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Election 2020: Rob Anderson on Running for Congress in LA-03

“That’s just common sense to me, and since I don’t take their money, I don’t have to say what they want me to say.”

Jul 02, 2020 Rob Anderson
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Rob Anderson is a working-class Democratic candidate running in the Deep South against an incumbent Republican Congressman in an increasing dark red district.

That should be the end of the story. But Rob Anderson is a bit of a renaissance man. He has lived all over the country, from California, New York, Maryland, and Florida, before settling down in southwest Louisiana. He’s a journeyman who just so happens to be running for Congress. He’s a writer, a painter, and a musician. He’s been a business owner. He now mostly works in construction and geotechnical drilling. Anderson is running a DIY, working-class campaign. He’s not a wealthy man masquerading as a working class candidate; he is a blue collar worker.

LA-03 is on the southwestern side of Louisiana. This is Creole, Cajun, Acadian swamp country. The first season of True Detective took place there. If New Orleans is the heart of Louisiana, the third district is its blood. It is the melting pot. The current representative of the district, Clay Higgins, is a gruesome, thrice-divorced car salesman, a deadbeat dad turned police officer who really can’t get enough of beating people up. He’s a real piece of work. A Trump-approved abomination who somehow made it out of the swamp and slithered into politics. He is bad news bears. If you ever want to take a trip down cosmic horror nightmare alley, look him up.

I’d rather not go into too much detail about him because I want to be able to eat a meal today, and we’re here to talk about the alternative to Higgins. The alternative is a working man who holds Swampside Chats, and accompanied by his #RobMob and the goodwill of Louisianans, the third district may have real representation for the first time in a long time.

Meet Rob Anderson.

Steve King (Under the Radar): How has the district been handling the pandemic?

Rob Anderson: Okay, that’s a tough one. As you know, we have a Democratic Governor, John Bel Edwards, and our district is hard to describe without devolving into preordained aphorisms. We’re a very working-class district, and the media control down here is definitely slanted toward the right-wing. So there aren’t a lot of liberal voices that are allowed down here.

That’s just partially why our campaign has been so successful. It’s not that we’re not down here and that we don’t get heard. But our governor is a Democrat and he formed a pandemic response team before we even had our first case, back in February, so he’s been very proactive, pro-science. We had an explosion in New Orleans early, which did make the national news, but we did a pretty good job of keeping up with it, and hospitals never got overwhelmed, and our own team, at that time, volunteered and we delivered PPE all over the district.

We were kind of behind because information was coming out but it wasn’t reaching the ground, if that makes sense. Merely by going out and donating and wearing masks in public, and I hate to say it, but it’s kind of split along informational lines which aren’t necessarily party lines. But you can translate that. So, in our district early on, mostly everyone was wearing masks when they went out in public, if you can believe that, during the quarantine and especially immediately thereafter; and certainly all the businesses responded almost immediately. They put the stickers on the floor saying “Stand this far apart while you’re waiting for a cashier.” That type of thing: cashiers wearing masks, face shields. So overall, businesses responded, which is probably because businesses can be subjected to lawsuits, and fake news doesn’t translate to their bottom line.

There’s a lot of social media griping about the pandemic and there are still people who think it’s a hoax down here. But overall, I think we actually responded well, and it never really exploded within my district. Unfortunately, with the reopenings nationwide, we’re seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 and we’re watching that down here as cases doubled 300 to 600 in a single day, like it was yesterday. We’re not doing as well as one would hope, but we’re doing better than Florida or Texas.

Some of the most important issues that you’ve advocated include better education, cutting student debt, universal healthcare, prison reform, marijuana decriminalization, renewable energy, and increased infrastructure spending. The more I look at it, it’s starting to sound like a pretty solid, almost Sanders-like progressive plan. How is it playing in the district?

It is. When you share a message of what your individual goals are, without partisan attachment to Biden or Bernie Sanders or whatever on the national level, there’s a lot of distrust in northern yankee liberals or whatever, as I found out when I lived in New York City briefly in the ’80s and ’90s, where I met my wife, there’s a lot of distrust in New York of southerners as well and they were surprised that I was smarter than they were and worked just as hard, if not harder, and I ended up owning the first company I worked at.

We need to communicate better. The message needs to get across that “southern” doesn’t mean “stupid.” Now, there are some entrenched loyalties in the south to the Confederacy, in that it’s their identity, which we’re trying to push away. It’s not history. It was a bad thing. We seceded from the Union. Let’s not brag about that anymore. Let’s go back to being United States citizens together. A lot of it is we just don’t know each other. The news in New York is “the stupid southern rebels with their pickup trucks and their beer, waving the Confederate flag,” and that does happen, don’t get me wrong, but most of us would just sweat a lot. We like crawfish because it’s what grows down here. A lot of this is where you are.

Is it just a regional thing? You’re a gun owner and 2A avocate. Is this just one of those social issues that changes with regions?

I was a 2A advocate even when I was up north but I never owned a gun because it’s not easy to own a gun in New York. I’ve worked with hunters who had rifles and whatnot; even for that they had to get special permits to go hunting. I’ve never been a fan of hunting. I’m not against it. I just don’t do it. But I do believe the Second Amendment was written for a purpose, and anytime we change it, we have to be very very careful. It’s the same way with any other Amendment. If you’re attacking the First Amendment you have to be very, very careful as to what you’re doing it for. Are you doing it for perks and gain or is it to make reforms that are needed? Being able to shout hate crimes slogans over the air waves and advocating for the killing of other people. Well, no you can’t do that. It’s the same with 2A. You can own a gun but if you kill somebody else then you just gave up a lot of your rights then, didn’t you?

It’s complex legislation, but I think a lot of it has to do with your area. Every Democrat that I know down here, minus one or two, owns guns. Everyone here owns guns. We don’t even talk about it. It’s just the way it is and I don’t think our murder rate is any higher than any others, especially when you go to urban centers. New Orleans has a crime rate, of course, but so does St. Louis, Chicago, San Francisco; any time people get together and somebody gets mad at somebody else… But it is definitely part of the culture down here, absolutely. And any comment about restricting the right to bear arms is met with immediate suspicion.

So would I listen to gun restrictions? I talked to veterans and ex-cops who said, “Perhaps an AR-15 in private hands is a bad idea.” But you have to be careful down here when you broach it and make sure you’re not telling people “They’re coming to get your guns.” They don’t want to hear that. You just have to be careful on messaging.

You’ve called Higgins a “placeholder” but based on everything I’ve read about him, he seems like a perfect Republican. He’s monstrous, hateful, violent, hypocritical, proudly ignorant. He’s really into police brutality. The district has been trending hard R since the middle of the 20th century but it’s been getting really darker red since 2000. It’s a presidential election year but your election will be held after the national general election. Does that make your race easier or harder to break through?

In Higgins’ case, I do call him a “placeholder” because, legislatively, that’s all he is. He was picked by the RNC because of YouTube fame, and as we’re discovering the reason that people revered him. Some people down here, it’s merely because they buy the image as reality, much like Trump’s reality TV. People saw The Apprentice and they say, “Oh wow, this is a successful businessman.” Nevermind the underlying realities. His bankruptcies, multiple divorces, sexual assaults, all of that. They watch the TV show. And on YouTube, Clay Higgins was a sarcastic law enforcement officer who’s looking out for them. One of the down home boys.

And the underlying reality of his police brutality, his attendance at Three Percenter rallies, is his endorsement with David Duke. Some of the people don’t even know. We just posted the other day, an internal police report from the Opelousas PD, and a lot of people were like, “I didn’t know this existed.” This is from 2007. This is not news, but down here, it goes unreported. If it’s not on Fox News, people don’t hear it. It’s a cliche but it’s true. By the factor of sharing that, it kind of exploded all over Facebook. People really didn’t know. A lot of informed people did. A lot of liberals, Democrats, even Independents can’t stand the guy. He’s a ex-used car salesman as much as he is an ex-cop. So, it’s about media perception as propaganda initially. That’s how we started the campaign. Just fighting back on social media. Facebook has become more influential in American politics than it really should, and that’s the battleground these days in the 21st century.

The other part of it is we can minimize the number of candidates who get in. We have a Jungle Primary. Everybody runs. There’s one November 1st election. If anyone wins 50% or more they win outright, and the top two candidates, if no one breaks 50%, then there’s a runoff later in December. That’s where we differ. I know there will be other Democrats. I just saw a Libertarian signed on to the ticket just the other day, and I’m sure another Republican will jump in. Up until we call “qualifying,” where you register with the Louisiana Secretary of State in July. You register and those are the final candidate tickets. The fewer number of people there are the more competitive a race can be, but we have a bad habit, and the RNC supports it. They will prop up mediocre candidates, split votes away from the Democrats, and they’ll pay Democrats to run just to water down the field. This is all allegation and rumor, and it’s not proven, but it’s pretty well understood. It’s Under the Radar, as it were.

Can he get to 50%?

Yeah. Last cycle, he won outright with 56%. There were 7 of us. He got 56% and all the rest of us split together 44%. Before that, he won in a runoff with a legitimate candidate, Scott Angelle. Higgins was kind of a sleeper, and he got on the populist Trump Train. He went Full Trump. He was the “Aw Shucks,” law-abiding southern sheriff who just happened to agree with all of their unspoken “Jesus is good, blacks are bad” messages, and that’s how he got into office last time. With name familiarity, incumbents have a 97% re-election rate. It’s tough to compete either way. Do I have a chance? Sure. Is it winnable? I don’t know. We’re working on it.

One of the issues that got you into politics was campaign finance reform and Citizens United.

Those were my initial ones, yeah. I just got tired of the corruption.

You’re not taking any PAC money. I feel like this issue isn’t as sexy as it once was. We don’t have Russ Feingold out there talking about it as much. We don’t have McCain. There is so much going on these days, but this one issue controls so many aspects of our lives. How can you make the case for campaign finance mean something to voters again?

I have multiple responses to this, especially now, because I’m a more seasoned politician. One of which is that people don’t elect candidates based on policy. It’s not the way the world works, and anyone who disagrees, look at why Elizabeth Warren is not the Democratic presidential nominee. People think policies are what drives elections, but they aren’t; it’s purely, for lack of a better word, likability and relatability. They want to feel, whoever they are, that that candidate wants to represent them.

Now we do write out our policies and elaborate and certainly answer questions when people ask, “Are you against corporate PAC money?” Well, yeah, of course, that’s one of my first issues. But if you wrote out everything you believed in in every political ad and it would be pages-long documents, but it all boils down to: “Are you a decent, trustworthy, person who wouldn’t steal to get ahead?” That’s basically what politics is. But yeah, we always answer those questions and I’m a firm believer in ending Citizens United.

I actually went to one of their conferences for “Unrig the System” in my first election cycle. But the irony of that is that in Citizens United there is a SuperPAC formed to oppose SuperPACs. It’s harder, especially in the modern era, when so much money is needed to compete in an election cycle, like when you go to the presidential level. They’re spending like a billion dollars each. Local levels? You’re saying millions of dollars spent for a House seat. It’s bizarre. So you stand for what you stand for, and you don’t change your positions, and you answer any question that’s asked and over time, people will begin to build a picture of you and all you can do is stick with that and hope you can reach enough people before the election comes.

There is no part of Louisiana that isn’t influenced by the oil and gas industry. Republicans, Democrats; Big Oil owns practically everyone. Your campaign could not be more of the antithesis of normal Louisiana politics. Have you caught any pushback from local politicians?

The problem that they’re having with this is where my campaign really gets fun. The first time they start to acknowledge me, they only make me stronger. The local politicians haven’t touched us yet because they don’t know what to do with us. As soon as they start responding to me in public, all they’re going to do is get a lot of blowback. They don’t want to call attention to the fact that oil and gas is about the fifth biggest industry in Louisiana, and yet it’s first in political donations. Almost every politician from the local level on up to federal is financed by oil and gas industries or oil and gas industry PACS. We’re not anti-oil. We’re just not anti-solar either.

Solar is a new market that Louisiana could benefit from. Estimates range from an 8 billion dollar industry waiting to happen. That’s a lot of jobs. That’s a lot of local revenue. Why are we not pursuing that? Well, because oil and gas doesn’t want competition and they pay their representatives to keep it that way. I just look at the big picture state of people. Here’s what you want and you want more solar. Why not new jobs where they don’t work you for six months and lay you off and then hire you back.

I know the oil industry practices. They paid a lot of money. But there is a constant cycle of unemployment dependency that’s still there, and a lot of the money is shipped overseas anyway. It doesn’t benefit Louisiana. There’s a district in Baton Rouge that really benefits the owners of oil and gas companies. They all live in one district in Baton Rouge. It’s one of the richest districts in the country, there’s a few block area of Baton Rouge where all that money goes and of course they funnel it into the local elections to make sure everyone votes the way they want and then they shift their money to wherever they shifted it, so yeah. Are there jobs from oil and gas in Louisiana? Yeah, but there’s more in healthcare, so we invest in healthcare. Wouldn’t that be better for more of Louisiana? That’s just common sense to me, and since I don’t take their money, I don’t have to say what they want me to say.

Like any good Scorpio, you were once arrested and fined $400 for smoking weed on a beach. Where are you on marijuana decriminalization versus full legalization?

Full legalization. I’m 100% for legalization for recreational and medical across the board. Obviously, I advocate for any individual bill. On the local level, Bel Edwards just signed one, for more legalization of medical marijuana. I’m pro all those little bills, but the ultimate goal is on the federal level. Just to remove it as a Schedule One narcotic. Decriminalize it across the board, treat it like alcohol, stop talking about it, stop the school-to-prison pipeline.

We lead the world here in Louisiana, us and Oklahoma, we go back and forth; we lead the world in incarceration. I use that story as an example. I paid a $400 ticket and a lot of young black men, and then, of course, their entire path is derailed. They’re finished before they start. And then you ask them after that, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps?” “Well, you just locked me up for a plant.” It’s just a way of keeping people down. Of course private prisons are a part of it, and they donate to politicians. Just follow the money.

It’s white supremacy. There has to be two-prong legalization. Legalizing it is one thing but you have to expunge the records of nonviolent drug possessions.

Of course. Absolutely. I have a holistic approach. It has to go across the board. Amnesty for everyone on nonviolent offenses, yes. Somebody gets busted with a joint then all of the sudden punches somebody, then it’s hard to argue for that. But certainly: immediate across-the-board amnesty for any non-violent drug offense.

You’ve called Giuliani a “rogue sentient Gummy Bear.” You’ve got an active and hilariously combative online presence, but I imagine you have to parse your words when it comes to the president. Let’s be real. This administration is a failure and its allies in the House and Senate, people like Higgins, are complicit in the destruction of this country. How do you thread that needle in a place that’s pretty dark red? Do you kind of pull punches?

Well, when you’re talking politics, you have to talk local politics. I’m on record with my opposition to Trump, but we don’t campaign on that down here. A lot of my neighbors did vote for Trump, and when I sit down and talk to them, basically, what they like is that he makes the media cry. That’s basically his appeal. You can’t even run on it.

What I have to run on is that Higgins has done nothing for the district and isn’t a good person to begin with. And for someone to preach moral values who’s on his fourth wife, pulled a gun on one wife, and beat black suspects and all that…. There’s a cognitive dissonance there that has to be pointed out. Why can’t we just have a decent rep who just wants the best for Louisiana? That’s what you run on. Positivity. I can make it better. Why? Because I can advocate for the district.

I’m not interested in going to Washington and then getting rich. I’m not becoming a lobbyist and all that bullshit that Higgins has set himself up for. He’s going to be an oil lobbyist if I beat him this year; that’s what he’ll be doing next year. I go to certain neighborhoods in Lake Charles, and there’s no supermarket, and you wonder how people continue to suffer even with an “even playing field.” And I put quotations around that, but some have no way of getting to a store without getting a ride from a friend. Poverty is real. Some people don’t have cars. We don’t have great mass transit. It all works together. How are people supposed to eat? Well, they go to convenience stores and they buy junk.

You want to make the quality of life better? You have to address a lot of things. I take for granted that I can hop in my truck and drive a couple miles and go to a supermarket. And I’m in a rural area. The parts up in Lake Charles, specifically the northern part of it, there’s no supermarket and that’s a real problem. That’s what you run on with Clay Higgins. Why haven’t you done an economic stimulus zone over here for bus routes? Get some federal aid to get a Rouse’s or a Piggly Wiggly, or whoever will come in and open a supermarket. Make everybody’s life better. Give them a tax break, not the oil companies. They’re making plenty of profit.

He voted for the Trump tax cut giveaway a couple years ago but really, what has he done? What the hell is he doing with his time?

He has sponsored a few dredging projects, which of course helps the oil companies by opening up the canals so they can get their tankers in and out. They talk about it as environmental remediation, but the only reason they do it is to get oil tankers in and out. I can’t think of anything else he’s done… Well, he voted against the Violence Against Women Act, so that’s great for the women of our district. I think he’s probably just worked with so many cops that are wife abusers that he just thinks that’s what women are for. He hasn’t done much. He votes Trump, I think, like 98% of the time. He pretty much just follows the party line.

You were born in 1968. With the continued killings of unarmed African Americans and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, the historical parallels are there. What effects have the events of the last few months had on you and the district? Because we’re seeing protests in very rural areas now.

Yes. I was born the year that Martin Luth King, Jr. was killed, as well as Bobby Kennedy, as well as the riots that truly forced legislation. I was also born a week before Nixon was elected, so it just wasn’t a great year overall.

In my district, I think the greatest revelation has been how many people have turned out for these Black Lives Matter protests. And we all surprised each other, and of course they were all peaceful, non-violent, loving, organized…and so many of us are gratified not just because we were able to show up and lend our voice, but that’s there were so many other neighbors. I don’t think we all realized how many of us there are.

The first protest I went to at the University of Lafayette, a couple weeks ago, I think there were close to 5,000 people there, and not one single incident a violence. The Student Action League of UL invited me and kind of recruited me into security. I kind of look like a cop; I’m a burly guy, and here I was wearing a walkie-talkie, walking around wearing a mask and just watching everything, making sure it was safe and peaceful. Nobody from the protests was the worry. We had a couple incidents of rednecks in trucks driving by yelling, but for the most part everybody was very supportive.

With the second one, I went more incognito, and still, many people came up and they would say, “Rob, I’m so glad to see you here. I can’t believe it. I’m such and such. Here’s my kid. Everybody wants to meet you,” and it’s just gratifying. I can’t imagine being seen as some sort of symbol, but it’s getting there. I was just there to support them. I don’t speak unless they invite me. I think I’m speaking at one this week, but only if invited. I’m here to support them, and so many others are too.

I think it’s the time for white people to listen, rather than speak.

Exactly. And we are. And there’s thousands and thousands of us. Of course, that’s just in my district, Lake Charles, Lafayette, but there’s also been little ones all over Denham Springs. It’s got a population of like a thousand people, and they had a peaceful protest. It’s all over. I think Louisiana is poised to be a leader; everybody here, black or white, for all of Louisiana. We’re starting to realize that there’s been some holdovers, and Higgins seems to be related to those and the Three Percenters. They just believe in white supremacy but their numbers are dying out.

There is still a place in the district called Jefferson Davis. Were there protests there?

In that parish, yeah; it’s a small town. We still have a place called Jefferson Davis Parish. Thankfully some people don’t know what it means, but we were literally just discussing that the other day. We also have Beauregard Parish named after a Civil War general. We got our work cut out for us, and now everybody’s talking about moving statues in front of Lake Charles courthouse. I said why not replace it with General Honoré, a National Guard general who was the leader in charge of the Katrina cleanup and rescue efforts. He’s a local hero and he’s a great guy. He’s a big environmentalist. He’s a Republican but you wouldn’t know it; old-fashioned Republican. Loves people. So why not put up a statue of Creole General Honoré?

It is trickling down and getting out into the people. It’s not a big deal if it’s about race. Why does it always have to be about race? Well, because it’s always about race. Take the Confederate generals out of there, if you want your history, make a Confederate museum that people can visit. Just don’t put it in front of a courthouse as a veiled threat to African American people who show up to the courthouse and see a Confederate Civil war general staring down at them. Yeah, they’re going to get justice in that building. That’s not a good message.

It’s like trickle down morals.

Yeah, let’s have trickle up morals. Here’s the people telling the government what we want. We want diversity. We want integration.

I think the country has changed in many ways over the last few years, but the one sticking point is white men and their support for the president and his policies. How do we get white men to vote the right way?

I don’t know. You just have to keep being right and keep repeating and don’t give up. I always quote the movie Galaxy Quest. “Never give up. Never surrender.” You can’t get discouraged or disheartened. Change does come. It’s always long and it’s always painful but it does come, and the more people who believe in it, sooner or later, each successive generation grows up with a little more knowledge, and it becomes inevitable.

We’re at a cusp right now. We’re forcing the inevitable and there is, of course, resistance. When NASCAR banned the Confederate flag last week, I thought that was one of the biggest seminal moments of our lifetimes. Y’all have no idea how big that is. That was like a shockwave and that’s a good thing. “When I became an adult, I put away childish things.” It’s time to grow up and realize it was about race in the Civil War. It was about slavery. Let’s acknowledge it. Our country was divided but we’re not divided anymore.

It’s been a few hundred years. It’s time to move forward.

Well, hell, 3/5 of a person, you know, the initial Constitution is great, except that women and minorities couldn’t vote. It was founded by white men and we tried to pretend it was equality for all and it wasn’t. We need to make it.

You’ve been a worker for a long time. What was it that compelled you to enter politics now?

Thirty-seven years I spent out in the fields before I got into politics. Looking at the corruption and incompetence, realizing if the business world ran that way, what would happen? What has happened is just complete incompetence from the top down, as well as moral ineptitude. The corruption just got the best of me, combined my kids were off to college and my wife and I said, “Can we go ahead and be poor for a little while and stand up and fight for this stuff and she said “yes.” She’s always been supportive. Next week, it’ll be 30 years that we’ve been married. As a backstory to that, we found out she was pregnant pretty much right after we got married. Then we had to alter plans because we lived in a pro-choice state, so getting an abortion would have been easy but my wife didn’t want to. It was her choice, obviously. We were like, “Well we are both young. We’re making good money.” We had a cheap apartment. We were living the high life. It was great. We were like, “Okay, if we have a kid, we’re going to be poor for the next 18 years.” I was doing well in business, but that was in New York City and it’s expensive as hell to live there, so we made that decision to sacrifice for the kids and do what we’re going to do to just have a family. So we did and then I did get successful later on, and we had our own business, and all that. Politics was kind of the same thing. Are we willing to sacrifice our own comfort for the good of others? And the answer was yes.


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Mary W Garcia
July 2nd 2020

I have a favorable impression of Mr. Anderson now that I’ve read this interview. He sounds level-headed and realistic, and he understands his district and his state. I hope he can reach enough voters to oust Higgins and win the election.