Louisiana’s Lesson on Liberty

COMMENTARY Conservatism

Louisiana’s Lesson on Liberty

Aug 30, 2023 27 min read
Kevin D. Roberts, PhD


Heritage Trustee since 2023
Welcome to Louisiana state road sign. Education Images / Contributor / Getty Images

After state decades of economic divide, a domineering central government, and political apathy, the state of Louisiana is emerging into a new era. Ahead lies a road unfettered by policy encumbrances of the past—an exit from the 100-year-long “rule of Huey Long,” according to this week’s guest and CEO of the Pelican Institute, Daniel Erspamer.

He brings lessons on the fight for freedom from in Louisiana—lessons universal to beyond The Pelican State—that can be used to make the founders’ vision of “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” more attainable for all Americans.

Daniel Erspamer: Let’s go back to the founders, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There was a reason those words were written and I think sometimes we forget about the pursuit of happiness part of that.

Kevin Roberts: Welcome back to the Kevin Roberts Show, the conservative movement, the center-right movement in the United States of America has millions, tens of millions of people, you’ve heard me say on the show that actually think two thirds of Americans are on the center-right. Doesn’t quite seem that way right now for reasons we’ll get into in this episode. But the point of that lead in is to say the conservative movement also has a lot of great men and women in it who are leaders of organizations, of places outside DC. And one of them is sitting here with me today, not just a fellow head of another think tank, but also one of my great friends, period, Daniel Erspamer, CEO of the Pelican Institute. I can’t thank you enough for being here in Washington, knowing how little you would like to be in Washington.

Erspamer: I do try to stay. I travel from one swamp to the other when I come here, but it’s great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

Roberts: Thanks. We’re going to talk all about the Pelican Institute, which is one of the great policy organizations in the country. You’re based in New Orleans, obviously do a lot of work with the Louisiana legislature at Baton Rouge. And you and I have worked together on various issues now for several years, but Louisiana being my native state, I pay particular attention to the great work that Pelican does. So we’ll get into that. But I want to start with where I usually start with guests and that is you’re not a Louisiana native. You went to New Orleans Fort School, which you’ll tell us about, and did some other work and had the opportunity to return to the state at a time when people were leaving.

Erspamer: Yeah.

Roberts: So tell us your story about how it is you came to be the CEO of the Pelican Institute?

Erspamer: Yeah, thank you for that. I grew up in Memphis, so I always say it’s just up the river from New Orleans, another river town. Grew up in a pretty normal American middle-class family and we paid attention to what was going on in the world and talked about it at the dinner table. And I was interested. I was the sort of Alex P. Keaton of... The young people watching won’t understand that.

Roberts: But I could see this.

Erspamer: Of our family. And gosh, I remember watching election returns and not understanding how are they calling these races when the votes aren’t even in? I asked a lot of questions about how that worked. So as you mentioned, went to Tulane University in New Orleans for my degree. My now lovely bride, we met while I was in high school and in Memphis and she came to law school at Tulane. So we had a chance to fall in love, not only with each other, but with Louisiana together and we did.

And for anyone who’s traveled there, it is the greatest place on earth and we’ll get into why it’s so perplexing that we’re failing given all of the assets that we have. And certainly the cultural assets are one of those, best food in the country. Amazing music, great people, great festivals from the Acadiana part of the state where you’re from, Kevin, just a really underappreciated gem of the country. And left that swamp to come here for a little while and worked in the conservative movement at a variety of places, including State Policy Network.

And when the opportunity came up, a sad opportunity, unfortunately the founder of the Pelican Institute had passed away, and the board was trying to figure out what to do next. And it was one of those moments in life. I was sitting in a restaurant in New Orleans not thinking at all about moving back there and it just hit me, I think I’m supposed to do this. I think I should try.

And one thing led to another, I called my lovely bride and thinking with our four kids at home, she might say, “Are you crazy?” She didn’t. She said, “Yeah, how soon can we do that? Let’s do it.” So we’ve been off on that adventure and yeah, I brought the U-Haul the wrong way. Everybody else is going out to Texas and Tennessee and Florida and here we were coming in.

Roberts: How long have you been there?

Erspamer: Just over six years now.

Roberts: And I’ll just say audience has to account for my bias towards you as a close friend, you’ve done a remarkable job.

Erspamer: Thank you.

Roberts: And still having a lot of family and many friends in almost every region of the state, they’re all grateful for the work that you do at Pelican, which again, we’ll get into momentarily. But I want to stay at this cultural or historical level for a moment, and well, there’s a lot that I want to say, but I don’t want to go all academic historian of early national Louisiana. So I’ll just ask you the question, why is it that a place with so many assets; culture, food, great people, tremendous history, natural resources is, and I don’t mean this to be ugly or critical, you know that, that listeners know that it’s failing as a civil society. Well, what’s happened?

Erspamer: Yeah. Let’s catalog a couple of those assets. Five of the top 15 ports in the country, the most active natural gas sector, some of the most oil refineries of any place in the country, the mouth of the Mississippi River, relatively cheap and ready access to land and water and reliable, cheap energy. I mean, these are assets that every state, country would like to have. And here’s the question to your question, why, we are coming on the 100-year anniversary of Huey Long’s rule of Louisiana.

And for listeners who may not know, I strongly encourage you to read up on Huey Long, a fascinating character in American history. But he ran for governor on a couple of key platforms, the first of which was to punish Standard Oil. And amazingly in the 1920s was running as the candidate who wished to make every man a millionaire. And you think about this even today, every man a millionaire seems absurd. In 1924, it was even more absurd. So we’ve had 100 years of Longism. This deeply rooted populism that puts all roads to Baton Rouge, that is a strong central government that was very personality driven, and its whole purpose was to punish job creators and rally the masses to do so.

And he used the power of big government to do some things that people liked. They built roads, they built schools, and all of that, in my opinion, led to a deep feeling of complacency for a lot of Louisiana voters. That’s just the best that we could hope for after a lot of poverty, a lot of economic divide and that’s where we’re left. And so we’ve had three state constitutions that have undergirded Longism. And I think by all measures, it has failed as a policy and political experiment. And that’s the challenge frankly in front of the folks we have an election this fall is who will cast off the cloak of Huey Long and lead a new vision for Louisiana?

Roberts: And neither you nor I can make a political endorsement because of how the IRS forces us to structure our organizations and that’s fine. So none of this can be construed for your sake or mine as endorsement or non-endorsement of a particular candidate. So therefore, purely on a policy play, what do you hope at Pelican, the successful winner of the Louisiana gubernatorial election this year? I mean this is going to happen first primary’s in October?

Erspamer: That’s right.

Roberts: Runoff in November?

Erspamer: That’s right.

Roberts: What does he or she need to embody in terms of policies?

Erspamer: Yeah. It starts with really a willingness to make transformational change. We’ve had some good and bad governors over the years who many have done good things. I mean, I think you could look probably at every administration and point to something good. It’s been a lot of tinkering. It’s been a lot of just moving pieces around at the edges, and I think if we’re going to cast off Longism, that requires a big transformational vision.

At the Pelican Institute, we’ve launched something called Our Louisiana Comeback. And it’s really centered around this idea that so many states and families and people talk about the legacy they want to leave for our country, for our people. Unfortunately in Louisiana, our legacy is leaving. Our kids and grandkids leaving to find opportunity in other states. And so Our Louisiana Comeback is really an agenda to do that transformational change and we’ve really focused on two priorities.

One is phasing out of the income tax and a genuine restructuring of the tax code to allow people to flourish. And the other is universal school choice. Allowing every family in Louisiana the opportunity to attend a school that fits him or her. So all those things together, there’s much more to it, of course, but-

Roberts: But those are vital. You get those right, and a lot of those other dominoes start falling in place, right?

Erspamer: No question about it. And if you don’t get those right, it makes it that much harder to do all the other things that need to be done.

Roberts: So it seems like what you’re pleading from the entire field, there’s one major Democrat and several Republicans running in this jungle primary and the swamp, which is good and bad. But what you’re pleading for from all of them is just the personal constitution, the personal mindset that if you’re the next governor of Louisiana, you don’t tinker.

Erspamer: That’s right.

Roberts: That it’s time for transformational change. Do you think that that’s what Governor Jindal went into office with to cite someone who is a friend? I’m sure of Pelican, of Heritage of both of us and deserves a lot of respect, but do you think that was the original mindset?

Erspamer: I do. I do. And not only the governor, but a lot of the folks around him. I think what’s changed between Governor Jindal’s election and today, one, the political environment has changed dramatically, I think. We have felt more deeply the pain of our kids and grandkids leaving. I travel every corner of the state and in every speech I give, I ask for a show of hands, who’s had to have a family member leave to find work? And inevitably, every hand in the room, and it’s amazing. We’re right there in the Sunbelt in the south where everyone’s moving and Louisiana is the third highest out migration state in the country per capita.

It’s just astounding to wrap your head around. But the other major thing that’s changed since the Jindal years is the legislature has improved dramatically. No offense to my friends who were in the legislature at that time, but we’re walking in with a mandate of conservative values, of free market ideas, even in a legislature that had an opposing party governor who didn’t support things like school choice and tax reform, still got some things done. The idea of a mandate for big change with a legislature ready to do, where term limits mean we’re turning over just about a third of the legislature this year. Big things I think are on the horizon with the right vision from that governor’s office. Boy, it really could change.

Roberts: Speaking about traveling every corner of the state. You and I did that with our friend Randy Hicks, who’s our counterpart running the Georgia Center for Opportunity. And I think Randy was a little taken aback that you and I knew all the good places to stop and eat, and we did that from one corner of the state to the other. The reason we were doing that in addition to just wanting to spend some time together is this project we were working on together, which still continues and Heritage is very supportive of called the Alliance for Opportunity. And has this wonderful goal among others of in Louisiana, lowering the poverty rate by 20%. And in order to do that, the Louisiana legislature and its next governor needs to be advocating for those policies you talked about, tax reform and universal school choice.

But there’s also this intersection more than even the smart audience knows between what a state can do in reforming safety net programs and the federal government having to take action. That problem was a problem even under the Trump administration, which is not to blame President Trump. But even his own administration, which was beginning to move quicker in years three and four on good policy didn’t move quickly enough to change some of these regulations, right? So that’s a long lead in to the question, what are the prospects for the Alliance for Opportunity Project having an impact not just in Louisiana, but across the country?

Erspamer: It is maybe the project I’m most excited about and thank you to Heritage for the Innovation Prize Award. We’re so grateful for that recognition and support. This is an opportunity to really.... What we always say, policy changes lives. This has a deep and very personal impact on people’s lives. And it is maybe among the most tangible things we do as a policy organization to improve people’s lives, and it involves removing barriers to work. I mean, now more than ever, we began these conversations before the pandemic and boy, unfortunately, it was just a small part of what was to come and the need to get people back to work.

Removing those barriers to work and then reforming social safety nets, as you say, it’s looking at our colleague, Randy in the Georgia Center for Opportunity has done amazing work actually modeling these benefits cliffs, this idea that we trap people in poverty based on the very structure of these programs. I’m sure you’ve talked before about this idea of the success sequence and we know that a job and family formation are two of the most important factors to keep people out of poverty. And those are the two things we punish in our social safety net system.

If we can get this right and it’s a partnership, as you say, between state governments streamlining programs, pointing programs toward work, making these temporary safety nets is what they’re supposed to be. And the federal government who has put some just absolutely ridiculous barriers in the way, one that will come up soon is the reauthorization of WIOA, the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, which prohibits every state in the country except for Utah from streamlining workforce and safety net programs. And that’s just got to change.

Roberts: How in the world did that become law?

Erspamer: Well, I think the only... Well, I know, the only reason Utah was able to be written out is because they’d already done it. As I’ve learned more about this, what we found, of course, is these WIOA dollars, billions of dollars every year bypass the accountability of state government, bypass the accountability of local government and go straight to these basically federal government satellite operations in communities around the country.

And because of that and because of whenever we’re fighting over money, interests are at play. And in a lot of cases, this is the power of big labor unions and other institutional forces of the left that want to keep a stranglehold on those dollars. Instead, they could be used very productively to partner with temporary cash assistance and other workforce opportunities to get people out of dependency and into not only self-sustainability, but to flourishing.

Roberts: One of the things that, as I was thinking about this conversation with you, we don’t rehearse this. Sometimes we go over the questions, but rarely do I follow. One of the things I wanted to talk to you about because you and I talk about this often is the state of the conservative movement, the future of conservatism. I think you often use this phrase, which I disdain, called the liberty movement, which I don’t think exists, but there’s your opportunity to disagree with me.

The point is, you and I don’t agree on all of those things. We agree on the vast, vast majority of things, and yet not only do we sustain a friendship, but I think sometimes you’re willing to concede that I’m right and you’re wrong. Often it goes the other direction. See, I said it for you. All that to say, the conservative movement, center-right movement efforts needs to do better at having conversations like you’re always willing to have.

And so we’re going to get back to Louisiana before the end of the conversation, but I really want to pick your brain because you’re very wise about these things and you do know the movement [inaudible] large is focusing on safety net reform framed the way you framed it. These temporary safety nets are good and that as conservatives, there’s a value there and a political risk to taking them on in a way that’s seemingly inhumane. Is that one of the handful of issues that you think center-right elected officials need to spend some more time focusing on?

Erspamer: There’s no question about it. If I think as a movement, as at least a group of fellow travelers toward a goal, we care about human flourishing. That’s at least for me and for a lot of folks I know, I know for you, helping individuals and providing the opportunity for individuals to succeed is a central piece of what we all care about and why we do this work. Let’s go back to the founders, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There was a reason those words were written, and I think sometimes we forget about the pursuit of happiness part of that. And so this is something I think we can all rally around. And it’s a chance as well, frankly, to broaden our message. A state like Louisiana, we have so many people who are engaged with reliant on, take a part of the social safety net programs.

This is something that affects millions of families around the country. And I think it’s easy to look into cast the conservative movement as one that doesn’t care, that is just about balance sheets and whatever, and it’s simply not true. We believe the things we believe that free market capitalism is the greatest force for good in the history of the world, that it has lifted more people out of poverty. These are principles because we see them at work. And if we apply those in meaningful, thoughtful, heartfelt ways, we can grow our movement. We can help, genuinely help millions of people pursue flourishing and have that opportunity and we can rally around these ideas in a way that can actually win. And I think if we can do that, it really has a changing ability to move our movement forward.

Roberts: That was a great response by the way. Great roadmap. What I hear is let’s humanize these issues, and I mean not to be overly soft on these things, but ultimately we’re talking about human persons. And I do think that sometimes unintentionally, conservative candidates for every level of office, come across that way. Maybe a few of them intentionally do. But I asked you earlier to give advice to the successful winner of the Louisiana gubernatorial election. What policy advice, messaging advice would you give to whomever the conservative standard-bearer will be for president in 2024?

Erspamer: I think it really is about storytelling. If we look at the successful leaders of our country over time, and you know this much better than me, but my evaluation would be one, a clear vision for where they think the country ought to be. And that’s really important. If this is an ego trip, if this is something to raise, name profile, that’s not what running our country is about. So it starts with a vision for where our country should go. The second though is exactly as you say, if we can’t tell the stories that humanize why we believe what we believe.

Conservatives are very good at saying what we believe, not always great about saying why we believe. And if we look throughout all of history and if we look at social science research and everything else, if we’re to persuade, which I think is our job, our job is to persuade people toward a point of view. We’ve got to make it real. It can’t be in wonky terms and highfalutin language. And I get... My team busts on me all the time for using too fancy of words.

Erspamer: It is. That’s right. The Harvard of the South, but it’s real. We’ve got to make this real for people. The politicians in particularly the last several decades who’ve succeeded, have connected on a very deep level with the voters. If you can combine that with the right vision for where the country should go, again, it’s off to the races in terms of what can be accomplished. Bringing people together around that vision in a way that we can tell stories and people can relate to, that’s what it’s all about.

Roberts: Well, I’d agree with you enthusiastically. And I think the other thing that does, that it might do is speaking about differences of opinion on certain policies in the movement is not that those are unimportant. They’re very important. And here at Heritage, and I know this is true at Pelican, we honor very much that conversation about those policies even internally. But what it does, if you think about a conservative being in the White House and having a truly conservative majority in the US House or the US Senate, is that it mitigates some of those differences because you’re focused on 80/20 issues. Let’s go govern on those and then the issues that aren’t necessarily at the margins because they’re important, but there are issues that are more controversial even within the movement, get to those after you’ve tackled the 80 twenties, right?

Erspamer: Absolutely. There’s so much we can agree and they’re important. They’re maybe the most critical things that need to be done. And to your point, it’s not that the things on which we disagree are unimportant. And by the way, civil discourse and debate is good. That’s how we get to the right answer most of the time. And that’s how we govern. That’s the way the country was set up. The founders wanted robust civil discourse. They wanted debate. They wanted people to disagree. That’s why country’s set up the way it is. We forget that sometimes, I think. And frankly, our political opposition, the progressives of our country, often I think they allow far less of pluralism and far less of discourse. And we can fall into that trap too sometimes, but it’s good. It should be encouraged. We should do more of it.

Roberts: It’s often fine.

Erspamer: Yeah, absolutely.

Roberts: The little devil that sits on this shoulder wants me to ask you about big tech, which is one of the things we disagree on that is... Well, I don’t know if we disagree on big tech. We disagree on some policy prescriptions, but I want to talk about something else because I don’t want to embarrass you on that. We were supposed to do a debate on this.

Erspamer: We were.

Roberts: Yeah. And then I absented myself because something else came out.

Erspamer: How about that?

Roberts: But no doubt, my successor, Greg Sindelar, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, acquitted himself very well.

Erspamer: Quite well. We had a great time.

Roberts: But the point is, all joking aside, is actually to have a great time in these conversations to the extent we can. Sometimes you can’t. I mean, I understand why in the middle of committee hearings or the very rare, the too rare for debates in the US House of Representatives that it’s not a joking matter. But inside the conservative movement, we ought to do a better job of having these conversations. We’re going to move. We went from Louisiana to the state of the movement to Washington DC figuratively.

Now I want to start moving back and as you survey other states, as you survey other state-based organizations, what are the states that you would hold out as examples of the kinds of conservative reform that not only most importantly are vital for the people living there benefiting from them, but secondly, as we think about over the next decade reassembling the conservative movement around some issues are exemplars?

Erspamer: Yeah, two or three come to mind immediately. I think Tennessee really has been a state, of course, in which I grew up, but has been an exceptional leader in the country. Governor Lee there has really cast a vision for the state, the Beacon Center for Tennessee. Our colleague, Justin Owen, and his team in Nashville are doing an exceptional job making the case for these ideas. But look at their flourishing. Nashville has more construction cranes per capita than any other place in the world right now. No income tax state, making progress on school choice, on allowing families those opportunities.

They’re dealing with some challenges politically and otherwise as well. But if you look at the state of their people, they’re really flourishing. Arizona, at least under the leadership of Governor Ducey and the work of the Goldwater Institute and others there. Look at that major tax reform, universal school choice, an expansion of opportunity. We talked a little bit in our Alliance for Opportunity piece about removing barriers to work. Occupational licensure is a major barrier to particularly low income families pursuing opportunity.

They’ve done some amazing things there. Arkansas and Iowa, both states that are on the rise, great governor leadership in both cases, ideological leaders and thought leaders in the think tanks there. As we look, there’s certainly more success stories, but those are the states that come to mind that they really seem to be doing things right and a lot from which we can learn.

Roberts: It’s a great list. And I often say, in fact, I’ve said on the show a few times that at Heritage, we look at the next decade or two of the conservative movement and we think about how Heritage can play a complementary role to these state-based organizations, to these great governors. Where we’re looking is to a place like West Virginia of all places and having had their treasurer, Riley Moore, on the show.

Erspamer: Terrific.

Roberts: When I said, look, West Virginia and Louisiana are very similar, right? Natural resource heavy states, states where there has been a lot of poverty, but West Virginia seemingly is beginning to turn the corner. It’s one of the reasons we ought to be hopeful for a demographically similar place like Louisiana. So speaking about that, I thought your response about Huey Long was spot on for what it’s worth, not that you need to hear that from me. But I thought also that one of the aggravating factors to Longism is the growth of the federal government as it relates to its relationship with the individual.

And in particular, I’m thinking about the terribly misnamed war on poverty, which has done, in my estimation, nothing to alleviate poverty. And in fact, as someone who, as the audience know, tends toward a diagnosis of the world through a social conservative lens, I think because one of the things it’s done intentionally in some cases is destroy the family. You don’t necessarily have to respond to that point, but I’m curious what the Louisiana legislature can do on its own to begin to mitigate the effects of that.

Erspamer: It’s a huge problem. At any given year, Louisiana is in the top three states as a recipient of federal government money. There are several challenges to this. The first is political incentives, and this is the hardest one to change, because what happens is our friends who are members of Congress come here and every press release is about bringing home the bacon. Here’s this federal grant, that federal grant, and what happens? Everyone applauds and we [inaudible] to that, and as long as that continues, that’s going to be a really hard problem to solve. What can the legislature do though?

A few things. Actually, we’re in the middle of a project we should release later this year. Looking, we’re starting just with the Department of Education to track the federal dollars that have come into the state for education and to understand what policy change may or may not have occurred because of the acceptance of federal dollars that always come with strings attached. What additional expenditures the state has had to endure in pension costs, long-term employment, many other things that don’t get paid for by the federal money that comes in.

And to really help lawmakers understand when you say yes to these dollars, this is what you’re really saying yes to. It’s not just this great opportunity in front of us, theoretically, and we felt it very deeply just in the last year. The state of Louisiana walked in with a $3 billion budget “surplus”. We argued, hey, this is a great time to do some things like restructure the tax code and give taxpayers a little bit of break after increasing taxes by a billion dollars in the last few years. But no, no, no. What we did instead was we spent every penny and then borrowed another couple tens of millions on top of that. We are addicted to this. It’s like sugar in our veins. And until we can detox a bit, and it’s absolutely true, we have an exorbitant percentage of our children in Louisiana born, paid for by Medicaid.

We’re one of the states that expanded Medicaid to able-bodied working, childless adults, and all of those things come with cost. And the other side does a great job, I think, of explaining the benefits. We do a very poor job of explaining really the real cost of that to families, to people, and to taxpayers, because at the end of the day, this is costing us absurd amounts of money. And one thing I always mention to folks is we forget there’s no magical money tree in Washington. Actually, it’s not our taxpayer dollars paying for it, it’s our grandkids and great grandkids taxpayer dollars.

Roberts: We’re into three generations [inaudible].

Erspamer: That’s right, yeah. That are really paying that bill. But it’s a huge, huge problem.

Roberts: So much of that is messaging. Just breaking through, not even what is a problem, which is bias news, but breaking through local news, regional news, national news that is seemingly ignorant of the issue. Have you experimented with anything in your domain of Louisiana to try to get Pelican’s message out?

Erspamer: Absolutely. You’re absolutely right. Let’s look at state capitols. Used to have dozens and dozens of reporters, and the news media had time. Let’s just assume best intentions all around, at least had time and bandwidth to really understand it, to get to issues. Well, you and I know we can count on one hand the number of reporters in Louisiana or maybe across the country who really take the time to understand and write a fair story and report that. And there are some, but what we’ve learned is we can’t count on the news media as the appropriate filter to process the world.

So we’ve gone directly to Louisianans and over the last couple of years, have recruited about 80,000 folks around the state who have signed up, who engaged with our content, and we’re giving them the news every day. We’re reporting information, writing on the topics of the day, providing analysis and information. And then when the time is right, making sure they know when important pieces of legislation are being considered. That list grows every day. Your listeners certainly can join by going to pelicanpolicy.org.

Roberts: I was going to ask you. Thank you.

Erspamer: And it’s really a chance to get engaged and really to build a community too. What we find as we travel, I love when people come and say, “I’m on your email list. I love reading your stuff.” Great. That’s all of my really talented staff who’ve written that, but it’s because it cuts through the clutter. It cuts through the nonsense that’s being filtered every day. And I also just, I think it’s important to note some media operations that are doing this right? And one is the Center Square.

They have a news bureau in Louisiana and a number of states around the country, and their job really is to do what the media’s supposed to do, tell the facts, actually report on what’s happening in the capitol, and make sure folks can read that.

Roberts: Great outlet.

Erspamer: Great outlet. And I know Heritage has done amazing work and is communicating regularly to voters and citizens all over the country every single day. All of that together, I think, has started to change that calculation, that they’re not just getting news through the traditional news media today. In fact, fewer and fewer every day.

Roberts: Last question, for now. We’ll have you back many times over the years. Maybe next time we ought to do this on location [inaudible].

Erspamer: That’d be great. Let’s do it.

Roberts: That’d be a great idea. I guess I’ll buy the [inaudible]. So, seems fair, doesn’t it?

Erspamer: That’s right.

Roberts: So you are by your makeup, your constitution, a hopeful guy. Although you are also very sober and realistic about the challenges facing Louisiana, the country, conservatism. In spite of those challenges, why did you wake up optimistic about the American future?

Erspamer: Yeah. Well, I have a very simple answer and a longer answer. The simple answer-

Roberts: Both are fine.

Erspamer: ... I’ve got four kids, four beautiful kids. You’ve met them and they require hope. If we give up on hopefulness, we’ve given up on them and all of the kids and the future generations of our country. A look ahead, a vision forward requires optimism, I believe. The other reason is I get a chance, I mentioned to travel all over the state and meet with people. I spoke to the new Iberia Rotary Club the other day, headed to Lake Providence in the other corner of the state. In a couple of weeks, we’re going to speak in every parish in the state this year. And really, it gives you a chance to connect with folks who are going about their lives. They don’t spend a lot of time thinking about these issues.

They don’t spend a lot of time in politics, but they care. They’re spending their time every day making a living, creating value for our society and for the world around us, raising families, creating new things, new enterprises, and that really is inspiring. We get the chance to spend our time looking at these issues and studying them and learning, and that’s a blessing to do this every day. We would do it as hobby if we didn’t do it as a profession. But to be able to interact with folks every day out of the policy bubble, out of the capital bubble, out of the swamp, that’s really what drives hope and what makes us know not only must we be hopeful, but we can be hopeful. And those two together really are what it’s all about.

Roberts: Daniel Erspamer, CEO of the Pelican Institute. My great friend, thanks for being here.

Erspamer: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. Enjoyed the conversation.

The Kevin Roberts Show is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. The producer is Philip Reynolds. Sound design by Lauren EvansMark Guiney, and Tim Kennedy

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