Editor’s note: This interview took place over Zoom between Jackson Paul and Will Franklin, candidate for TX state house district 133.
Jackson: Why don’t you start by telling me a little bit about yourself?
Will: My name is Will Franklin. I am a husband and the father of two boys–a sophomore in college and a senior in high school. My wife and I live in the Memorial Villages area of Houston. To give you a bit of my background, I’m a native Texan. I went to high school in Kerrville. I went to the University of Texas where I was a Plan II and Business Honors Program major. I graduated in December of 1994. I started my career in January of 1995 working for an oil and gas company. That company is now called Pioneer Natural Resources. It was called Parker and Parsley back when I worked for it. With finance and liberal arts degrees, I obviously did not have an engineering job there. I went to work in the corporate development group where we worked on mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures. I did that for a couple of years and then moved to Houston for the first time. In Houston, I worked for an investment bank called Simmons and Company–which I did for a couple of years. I then went to Harvard Business School where I got my MBA. Coming out of HBS, I moved to New York City and went to work for an energy private equity firm called Riverstone. Riverstone had just been started when I joined them. I was there for almost three years. I was then recruited to Lime Rock Partners–which is my current employer. I joined the Lime Rock team first in their Connecticut office. I then moved up to the Calgary office. That was intended to be at least two years. After just about a year, we had a couple of developments happen. One, we found the Calgary market to be a very difficult market to put new money to work as an investment firm. So, we felt like we had too many resources there. Two, we had an individual leaving Lime Rock, and he was down in Houston. My wife and I talked about ultimately wanting to be in a place where we weren’t moving every two years. With both of us being Native Texans, we were both desirous of getting back to Texas. So, Houston was a place that met a bunch of things that we were looking for. So, we moved back to Texas and I have been with Lime Rock here in Houston ever since. I have now been at Lime Rock for almost 19 years. At Lime Rock, I focus primarily on oilfield services. In the first half of my career here at Lime Rock, I did both upstream oil and gas or E&P companies as well as oilfield service investments. But today, most of my time is spent on the oilfield services portfolio. A couple of months ago, I decided to throw my hat into the ring for a State House race. That really came out of a desire to serve. My business and energy background makes me particularly differentiated amongst the candidates. I think it is important at this stage in Texas politics, as society considers an energy transition, that we consider Winter Storm Uri that we went through in February of 2021. That storm revealed some deficiencies in our grid, with causes that aren’t fully appreciated, where my experience is helpful. My background is also highly relevant when one considers just how important oil and gas is to the Texas economy. All of those things came together with my interest in serving and therefore I decided to join that race.
Jackson: What inspired you to run for the Texas House?
Will: Thankfully, I’ve been really blessed in my career. So, I’m in a position where I do have the ability to set aside some time to serve. As I like to say, you can’t sit around the dinner table with your kids for 20 years, talk about things that are important, see an opportunity to serve, and not step up. It’s pretty easy to sit around a dinner table or go to a cocktail party and complain about things that are going wrong. It’s a lot more difficult to as Teddy Roosevelt would say, “step into the arena.” You’ve got to get into the arena to be part of the conversation and ultimately part of the solution. After seeing Jim Murphy, our local state representative, stepping down and seeing the importance of energy for our economy, you realize that it’s strange that so many people from blue states would choose to come to Texas. Part of the reason they come here is because red states have really good policies. Those policies are low regulatory environments, pro-private property rights, and a very capitalist and entrepreneurial system. That’s attracting those people here–which I think is great. What we need to do is make sure that the current Texans and new Texans appreciate what has differentiated this state. Those things combined with our natural resources are setting us up to be a differentiated state and economy within the union. I want to make sure that we appreciate and protect those assets that we have from a free-market perspective. That’s not a perspective against the energy transition. It’s just ensuring that the energy transition occurs where people fully understand the decisions that they’re making. What do I mean by that? How can people not understand the decisions that they’re making? Well, specifically, you get policies that hide some of the true costs. So, take wind energy for example. When it is benefited by federal energy production credits, they get paid by the federal government. As a result, that allows wind energy to sell below cost and at times to sell below zero. That disrupts the normal free markets that we have here in Texas. So, we’re competing on an unfair basis. If we look at our home industry, which traditionally has been hydrocarbon-based, can never produce below zero. That inefficiency means that people don’t truly understand what the real cost is of our energy. I really just want people to understand the cost as they make the decision. If you need energy to fuel your car or keep your house hot in the winter, there’s an embedded cost with that and you want to be sure that if you’re deciding that you want to use renewable energy that you’re paying for that and that you’re not forcing other Texans to subsidize you to do that. It’s really getting away from free markets that I think kind of pushed me into the arena. I don’t think that, for the most part, Texans understand that we have that going on. Therefore, I think it’s very easy to say “I want the energy transition.” But if you understand what it costs, you may then change the kind of decision with respect to the pace that you may want to undertake that transition. The world is not ready to transition too quickly. We don’t have the storage technology and batteries. If we shut down our hydrocarbon industry too quickly, which is Texas’s current economic engine, we’re going to find ourselves with exponentially higher power prices. This is a regressive tax on hardworking Texans. That tax shows up as higher prices when we fill up our gas tanks and higher prices when we heat our homes. All of those decisions are being made not by us but by the Federal legislature. So, energy drove me to the table. Of course, I love Texas and I love what we stand for: our grit and our determination. I believe that that character is really important to educating the new Texans so that we preserve some of that legacy.
Jackson: So you bring up the transition, I’d like to talk a bit more about that. Do you think that a full transition eventually, from hydrocarbons to alternative fuels, will happen? If so, what do you think either the government or the private sector should do to position themselves towards that–if we shouldn’t be subsidizing wind?
Will: Yeah, I mean, I feel like it likely will happen, but it will be over an extended period of time. Europe is already facing some of the growing pains that I worry about for Texas—the wind is not blowing in Europe and the sun hasn’t been shining. As you may know, the UK has faced record-high natural gas prices, as they’ve been trying to recruit gas to be diverted from Asia, into their markets, so that they can heat their homes going into this winter, as they had transitioned very quickly to a renewable energy base and didn’t have the natural resources to continue to provide for it. And this is also one of the big issues. You hear a lot of discussion about Germany and the Russian pipeline, or Europe and the Russian pipeline, and it’s like, why are we talking so much about the Russian pipeline? Well, it’s this very same issue. Europe needs natural resources to overcome some of the lack of storage technology when it comes to batteries for renewables. And so the way to do that is to get natural gas from either the rest of the world by importing LNG or from Russia via pipeline. And so that’s been a major sticking point. Because obviously, people in Europe are worried about being dependent upon Russia, because that can become a very influential weapon effectively for Russia to use against Europe if they are solely dependent. But unfortunately, Europe’s been shutting down its own development of its natural resources. And so it’s kind of forced this dependency on itself, largely on the basis that the energy transition is upon us, we’ve got to stop emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And so we need to move quickly into renewables. And so we’re just kind of seeing that people, I think, the electorate and voters, we all want to think there are people out there who have these grand answers. I think what we find in practice is there are not a lot of really smart people out there, but there are really big problems. I’m a believer that the best way to solve big problems is with the free market. I’m not against the energy transition, I just want the free markets to solve the energy transition. You’ve also had the capital markets that have been very willing to finance wind and solar. Now, some of that comes on the heels of wanting to finance those things because there are federal subsidies behind it, but a lot of it also comes because you’ve got this growth in what are called ESG–environmental, social, and governance funds (those are really focused on wanting to do better for the planet). Their belief is doing better for the planet is eliminating CO2 in the atmosphere. So, they’re investing in companies with those funds that have that as a goal. I think that it’s great that free markets are willing and able to finance the economy as they see fit. I’m an asset manager, so I’m very focused on returns. When I look at returns, I view hydrocarbons as the most dependable and what ultimately will deliver us the best returns, particularly at this point in the cycle where ESG funds have made hydrocarbons untouchable for many investors. For those who are willing to invest in them, I think they’re going to find, because the transition is going to take much longer than people want it to, that hydrocarbons are a necessary part of the solution. Who knows if it’s going to be a 50 or 100-year transition. As we develop battery technologies, [or] as hydrocarbons themselves become more expensive over time, this is really on the heels of some amazing technology developed from the shale boom and fracking. The way that markets work is anytime you go through a transition in technology, through fits and starts, you run into issues with respect to the direction that you want to go. I think we’re currently seeing that. I also just think this whole ESG thing has probably gone too far ahead of itself. I know people will call me a climate denier, but I’m not a climate denier. I just think that science gets used on a headline sort of basis–as opposed to a fundamental basis. A couple of really good books have been written in recent years. Two have come from people that would traditionally be seen as from the other side of the aisle than me. Meaning that they are either green individuals or Democrats. One book, Unsettled, was written by a former Obama appointee. He wrote this book Unsettled which highlights a lot of the issues behind CO2 in the environment. He raises a lot of questions about what it means. He’s able to dig into the climate models that are being used to justify a lot of the green agenda, and it highlights how they are still largely just based on big assumptions. Those assumptions have a belief system behind them–which is still not based on science. So, if it’s not based on science, then why are we reworking our entire economy on the basis of what appears to be much more of an agenda than on true science. For a second book, I would put forward a book like Apocalypse Never written by Shellenberger–who is a self-admitted proponent of the green agenda. As he dug in, he became worried. It’s kind of a similar issue but from a different tact about the way that the press has seized on worst-case scenarios in climate modeling to drive hysteria in the market. This is what has ultimately driven the green agenda. He is worried about the climate, but he’s not worried about these apocalypses that always get painted. Your generation, my kids’ generation, really drives this mania that we’ve got to fix things now because “the planet isn’t going to exist in 20 years.” AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) is probably the most famous politician that put forward that line of logic. We have to remind ourselves that we saw the same lines of argument in the 1970s and in the 1980s. Here we are in the 2020s and the world still exists and mankind has always been adapting to its environment. Those of us who live in Houston know that Houston would not exist in its current form if we didn’t have air conditioning. It wouldn’t exist in its current form if we didn’t have modern building capabilities that allow us to withstand wind storms. So, we are constantly adjusting to our environment in order to live in it. This is in a third book by Alex Epstein, who is more on my side of the aisle, called The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. It highlights how low-cost reliable energy has saved more lives and has lifted more people out of poverty than anything else. I think we’re on the right side of history as hydrocarbon individuals. I don’t want to see Texans suffer from us moving too rapidly and getting away from free markets. So, what’s the role of the government, and what’s the role of the private marketplace? I’m a very big fan of the private marketplace. Hopefully, you’ve gotten from all of my points that I think the free markets really are the best way to decide what is the winning technology and what the winning answer for society is. We have that battle going on in Western capital markets currently–where they are not financing hydrocarbons and are instead financing green energy. So, why do we need to have governments further subsidizing these new forms of energy technology when the capital markets are able to do so? I will posit that the reason that ESG funds are willing to finance this stuff is that they see government mandates coming behind it. If the government mandates don’t exist, you’re likely to see a lot of this ESG capital move away from green energy because hydrocarbons make too much sense. But let’s let that battle itself out in a free market environment. Let’s get the government out of deciding what’s best for all people. I think that the markets and people are largely smarter than elites sitting inside of institutions thinking that they have all the answers for Americans.
Jackson: What do you see as your primary message for this race? What sets you especially apart from the generic conservative?
Will: I am inside of a competitive primary in a district that is likely to be a Republican district. So, the biggest race is the primary race. That’s not to say the general election isn’t important, but probably the more important one is the primary race. So, the reason I spend so much time talking about energy is because that’s my background. I think that’s particularly important for Texas today. I am strongly pro-life and I am strong on the second amendment–those are some core conservative principles today. I believe, at a federal level, we ought to be abiding by the Constitution, and therefore the federal government shouldn’t have any other powers than those that are enumerated for it inside of the Constitution. As a state, we need to be sure that we are protecting ourselves and not allowing the federal government to take more power than is actually due under the federal Constitution. So, that’s a requirement for the states to hold the federal government accountable. To varying degrees, I think myself and my competitors will largely align on those issues. But then I think about what are the challenges that Texas faces today, and that comes back to all of the things that we’ve been talking about. It’s new people moving here who don’t appreciate some of the strategic advantages that Texas has. Those strategic advantages largely do find themselves within our natural resources. I’ve spent my entire career in business. Among the five of us [in the race], I’m the only business person. I’m the only person who spent that entire career in energy. Energy, in 2020, provided $14 billion in tax and royalty income to the state and counties. The last employment statistics available before the pandemic say energy, directly and indirectly, employed 22% of Texans. Those monies that the energy industry pays in ultimately fund our schools and funds our infrastructure. It’s critically important to Texas. I think we need somebody in the statehouse who understands how important that industry is—not to go and protect the industry because I’m for free markets—and to make sure that the industry isn’t unduly burdened by either state or federal overreach. This industry has been one of our core economic engines. It is an export economy for the state–which means that we’re able to bring money from other states and other countries into the state of Texas. We’ve got this low-cost reliable energy to provide to others. Texas produces 45% of the nation’s oil production, and it produces 25% of the nation’s gas production. I don’t have the statistics, but, from a refined products and chemicals perspective, we make way more refined products and chemicals than we consume. So, we have a big export economy built around the hydrocarbon industry that I think new Texans moving here and young Texans may not appreciate. So, we need to educate and ensure that any other energy forms are competing on a fair free-market basis–not on a subsidized basis. I’m the only person in the race who has that background and has that perspective to bring to the statehouse.
Jackson: On the national level, what do you see as the future of conservatism? We’ve had a lot of discussion in the past few years over what exactly our movement stands for. So, where do you think we’re heading? Where do you think conservatism will ultimately end up standing for?
Will: I think we’ve spent a lot of time focused on what’s dividing us. We need to focus on those things that bring us together. It’s part of the reason that it’s great to be conservative in the state of Texas–we value private property rights, personal initiative, entrepreneurs, and Capitalism. When all of those things come together, that provides a system that lifts people out of poverty. Capitalism is the economic system that has lifted the most people out of poverty and out of harm’s way, and that is alive and well here in the state of Texas. So, I view the state of Texas as a model for the rest of the nation when it comes to conservatism. I think one of my generation’s failures is that we get very focused on the negative things and how bad socialism is–which I agree with. What we forgot to do is bring the next generation of conservatives along on how we have the better answers. Do we care about the planet? Absolutely. Do we care about our fellow Texans? Absolutely. Do we care about our fellow human beings? Absolutely. But we believe the government is much less efficient in solving problems than private enterprises. Here in Texas, we allow private enterprise to exist and flourish–as opposed to building up a bunch of industries with state subsidies or state-owned entities behind it. What you find when industries flourish is you have more jobs. When you have more jobs, then people have living wages. When people have earned living wages, they don’t find themselves subject to as many concerns. Take something like abortion–that’s a very polarizing issue. There are multiple ways to solve the abortion issue. For those people who are never going to agree with us, as conservatives, that human life begins at conception, there are other ways to attack this problem. One is to just have a highly functioning economy that provides jobs where people don’t feel that they are on their last dollar and don’t have the ability to afford a child. So, when you relieve some of those stresses, then we relieve stresses on issues like life. In a very basic world, when you get away from politics, I think we can all agree that children are really great. So, if you get away from defining when a child is a child, and you start providing opportunities where women feel like they are making enough money that they can afford children, then there’s just much less stress on the entire abortion issue. So, I think there are a lot of great things that we have to offer up as conservatives. So, when I talk about the planet, some people will take away from this, “Will Franklin is a shill for the hydrocarbon industry.” I will say no, that’s not what I am. I’m simply focused on free markets. As the other side wants to say, if we’re going to pay attention to science, we need to pay attention to all of the science. A good deal of the science says that mankind has been able to adapt to its environment much more rapidly than the environment actually changes. If we don’t know what is changing the environment, and what the long-term ramifications are, we probably ought to be focused on the ways that we can adapt. Being able to adapt is having low cost and reliable energy. That is a hopeful message for all Texans and all Americans. Greta Thunberg, maybe, wouldn’t be suffering from what she claims is effectively a depression that has come around from her fears about the climate. I really like that book titled Apocalypse Never. The apocalypse isn’t going to happen. Let’s focus on human flourishing. Low-cost reliable energy–we have that to go around for a lot of people here in Texas. I think that’s a model that we ought to be selling to the youth of America. That is a hopeful message–as opposed to a scary message that I think conservatives focus on too much.
Jackson: Many of our readers are young conservatives in college who are just starting out professionally. Is there anything you’d like to say to those readers in particular?
Will: I know that it’s difficult, having one in college and one who will soon be there, to be a conservative in academia. I have been there. It’s probably more difficult today, but it was not necessarily easy back when I was there. I particularly found that to be true in my liberal arts curriculum. So, hold true to those truths that you believe. Keep that faith, continue to study, and continue to educate. Remember, a lot of people have just never been challenged on what they believe. That is definitely more true today than when I was in college. We didn’t have things called “safe spaces.” It was okay to say something that others might not agree with. We can’t educate the other side until we talk about real things, and real things are difficult to talk about. Find friends on the other side of the aisle and talk to them. When you make friendships first, then it’s easier to have difficult conversations. I’ve got a ton of friends who sit on the other side of the aisle and we debate this stuff all the time. That’s because we have a real relationship and we’re not judging one another in our friendship on the basis of different beliefs. Instead, we’re trying to educate each other on the basis of what our belief system is–that’s healthy learning. That’s what academia is supposed to be about. The second thing that I would offer up for you is to be on the lookout for mentors–value wisdom. There is a lot that comes from experience. Don’t be afraid to speak up, and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, your own convictions, and the convictions of others–even if they’re older than you. You’ve got a fresh perspective, you’ve lived a very different life, and the world is very different than the one that your parents grew up in. That’s most apparent when it comes to the internet and connected devices. So, your generation processes the world differently. That’s going to be important because the world is going to operate differently. There are still fundamental truths that lay the foundation for conservatism. So, when you lay your experience on top of those fundamental truths, you will have a novel perspective that will be important to protecting those truths on an eternal basis. I would just encourage you guys to do so both in school and as you enter the workforce. I’d probably close this advice, now that I’m in a competitive primary, by encouraging you to stay engaged civically. One thing that I’ve seen is a lot of Americans are frustrated by their political system and feel like they don’t have a lot of good choices to choose from when they show up at the ballot box in November. Part of the reason for that is that people don’t pay enough attention during the primary elections. That’s when the candidates are chosen who ultimately show up on the general election ballots in November. So, my primary election is on March 1. There are five people to choose from. You want to go and study those people. See what’s different about them and see what resonates with you as to why one of them is the best candidate. When you’re engaged in the primaries, then you’re much happier with the answers that are on the ballot in the general election in November and so that’s my charge to you guys as young conservatives.
Jackson: Thank you. Do you have any closing remarks or anything else that you’d like to say that you haven’t gotten to say?
Will: I would just really like to thank you, Jackson, for reaching out for the opportunity to speak to you and you know, it’s exciting to see young conservatives who are interested in the political process interested in what we believe as conservatives and you know, feeling out candidates and understanding where those candidates may align with you. I appreciate the opportunity and hope that some of the advice that I’ve given is well taken and appreciated. Thank you very much!
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out Mr. Franklin’s website here.