Last week, The Bayou Brief sat down with Lafayette lawyer Josh Guillory, who is challenging Clay Higgins for Louisiana’s third congressional district. Here’s a transcript of our conversation, which has been edited for clarity.
Lamar White (LW): It’s great to talk with you again, Josh. How are things going?
Josh Guillory (JG): Going well. We’re building momentum. But between practicing law, running for office, and dad and spousal duties, it’s been busy.
LW: How many people are in the race so far? Do you know?
JG: Definitely me. Definitely Clay Higgins. I think there’s a total of five so far. I know Phillip Conner out of Lake Charles is also in. But I think there are two others as well.
LW: So five different candidates. Why do you think so many people have already signed up- or expressed their intention and willingness to sign up- to run against Captain Clay Higgins?
JG: I think it’s clear. We need a leader, and not a lightning rod. And I mean that. We need an adequate voice, Lamar. They probably are all running for the same reasons I am. I give them all the benefit of the doubt. You know? We want an adequate voice in Washington, and we are lacking that.
We need someone who lives here in the district. Someone who knows what we’re going through. Someone who feels the legislation coming out of Washington.
LW: A lot of people, including one of his colleagues, Mike Johnson, the Republican congressman from Bossier City, believes that Clay has the ability to raise a ton of money- national money- because of his celebrity. And let’s be honest: The major reason he won was because of his videos on YouTube and his appearances on national television.
How do you combat that? Obviously, money is a major factor in politics, and the power of incumbency is real. Something like 95% of incumbents win re-election, right? How do you break through?
JG: Well, I’m going to raise money, Lamar, just like I’m going to lead this district: I’m going to stay inside this district. I’m going to go to my neighbor to help me raise funds, because I want to represent them in Congress. You know, I can’t combat with extremism, and I can’t combat with YouTube videos. And that’s fine.
I feel very good with where we are. We’re challenging an incumbent, and we’re neck-and-neck with him. It is true- and the FEC reports will tell you- that he’s raised more money than us, but he’s wasted more than we have too. And that’s my problem with Congress.
LW: When he ran two years ago, it really was a surprise to a lot of people that he was able to beat Scott Angelle. You know, Scott Angelle is this native boy; he speaks with this amazing Cajun accent; he’s worked for both Democrats and Republicans; he was head of DNR; for a second, he was Lt. Governor, and then he ran for Governor. Now, by the way, he works for Trump. It still seems astonishing to me that Clay beat Scott.
Was this a part of the age of Trump? Because it seems to me that if we had known about any other candidate, in any other election, that he failed to pay child support, that he was fired from multiple jobs, that he had been disciplined for excessive force as a police officer, and that he had used a government e-mail address to conduct private business, that candidate would have lost resoundingly?
Was this an anomaly? Was this part of the age of Trump? How do you break through against an establishment candidate like Scott Angelle- I mean, Clay Higgins, rather?
JG: I’d agree with the latter part of that. Clay Higgins is the establishment candidate. He’s worse than that. He’s the establishment’s puppet. Because if you put anything with an R on it, he is going to vote for it.
Now, I think there are a lot of positive attributes with Scott Angelle. There are probably a lot of positive attributes with Clay Higgins, but look, we could go on for hours and hours. What I personally think is: There was a wave. People wanted someone they perceived to be a political outsider, but whether Scott Angelle is really an insider, I don’t know.
The point is: Clay has to run on his record now. And look, I can put up with the grandiosity. I can, as long as his voting record supported what he said he was going to do when he was a candidate.
You know, I am a Republican challenging an incumbent Republican, and two years ago, the electorate voted for someone who they felt was an outsider. Not someone who would go in there and just vote the same way that we’ve been doing for decades.
We need leadership.
LW: Are there any particular votes that he has made during the past two years you cry foul over?
JG: Yeah. His first vote on a piece of major legislation, which was to increase our debt by a half a trillion dollars.
LW: You’re referring to the recent tax reform bill? I thought that increased the debt by more than $1.5 trillion?
JG: No. This was way back, last January or February. I may be incorrect, but I believe it was Senate Concurrent Resolution #3.
LW: A concurrent resolution with the House?
JG: That’s right. It increased our debt by more than $582 billion. And that’s what really compelled me, that’s what put me over the top to run.
We can debate on how to spend money, but one thing- and I’m sure your parents taught you this, as did mine- is that “If you’ve got a dollar, don’t spend a dollar and five cents.”
We can debate on what we want to spend money on, but don’t be fiscally irresponsible when you’re preaching something quite differently on the campaign trail. So, that’s one vote.
I think another extremely detrimental vote was the one to increase flood insurance premiums on Louisiana families, and you know, the Louisiana delegation was not unified in that. Half voted against it; half voted for it.
But more than just balancing our budget to an equilibrium, we should be balancing it to a surplus.
Lamar, you and I grew up in Louisiana. Here, when someone is on the ground, you pick them up; you don’t kick them in the ribs.
This macroeconomy that we’ve been touting- this “boom” we’ve been experiencing nationally- that’s fine, but here in Louisiana, we’ve been hurting. Oil fields are down. We’ve been trying to get jobs back.
Look, you don’t increase flood insurance premiums on people who have been affected like we have.
LW: I don’t feel like a lot of people know of that vote, and I hope it’s something that is fleshed out throughout the course of the campaign. Because certainly, people would be offended- throughout the state- to learn that this man voted to raise flood insurance premiums. We’re Louisiana, after all.
But I wanted to ask something you said about oil and gas and its influence in our economy. You’re seeking to represent an area that includes what is colloquially called “Cancer Alley.” Calcasieu, Cameron, and the entire region are home to a number of massive petrochemical plants and oil and gas refineries.
There’s been a significant number of studies that conclude this particular region is home to increased rates of cancer and all sorts of other diseases and disorders.
In your district, nearly 70% of people support the lawsuits against these companies for the damages they’ve inflicted on our environment. What is your position?
JG: Sure, you bring up a lot of points. Let’s talk first about the lawsuits. Many of these suits are so-called “legacy lawsuits.” I’m a 10th Amendment guy. That’s a state issue. I’m running for a federal position. I think the states should decide, and that’s purely up to the Louisiana legislature.
In regard to the environment, it’s simple. I want a clean one.
In regard to the medical and health effects resulting from oil and gas facilities, I think there is a direct correlation between education and medical care. You know, we spend more money incarcerating people in this state than we do educating them. If we spent more money on education, we would have better health care outcomes, decisions, and choices.
LW: It is interesting that in the 1991 gubernatorial campaign, David Duke was more of the environmental candidate than Edwin Edwards was. He spoke a lot about hunting and fishing, and it was a message that resonated, particularly among rural white voters. Of course, there were other factors at play, and many contend that Duke’s pro-environmentalism platform was actually informed by Nazi ideology, which promoted racial and environmental “purity” if you will.
I’m not asking for us to relitigate the 1991 election, but the environment is a critically important issue here in Louisiana. And, in my opinion, our leaders need to do a better job emphasizing its importance. How can we do that?
JG: One, common sense. Let’s make common sense common again.
Two, let us lead by example through a dialogue. We’re too polarized in this country, and the environment, in my opinion, should be the last thing we are polarized on. Look, I want clean water. That shouldn’t be a Republican issue or a Democratic issue.
I think there’s so much middle ground on all of this stuff. Recently, I’ve been attending meetings hosted by all sorts of different groups. One was hosted by the Concerned Citizens for Good Government, and that topic came up. We were talking about global warming, and this group was very diverse. People on the far right, the far left, and a whole lot of folks in the middle. And just by having that conversation, we found several areas in which there was significant agreemnent.
One thing we could do is, instead of worrying about labels, we should worry about solutions. Do we want clean air? Yes. So, how do we get there? Do we want to restore our coast? Absolutely. That will require leadership by Congress. I know we put three men on the moon in 1969. I’m pretty confident we can use the mud that we take out of the ground to help restore our coast.
LW: Let’s pivot to health care. Obviously, you are a Republican. You’re running as a Republican.
JG: I’m running as an American.
LW: Gotcha. Well, we’ve seen in your district thousands and thousands of more people who now have health insurance as a result of Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act. Obviously, though, there are still significant fixes that need to be made; it’s still broken. What’s your opinion on the Affordable Care Act, and where should we go on health care policy in both this state and the country?
JG: Dialogue. Dialogue. I can’t say it enough. Put the labels down. Leave them at the door. If we aren’t going to repeal and replace, then fix it. It’s common sense.
I think we ask the wrong questions about health care. We are always asking “Who is going to pay?”, and in my opinion, we need to be asking, “Why does health care cost so much?”. That’s a genuine question. I’m not asking that rhetorically.
Look, I am confident that there are wonderful Democrats across the aisle who would want to fix the issues that are broken. Is the whole act bad? No. But like you said, parts of it are broken. We need to strive for solutions.
LW: I studied health care law in law school, and I know you’re a lawyer. I’m not sure if you took any classes on health care, but for me, it was basically my concentration. And it seems to me that a lot of what is driving up costs aren’t what people typically believe. For example, there has always been a huge emphasis, particularly among Republicans, about medical malpractice. But med mal accounts for less than 2% of our total costs, as does “waste, fraud, and abuse.” The drivers of costs are really our system’s prioritization of specialized care and on technology.
I give people this example all of the time. Dentists who buy a new X-ray machine. These are really expensive machines, and chances are, if you go to a dentist who purchased or is leasing a new machine, you’re going to get X-rayed, even if you don’t need it, even if you were just X-rayed recently. That makes your typical visit to the dentist much more expensive, because your dentist has to pay off his note for this expensive piece of equipment.
The same thing can be said about specialization. Do you always need the opinion of a specialist who is going to charge you hundreds, if not thousands, of more dollars than a general practioner or a family doctor? Maybe sometimes you do.
I’m not sure if I really have a question here. I’m just curious to hear your thoughts.
JG: This is exactly what I’m talking about. These are the kind of conversations we need to have. But it’s not just about asking questions. It’s also about asking the right people the right questions. That is one of my criticisms about the Affordable Care Act. When it was being rolled out, it didn’t seem like anyone was asking folks who actually have their boots on the ground what their opinions were.
In my district, we have a lot of rural and poor areas. So, for me, my priority is making sure that health care in my district is affordable. I want health care to be accessible.
If that means coming up with legislation to allow these satellite clinics to be in areas so that people do not have to drive twenty or thirty miles to see a doctor, sure, I’m for that.
LW: So let’s talk about race relations. Here in Louisiana, we have had debates over Confederate monuments in New Orleans, Alexandria, and Lafayette, and last week, The New York Times featured an eleven minute-long video about the debate in Shreveport. Now, I know that this is a state’s issue, ultimately, but it has become a national conversation. What do you think about this conversation?
JG: With respect to the statues, I can tell you something that, as a Congressman, as a federal officerholder, that I would never do. I would never write an open letter to our governor like Clay Higgins did. I think that was divisive. I think it was inflammatory. And I think it didn’t do anyone any good.
That was a fruitless fight right there. It helped no one, and it potentially made us even more divided.
I believe leaders must lead by example. You lead with your heart. You demonstrate empathy. There are so many things that others have experienced that I’ve never gone through. As a white male, I have not experienced some of the prejudices that many of our neighbors have experienced, but that doesn’t mean I cannot empathize. God gave us a heart. We need to use it. That’s, again, not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue.
You have to be able to represent all people. I’m not running just to be the Republican representative of the Third District. I’m running to be the representative of all people in this district.
Like I said, leaders lead by example, and my campaign staff is ethnically and racially diverse. When I create a team, both in Washington and back home, it will be diverse. We need to open the doors of opportunity to everybody.
LW: I know two of your campaign consultants, and they’re friends of mine. I know they’ve worked on campaigns for both Republicans and Democrats alike, but I consider them to be progressives. So I think it would surprise a lot of people that you’ve already attracted progressive support. I hate to be cynical with you, Josh, but do you think that maybe that’s a symptom of Democrats feeling as if there is no way they can win in that district? Do you think it’s because they see you as a moderate they can work with, or do you think it’s something that they see about you, based on your own professional record, that compels them to support you?
JG: I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think they know that when I get to Congress, I’m going to do the right thing. I’m cognizant not to traffic on labels, but if we have to go there, well, fiscally, I’m extremely conservative. I just don’t want to spend more money than we bring in. I think that’s a common sense thing. So, maybe instead of saying fiscally conservative, we should probably say fiscally responsible.
On other issues, I’m probably a lot more flexible. But look, the bottom line is, when I go to Washington, I’m going to do what is right for my district, for my state, and for my country, and that is what we desperately need. That is what we are lacking in the representative we have right now.
Sometimes, that means going against your party. Sometimes, that means taking the road less traveled. Maybe sometimes that won’t be popular. Maybe it’ll mean that I won’t get invited to some really cool luncheons in Washington, D.C. That’s fine. I’m really good with microwavable dinners. But I’m committed to working for my district, to working with my colleagues, regardless of their political affiliation.
LW: Is there anyone in Louisiana, either in our delegation or someone that holds a statewide office, that you particularly admire?
JG: That’s a loaded question, Lamar.
LW: It is a loaded question.
JG: Absolutely, I am committed to working with every member of our delegation. But more specifically, I do like Cedric Richmond’s vote on the flood insurance premiums. I like Garret Graves’s vote, and I like Ralph Abraham’s vote. All three of those representatives put state over party, though, in Richmond’s case, party wasn’t a consideration.
I read the bill. I read their statements about their opposition. And I like what Garret Graves said about it, which is that this is nothing more than another tax.
The sad thing about this is that it hits people with lower incomes so much more disproportionately than it hits people who have economic means. They may not even notice it. That’s not a class warfare statement; that’s just the bottom line.
LW: Last year, I spent a little bit of time in Lake Charles. We had a small gathering for The Bayou Brief‘s launch, and the group was primarily progressive, though there were at least a couple of moderates there. In fact, as I recall, one of your opponents was there. But anyway, they spent a lot of time talking about the so-called bubble economy that has been created there as a result of the construction of large oil and gas refineries. For example, there was projected to be more than 5,000 new students in their school system, and that never materialized. Because, for the most part, these are temporary jobs that are filled by people who live in Texas. They’ve kept their families in Texas. They are not buying homes in Lake Charles. They’re living in temporary housing constructed near these facilities.
Everyone at this gathering, to a person, said basically the same thing, “We have not seen the economic results we were promised.” Yet we’re giving away a lot of money to lure these facilities in. How do we solve this? Do you think it’s a bubble economy?
JG: The plants seem to be stable, so I’m not sure it is a bubble economy. But any time I get a question like that, I ask, “What’s the goal?”. Well, the goal here is to create long-term stability, not these little bubble economies that are created temporarily.
Second, my question is, “As a federal representative, how can I help?”. Obviously, I can build partnerships from the City Council level to the state government to the U.S. Congress. Now, some of these tax incentives are up to the state legislature and the governor. But we should be asking, if these incentives are not creating long-term stability, then maybe we shouldn’t do that.
From a federal perspective, I’ll tell you how I can help: Infrastructure.
How many distributorships could we possibly get if we completed I-49 south? How many jobs could we create if we didn’t have to beg for money to dredge our ports. The port of Morgan City will take $18 million to dredge, and they only have $6 million right now. This is one of the only areas of the federal government in which, when they put a dollar in, they get a dollar back.
LW: Let me ask you something that I think will surprise a lot of readers. You’re a Republican from Louisiana, and the last time we spoke on the record was a few years ago. You were representing a lesbian couple in which one of the women was seeking to adopt their child. It was an historic lawsuit, and you won that case.
Obviously, you took this case for a principled reason. You didn’t have to take the case. I’m curious about your thoughts on this case and on the larger issue.
JG: Well, I hope other Republicans join on this issue. Let’s talk about things that matter. You threw some labels. You said “lesbian couple” or “gay couple;” I just see a couple. I’m Josh Guillory speaking here. I just see a couple. I see two human beings.
I’m not going to change my answer because I’m running for Congress. I’m going to do the right thing.
Now, in that specific case, to opine, I’ve known those two ladies for quite some time. And I know their little boy. And they are good people.
I have a family. I adopted my son. And I just can’t imagine living in the land of the free and having to see a couple that is- where if something were to happen to the biological parent, the other parent, who, by the way, has been raising that child for his entire life and was the first person to hold him after he was born, would not have parental primacy. That’s appalling.
I’m not telling the Roman Catholic Church that they have to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, because I also believe in religious liberty. And this wasn’t my idea. That idea has been around since 1791 when the First Amendment was established and ratified.
I believe in equality, and I will never, ever apologize for it.
LW: I promise I won’t keep you too much longer. Really quick background questions. You’re 33 or 34?
JG: 35. Just turned 35 yesterday.
LW: Oh, well, happy birthday.
JG: You know Elvis has the same birthday as me?
LW: Really? Well, Karl Marx has the same birthday as I do.
JG: Well, imagine that!
LW: And you were born and raised in Alexandria but have spent the past decade or so in Lafayette?
JG: Moved here when I was 18 and have been living here ever since.
LW: And you’re a graduate of ULL? What year did you graduate?
LW: What was your degree in?
LW: And where did you go to law school?
JG: Southern. I was in their night program. Worked every day. And we had our third child right smack dab in the middle, during finals week of my third semester.
LW: So, how long have you been practicing law?
JG: Since 2011. So, a little bit over six and a half years.
LW: And what kind of law do you practice?
JG: Overwhelming majority is family law. Probably over 80%. I love adoption cases. If I could do nothing but adoptions, I would.
I also do constitutional law.
LW: You were also in the Army, right?
JG: Yep. I started in the National Guard and then went on active duty.
LW: Were you deployed abroad?
JG: I went to Iraq in 2005.
LW: How long was your tour?
JG: Five and a half months.
LW: And what was that like?
JG: Not to be corny, but it genuinely was the greatest honor of my life. I trust in God. I really do. And you know, today, when I was driving on the interstate to Lake Charles, I was trusting in God. I believe God will take me when it’s my time to go. Now, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared in Iraq.
LW: Did you lose friends?
JG: Of course, yes, we lost folks. And I will say this: I deployed out of a National Guard unit, and my platoon- I’m a calvary officer, but had an infantry platoon- were from New York. 34 of the 39 men in my platoon were from New York. Most were from New York City.
JG: Yes. And talk about diversity and a mixture of ideas.
LW: And did you enlist because of 9/11?
JG: No, I enlisted before 9/11. On June 19th, 2001. And I was enlisted first. Then, I went to OCS and became an officer. I began and ended my service with the National Guard, and I also served on active duty periodically.
LW: So, I have a couple of more questions about Donald Trump. If you had to give him a grade, what would it be?
JG: Well, I’m not going to do that, but I will say this: I support the Office of the President, and I will work with the Office of the President. Whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, we have to work with the Office of the President. It doesn’t mean we always have to agree.
We need someone who will work for every American, and in my opinion, he needs to stop the tweeting.
LW: Do you think that Donald Trump is a role model for children?
JG: I think he could carry himself in a different manner.
LW: So you’re willing to work with Democrats and President Trump collaboratively?
JG: Absolutely. And I’ll tell you what I won’t do: I won’t sit with my arms crossed and just say no to everything. We need people who are willing and able to come up with common sense solutions for the American people, regardless of party.
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