Louisiana Conservative Dot Com: Thank you very much for sitting down with Louisiana Conservative Dot Com. First thing I wanted to ask about is your background, and a synopsis of what got you into this race.
Laurinda Calongne: My story is about growing up the daughter of two small business owners. Our financial resources were dependent on the economy, so I learned at a very early age that families and businesses know better how to spend their money than the federal government. In 2000, President Bush’s administration appointed me to the council on graduate medical education. I was the first and only Louisianan to represent our state on this council, and my role was to represent teaching hospitals in the country and to advise the Congress and the White House on healthcare. I was able to build key relationships both with members of our administration and members of our congressional delegation.
My expertise is healthcare, but my ability to work hard and identify solutions is helpful in dealing with various issue areas. I started a business 5 years ago and it has grown from a small company to an industry leader. Last year, I was part of the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority where I helped to raise over $2.5 million. I feel strongly that we must elect good conservative candidates in Louisiana if we are ever going to change our state. Additionally, I think the people of this district are interested in looking for a new start, a fresh voice of conservative values and that’s what I’m offering the people.
Louisiana Conservative: You mentioned your background in healthcare. Healthcare, of course, is an issue that never quite goes away – two of the presidential candidates keep talking about a national healthcare system. With your healthcare background, what do you think of such a system, what do you think are areas do you see we could improve to healthcare for the majority – without having to go to a single payer, Canadian system?
Laurinda Calongne: Well, first of all, I think we’re always interested in what we don’t have, but the grass is not always greener on the other side. People talk about the Canadian system or the universal healthcare system in Europe; to be honest with you it just wouldn’t work. When you look at patient outcomes of single provider systems, you have people that go without preventative care, you have people who need heart transplants that are on a waiting list and die on that waiting list. I don’t think that’s the answer. What I do think is we need to look at free market and free enterprise solutions. Let’s look at maybe allowing insurance companies to offer cheaper insurance for people who are healthy so get people insured earlier in life at an affordable rate. Look at increasing competition for healthcare insurers. We need other systems in place, and you’re right, we’ve got to fix it. But fixing it is not creating a single payer industry.
Louisiana Conservative Dot Com: And so you see someone who understands this industry in detail as an asset?
Laurinda Calongne: It is going to be an asset, and the reality is there is not one size that fits all. In the state of Louisiana, we have an extremely high percentage of uninsured people. We need a system, whether it’s rural health clinics or inner city health clinics where people pay on a sliding scale – that’s working in other states. That’s where Louisiana should be moving and I really think that under new leadership we’re going to get there. Urgent care clinics instead of going to the emergency rooms. Preventative health clinics that you can go to regularly and get your blood pressure checked, and to visit your family physician more often so that chronic conditions don’t exacerbate. There are varieties of things we can do. The solution – one thing I can tell you is, the solution is definitely not a single payer system.
Louisiana Conservative Dot Com: I’ve seen your commercials on television and you focus a great deal on immigration. That’s almost a third rail issue – politicians don’t want to touch it. But a lot of the electorate is very frustrated with the fact that it’s not being dealt with outside of band-aid solutions. What do we need to do?
Laurinda Calongne: I started to think about conversations I’ve had with my grandparents. Most of our ancestors were immigrants. They stood in line, they applied to be a citizen of the U S…. they did it the right way. All I’m asking is that everyone still respect that, respect our laws. The big picture is that we have so many undocumented people it’s costing us $19 billion a year. Put that to the side, the fact is that 70% of the cocaine in this country and 40% of heroin is coming in across the Mexican borders. I have a child; if you have children, if you’re concerned about the drug use in this country, we need to start taking it seriously. So what would I do, obviously build a fence, that’s important, but the answer is not one solution. We need to increase border patrols. We can’t just build a fence and leave our border patrol agents out there without increasing their numbers. Increase technology, increase surveillance, we have the best technology in the world so let’s use that technology to backup the Border Patrol. I think it’s going to take a comprehensive approach to deal with this problem, but it needs to be addressed immediately.
Louisiana Conservative Dot Com: The War on Terror – this is not something that is going away easily. There are a number of people in Congress who are saying we should just cut and run, or give the Iraqis a deadline to bring our men and women home. Where do you stand on this? Do we fight to the end or do we need to give it a time limit?
Laurinda Calongne: No. I don’t think we can have a timeline. I think democracy takes time. And I agree with reports that the surge is working.
Louisiana Conservative Dot Com: I’m hearing the same thing from friends over there – people who were there three years ago, back now, doing their second tour. And they are amazed by some of the things they see.
Laurinda Calongne: I think you’re exactly right, I think we have to allow the Iraqi government to step up and become leaders. But democracy doesn’t happen over night. I specifically remember our former Secretary of State, Collin Powell, right when we went into war saying it’s not going to be easy for the American people, this is not going to be a year or two and we’re out. Soldiers see it every day and understand that we cannot just abandon what they have started.
I think that as Louisianans we need to be so proud of our young men and women. Look at the commitment – second and third tours and the tremendous hardship to the family when a parent is gone, or husband or wife is gone. Soldiers keep fighting. We need to recognize that we have lost a lot of our soldiers fighting this war. I’ve had to bury a soldier. I don’t take this lightly; our men and women need to be brought home with all the honor and respect imaginable. We need to make sure we have healthcare for them, social services for them, and that we honor them with all the dignity we can when they are brought home.
Louisiana Conservative Dot Com: In the last two years, we’ve gone thru the greatest crisis in this state in 100 years with Katrina and Rita. What can Congress do to speed things up for the recovery without throwing them all (FEMA, Corps of Engineers) out of here?
Laurinda Calongne: The first thing I think is Bobby Jindal has to be an agent for change, a new communicator; a new representative for the state. There’s been a lot of finger pointing at the Federal government. I can tell you that I have met with Federal officials who say, “We are just asking the state to get us more information, the state needs to prioritize.” There was so much blaming, that we literally wasted a year.
Louisiana Conservative Dot Com: While our district wasn’t directly affected as much as Bobby Jindal’s former district, there is a residual impact….
Laurinda Calongne: Yes, we need to stay on task with the recovery in New Orleans, we need to help our colleagues and fellow citizens out, but at the same time we need to start speaking louder and clearer about [what] our needs are. Look at our infrastructure, look at our interstates, our roads. I spoke with a Livingston Parish senator who said “Laurinda, we seen so many people move, our roads can’t handle it.” You know the sad thing is there is so much Katrina fatigue at the Federal level; we’re not going to get anything from the Feds. We’ve got to speak with one consistent voice.
Louisiana Conservative Dot Com: Last question. As a Member of Congress, what would you see as the biggest issues facing our district today?
Laurinda Calongne: Infrastructure, healthcare, and crime, and I mean crime by the way of illegal immigrants. When Sheriff Sid Gautreaux has to hire interpreters to ride with deputies to arrest people and read them their Miranda rights, we’ve got serious issues with illegal immigrants. As a state, I think that illegal immigration is not just a Federal issue anymore. And healthcare. There is no reason why this district should not have a teaching hospital. We need to replace Earl K. Long. We have our local hospitals that are interested in teaching residents. We need to move some graduate medical education over to the Baton Rouge area. And third are infrastructure issues and I don’t know if it’s the loop. I don’t know what the answer is, all I can tell you is State and Federal officials have to come together. And the loop- I think it will bring growth, and I’m pro-growth. The issue is, where, and how do we do it. And I want to respect eminent domain and property owners. We cannot just go through neighborhoods. If this were happening 20 years ago, before the growth to Livingston and Ascension Parishes, we’d be talking a whole different ball game. But I’m very sensitive to the issues of people who have moved out to Livingston and Ascension to get away from the sprawl and have a more sedate lifestyle, and now we’re bringing a loop to them.