I was jolted by a sudden memory last week, shortly after Josh Gillespie aired my interview with Congressman Todd Rokita on his Internet radio show. A friend from college days responded with a generous compliment…and just that quickly, I was mentally transported back to the late ‘90s. At that time, Congressman Dan Burton was making life miserable for President Bill Clinton as chairman of the House Government and Reform Committee, and endearing himself to conservatives in so doing! I would never have dreamed in those days that in the not-so-distant future, I would reside in Dan Burton’s Congressional district and become friends with several of his district office personnel, an intrepid group which includes Josh Gillespie.
Loyalty is a trait I grudgingly admire even in an enemy and one that I prize in a friend. I have had occasion to discover that Josh is fiercely loyal, not only to the Congressman, but to his state (Indiana), his alma mater (Purdue), his Party (the GOP) and his family. Josh is a straight shooter, not the sort of fellow who causes a person to wonder where they stand with him, a characteristic I also appreciate.
I enjoyed getting better acquainted with Josh while navigating the highways of Southwestern Indiana in late October, aboard Congressman Mike Pence’s campaign bus. To his mirthful chagrin, Josh speedily discerned, at a Terre Haute rally for former Indiana State University basketball star (now State Representative) Bob Heaton that the sphere of my sports knowledge is rather narrow! So to accommodate me, we remained on safer rhetorical ground the majority of the ride, examining the mechanics of conservative activism, the terrain of Indiana and DC politics and the labyrinthine history of Christian denominational differences.
I’m not sure when Josh schedules sleep. He is now Press Secretary for Congressman Burton, but manages to host and write regularly for Hoosier Access, a burgeoning blog to which I’m proud to contribute and also to broadcast a weekly radio show on From the Right Radio (FTR). But he brings it all together and does so with authority, humor and class. If you aren’t yet, please follow Josh on Twitter at @joshgillespie.
10 Questions for Josh Gillespie
1. Even though we’re good friends, I know astonishingly little about your life prior to Purdue! Are you a lifelong Hoosier? Whether yes or no, tell us about your growing up years and what made you the person you are today.
I am a lifelong Hoosier. I was born in Indianapolis and was raised in Fishers. I remember when there wasn’t a McDonalds in Fishers and combines drove down 116th St (the main drag). Growing up, my dad was a pastor of a small “Little House on the Prairie” type box church. My brother and sister are 10 and 8 years older than me. I remember watching “The Cosby Show” and “Family Ties” every Thursday night and really identifying with the Alex P. Keaton character played by Michael J. Fox. From an early age, I knew I was a conservative. My parents weren’t very political, but they were informed. I knew of Ronald Reagan and I knew my parents liked him…a lot. I’ve always been a lover of American history and with my genealogy containing people like President Warren G. Harding, Ben Franklin and the Webster brothers (Noah and Daniel), it’s not surprising that politics came calling.
2. How did you end up working as a political staffer for Tom Davis and then, your current boss, Dan Burton (who is also my Congressman)?
I actually started out as an intern for Congressman Burton out of college in the winter of 2001. I remember attending an event with him in downtown Indianapolis. After it was over, he and I were talking and he asked me a little bit about myself. By the end of the conversation, he asked if I was interested in working in Washington and, of course, I said yes. In August of 2001, I joined the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, which Mr. Burton chaired at the time, as Deputy Chief Clerk. I joined the staff after the Clinton investigations, so I missed all that excitement. It was after Mr. Burton’s chairmanship that I retained my job and served under Congressman Tom Davis. After I met my wife and got married, we returned to Indianapolis. I returned to work for Mr. Burton in June of 2009 and was recently promoted to be his Press Secretary.
3. I am honored to be on the roster for Hoosier Access, a blog on the move in Indiana. What was the genesis of Hoosier Access…the impetus that finally got it going?
Hoosier Access got its start in August of 2007. I had been blogging on my own for a couple of years, writing about subjects that interested me. I finally realized that my blogging had become more and more political and I needed to have a dedicated site for politics. There were already a couple of blogs in Indiana on both sides of the aisle, but for some reason, I felt there needed to be one more. It needed to be written by people who had experience in politics. The sites that existed were either liberal or the conservative ones were anonymous. I felt that a legitimate site didn’t need to hide behind the shadows of anonymity. Plus, I wanted it to be more technical, in that it would have a dedicated YouTube page and regular podcasts, something which Hoosier political blogs weren’t really focusing on.
So I teamed up with Greg Magnuson (a friend from church), Jim Banks (a local county chairman and now a State Senator), Scott Fluhr (a local county chairman and blogger) and Brian Sikma (a local flack and friend of Jim Banks) to form Hoosier Access. The intention was for Hoosier Access to be an Indiana version of Red State. It wasn’t initially, but now, with contributors in the double digits, it may be more like the Red State model than it was in the beginning.
4. You have a wife and three kids; tell us about your family!
My wife and I met at McLean Presbyterian Church in Virginia. We both worked in Washington. I was the Hill staffer and she worked for the Administration in one of the agencies. We married 13 months after our first date. The weekend of our wedding, Hurricane Isabel hit DC. In terms of an omen, I don’t know what that means, but it’s a heck of a story to share!
The day we got back from our honeymoon, we started packing for Indiana and we’ve been here ever since. Our first child was born in 2006, the second in 2007, and our third in 2008. Needless to say, our hands have been full, but our children are wonderful. Currently, Catherine is homeschooling them. We are members of Crossroads Community Church (PCA) and I play guitar and sing on the worship team.
5. At what stage in life did you realize that you had what could be termed as a conservative point of view and how do you define conservatism as a life philosophy today?
It was probably when I was in the 5th grade and running for class president (which I won, by the way) and routinely ripping off Dana Carvey’s impression of George H.W. Bush during the 1988 election. As I mentioned before, I had also identified with the Alex P. Keaton character from “Family Ties.”
Today, I identify my brand of conservatism as a belief in limited government and strong states’ rights. By that, I mean that many of the issues that are taken up on the federal level should, I believe, be handled at the state level. While the government controls the power of the purse, the government should also create the kind of fiscal environment that allows private business to grow and permits healthy competition. The tax system that is currently set up in our country is abysmal, but it’s my hope that the current Congress takes a long hard look at simplifying the tax code and empowering the tax payer and encouraging reinvestment into our economy. Only then will we see improvement.
6. Time for you to follow the honored tradition of answering the favorites question for this column: Books, musical artists, movies, foods, and whatever else you want to throw in there.
My absolute favorite books (as far as fiction goes) all tend to have some sort of take on the government: Dante’s Inferno, Animal Farm, Watership Down and the Screwtape Letters. While Screwtape isn’t about the government, nonetheless, it is one of C.S. Lewis’ best written works not named the Chronicles of Narnia.
As far as nonfiction goes, I enjoy reading up on theology. I love pretty much anything written by R.C. Sproul, Jonathan Edwards or John Calvin (why yes, I am a Presbyterian). I also love the book Cash by Johnny Cash. Simply amazing.
Movies: Braveheart, High Fidelity, Ghostbusters, Blazing Saddles, Walk the Line.
Music: If there is one thing I love as much as politics, it’s music. My faves include: Rush, R.E.M., Caedmon’s Call, Arcade Fire, Derek Webb, Third Day, Foo Fighters and Kings of Leon.
Food: It begins and ends with pizza.
7. We all have people and/or events in our lives that have given us hope and guidance when we needed a steady hand. What/who have three influences in your life been in times of transition for you?
First and foremost would be my middle school Bible teacher, Mr. Stroup. I transferred schools right before middle school. I was in a new place and not very popular (a hallmark of junior high and high school). Mr. Stroup was always there when I needed help or just someone to talk to. To this day, I still get a birthday letter from him. Then again, so does every single student he has had since he started teaching back in the 1980s. He is simply an incredible example to me of Christ. He is amazing. And he’s still teaching.
Second, would be Mr. Watt, my high school government/econ/history teacher. He nourished my love of politics and government. If it weren’t for him, I’m not sure I would be where I am. Plus, he was also my baseball coach. While my main position was left bench, I learned a lot from him about the game and the love of the game. At one point, it was my goal to be the first President of the United States to also manage the Yankees. Clearly, at least one of those won’t happen.
Third would be my wife. She knows I hate change. I’m stubborn and I like things “the way they are.” She was a military brat growing up, so she’s used to transitions and change. She helps me quite a bit with the word I hate most: change.
8. What are the differences between being a DC GOP staffer (which you have done) and assisting the home state operation? There is a lot more interaction with constituents. It’s a simple fact (which DC staff doesn’t like to admit at times) that they really don’t have a feel for what’s going on in the district. They’re out there to make sure the Congressman’s agenda goes through. In the district, it’s our job to take care of constituent concerns and be the go between be them and the Federal government. We’re the front lines of voter approval and disapproval. We do our best to inform the DC staff of the feelings of the district. Fortunately, despite what some people want to think, my boss and the district staff are pretty much in tune with the rest of the district and the way my boss votes is indicative of the feelings and mood of the district.
9. What are three life goals that remain undone that it’s possible you could accomplish?
Well, I already mentioned the POTUS/Yankees manager thing. But seriously, I would love to serve the citizens of Indiana in elected office. Some people feel called to serve in the military. I have long felt called to serve in the government, be that on the state or federal level.
Second, I’d like to cut an album. Now whether that’s as the lead or part of the band, I don’t care. I’d just like to do something like that. My family, growing up, was always musical. In fact, for one Christmas about 10 years ago, my two siblings and I cut an EP of three songs to give to our parents. We had a blast doing that.
Third, take Hoosier Access and FTR Radio to the next level, whatever that is. FTR is a newer edition to my life, but the guys over there have been great. I don’t know what their plans are for the future; I just know I want to be a part of it. I love new media and I believe that there really is an incredible future for FTR.
10. Tell us about the “Gillespie” show on FTR Radio and describe the atmosphere and intentions behind the broadcast.
“Gillespie” was born out of the old podcasts that I did for Hoosier Access. Mark Warner, who was part of the old podcasts, has gotten to know Fingers Malloy and Thomas “Duke” LaDuke of FTR and pitched them the idea of the show. Fingers and Duke decided to risk a chance on us and so far, I hope they feel they made the right decision. The atmosphere is one that’s thoughtful and informative, but loose. With all the hyper-partisanship (especially within Republicanism and conservatism), I try to lighten things up a bit, which I think is what FTR does in general. Whether it’s Mark Warner, Kristee Kelley and me engaging in a deep conversation about gay marriage or health care reform or my segment called “Ask a RINO” where we take Republicans and discern whether or not they are “true conservatives” or just “Republicans in name only” by asking ridiculous questions, “Gillespie” is about having fun, but making sure my listeners walk away knowing something new every week.