman; the Economic Development and Tourism Committee; and the Interstate Cooperation Committee.

About Franklin’s bills

  • HB 285: An amendment to the Public Retirement Systems Investment Authority Law, raising the limit of the total percentage of funds that the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia may invest in alternative investments to 10% from 5%. It passed the House 171-0.
  • HB 302: The bill concerning stalking allows courts to grant a protective order on a permanent basis rather than just temporary, as needed. It passed the House 172-0.
  • HB 480: The workers’ compensation law increases the maximum weekly benefits for people injured or disabled as a result of workplace accidents and increases the total compensation payable to a surviving spouse or sole dependent of a worker killed on the job. It passed the House 154-15 and the Senate 52-3.

He lives in Stilson with wife Lorie, and 20 chickens, three dogs, five horses, two goats and several honeybee hives.

State Affairs recently asked Franklin about his first legislative session and getting those three bills passed, as well as his call to service and what life is like on the farm.

The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Did your work as a missionary influence your decision to run for Georgia House, and how has it influenced your work there?

Yes, but it’s all ultimately rooted in a sense of service that started from watching the men and women in my community give and serve from my youth. I grew up with an understanding that serving others was of the highest value and that who we are and all we have should be dedicated, to some extent, for this purpose. I focused on servant leadership at The Citadel, followed by working in a service-oriented business, the hospitality industry, and ultimately to serving others in missions and as a missionary. For me it’s just simply what you’re supposed to do, so when the opportunity came up to serve in the Georgia House, it just seemed like the obvious next step. As far as the influence of my work as a representative, I would say that central theme is 100% on my mind daily in all I do.  

Tell me about your relationship with Rep. Butch Parrish. He appears in many of your photos. Do you consider him a mentor?

Butch is a great man and I hold him in very high regard. We are fortunate to have a very strong delegation and regional representation. Bill Hitchens, Jon Burns, Ron Stephens, Jesse Petrea, Leesa Hagan, Billy Hickman, Max Burns, Blake Tillery, are all great people and I believe we are all very close and truly have Georgia’s best interest in all we do. I am fortunate to have such strong leadership so close to me and find that I call on many of these individuals often for various issues.

Lehman and Lorie Franklin at home
Rep. Lehman Franklin lives in Stilson with wife Lorie, and 20 chickens, three dogs, five horses, two goats and several honeybee hives. (Credit: Rep. Lehman Franklin)
What did you do to prepare for such a successful first year? You got three bills through, and that's rather unheard of for a freshman legislator.

Well, as far as preparing beforehand, I tried to read up and educate myself on practices, processes, and issues as best I could, but there is really nothing like the learning process of actually being there. I was determined to go into the session with a learning attitude and just observe those who had been there for a long time and ask questions from those whom I thought I could learn from. I think it was Reagan, or maybe it was Truman, who said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” [Editor’s note: It was Truman.] I think there is a lot of truth in that, and fortunately for Georgia, we have many leaders who think this way. I believe with my bills, I didn’t come in with an agenda or even anything particular I wanted to push through. All three of my bills came from the request of constituents and I think that is what, in the end, really made the difference.

You're well-known in the local business world. Tell me about your management style and how that plays into getting the job done at the Statehouse.

You have to follow before you can lead; servant leadership is the best leadership, knowing who you are and who your God is, train and lead others to be able to do more (be more) than you can do (be), knowing that you’re in the position you’re in because of others who came before you. Character matters, ideas matter — and have consequences. I could go on but all these things build on what kind of a leader one is and how that individual manages others.  

​You have quite the menagerie of animals at home! Tell me about a typical day off at the Franklin farm.

Our home is a very peaceful place and there is always work to be done there. I actually really enjoy getting outside and doing some of the random chores that are needed to be done.  Feeding the animals, maintaining the fencing, clearing and mowing parts of the property, keeping the equipment serviced. There is a never-ending list of chores, but, for me, it’s great to get into something and just let your mind go. In the evenings, watching the animals, having a fire, just listening to the environment around you … there’s a lot of peace in that. My wife and I have to travel often but we truly love it when we get to get back home.  

Finally, looking ahead ... the next several months will fly by, and before we know it, it'll be Jan. 8. What's next on your legislative agenda?

I’m just truly thankful for the opportunity to serve my community and hope to do it to the best of my ability. If there is any agenda, it would be to listen to my constituents and find ways, solve problems, create solutions to make their lives better than before.

The Lehman Franklin Files
Lehman Franklin
  • Title: State representative, R-Statesboro
  • Age: 48
  • Birthplace: Savannah
  • Hometown: Statesboro
  • Education: Bachelor’s in business administration from The Citadel; master’s in business administration from Georgia Southern University
  • Career: Vice president at Franklin Automotive Group; automobile dealer for Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, Buick, and Toyota.
  • Hobbies: Anything on or near saltwater
  • Family: Wife, Lorie

Jackie Winchester is production editor at State Affairs. Reach her on Twitter @jacwinchester or by email at [email protected].


Header image: Rep. Lehman Franklin, R-Statesboro, addresses the Georgia House on his workers’ compensation bill, HB 480, on March 2, 2023, at the Statehouse in Atlanta. (Credit: Georgia House of Representatives)

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