Editor’s Note: The Interview took place via zoom on 12/23/21.
Garrit: Can you introduce yourself?
Nathaniel: Absolutely. So, I’m 47 years old, I’m currently the county judge in Smith County, but my roots in East Texas go back to 1976 when my parents moved here to help start a Bible college in Smith County. We were part of that ministry for about ten years. So, I spent my first ten years in Texas from age 2 to about 12 being part of that ministry, and I had a great upbringing surrounded by folks dedicated to faith, family, and freedom. I have three brothers, and I have four kiddos. I’ve been married for 22 years. My wife Kyna and I met at Texas Tech University. Over 22 years, we’ve had four kids together—we’ve got a 16, 15, 6, and 4-year-old. We’ve got two boys and two girls, and they’re the center of our world. In a considerable measure, that’s why we’ve decided as a family that this is the right thing to do is to try to make sure that the world they grow up in is better than the world we presently live in. We want a strong foundation of freedom for them when they grow up.
Garrit: That’s great. How has your experience with the ministry influenced your philosophy and how you’re approaching this race, and how you will serve in Congress?
Nathaniel: I love that question because it is indeed the foundation of everything that I believe from a political aspect. So, my political worldview is entirely informed by my Judeo-Christian worldview through the lens of Holy Scripture through the Bible. I think, to be a true conservative, you have to have that foundation of faith because that foundation of faith, through God’s Holy Word, is what gives us this Judeo-Christian ethic—which is what provided the basis for our Constitution. Indeed, as men and women in this world—in a fallen world—as we try to restate in political terms what was perfect in the Bible, we don’t get it right all the time. We certainly haven’t gotten it right over the life of our nation, but we are the most Judeo-Christian-centric country in the world. We need to stay focused on that. So, it informs all of my political philosophy because I think as a conservative, when you talk about life and liberty—which are the two primary aspects of our Constitution—we have both structural conservative views and substantive conservative views. Still, all of those tenants come out of a Judeo-Christian ethic which then emanates from the biblical truths that we find in the Bible. So, those natural laws need to continue to inform our policy decisions as we move forward. So, my faith is firm in what I do. It also informs how I go about doing business. The way we behave and go about our business is informed by the natural laws of God and the Holy Scripture just as much as the substantive views that we hold. So, treating people with dignity and respect, listening to, serving, and loving others. That doesn’t just mean loving others who have the same view or helping others that we hold the same view—it means doing that for all folks. So, you find pretty quickly that I’m not a person that looks for division. I look to show dignity and respect to all folks. Though, I hold firm to and do not get away from those biblical principles that are substantive.
Garrit: Continuing with that, how will your professional background transfer to Congress?
Nathaniel: One of the things that I’m proud to talk about as I run for Congress as a candidate is that I’m a proven conservative. That’s significant. When I’m able to talk about my beliefs, what my principles are, and how I would apply them as a policymaker, it’s not theoretical—it is an actual practice that I’ve lived out over the past 20 years. So, let me go through some of my experiences. I’m a small business owner. I own a staffing company in central Louisiana, Texas, and right here in East Texas. So, I understand what it means to build and grow a small business and the impact that government regulations and taxation can have on the business and on families that are trying to make their way. So, from a business standpoint, I have a unique perspective of understanding what it means to be a small business guy. My dad started a business out of our garage when I was in the eighth grade. When he did that, I remember sitting at the dinner table every night counting receipts, nickels, dimes, and quarters—he started a vending company. Over 30 years, he and my oldest brother built that business up to successful because they were hard workers, cared about their customers, and were men of their word. That’s how my parents raised us to be, and that’s how you build a successful business. But you need government out of the way so that your hard work and good choices can determine your future. So, business is one aspect. Education is another. When I was getting my degrees at Texas Tech, I got a Bachelor’s in Russian, an MBA, and a law degree. I worked to support myself and to pay my way through college. One of my jobs was working as a teaching assistant in the Lubbock Independent School District during the day while I was getting my MBA at night. Then during law school, I ran after-school programs for disadvantaged kids. My wife was a public-school teacher in Lubbock, then in Lyndale, and then she also worked for Cumberland Academy here in Tyler—so, she’s an educator by heart. Now, she’s a full-time stay-at-home mom, and we’re proud that she has the opportunity to do that, and she’s chosen to do that. That is truly the toughest job out there, being a mom. So, education is a big part of my life as well. I understand the need for the federal government to stay out of education as much as possible and let the local leaders make those decisions. My older brother is a superintendent in Whitehouse and has been in public education all his life. My kids, at times, have gone to both private and public schools—we’ve seen the benefit of both. Homeschooling has been a part of our extended families. So, I view that education needs to be directed by the parents and the families. The family unit is the basic building block of our society, and it needs to be protected, secured, and supported by our government. So, that’s business, education; then we talk about the law. I’ve been a lawyer now for 19 years. I represent businesses in litigation and transaction issues for that amount of time. I’m not a personal injury lawyer. I’ve always just been a guy who represented businesses and individuals starting businesses. So, that’s a lot of what I’ve done over the last 19 years to help folks in that area. I also have experience as a conservative grassroots worker. I think that’s another aspect that folks need to look at. Many folks in these races can talk about being a conservative, but, again, the proof is in the pudding. I didn’t start being a conservative when I started running for Congress. I’ve been a conservative all my life. I cast my first ballot for a conservative when I was in the fourth grade for Ronald Reagan when he was running for a second term. That’s really where my love for political service, public policy, and conservatism began for me. When my dad introduced me to Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Rush Limbaugh, conservatism began to build up in me. I spent decades listening to Rush and being tutored by him, unbeknownst to him, just through the radio and understanding what it truly meant to be a conservative. So, my conservative roots go way back. I even did block walking as a College Republican and then as a precinct chair, a county delegate, a state delegate, and as Smith County Republican club president in the early 2000s. I’ve been a precinct judge and an Election Day judge. So, I’ve got those conservative groups I have been involved with for decades. You can look at my record. I’ve been a conservative for many years. I was proud to be part of the Alliance Defending Freedom’s initial Blackstone Fellowship group in law school that trained conservative jurists. I worked with First Liberty Institute, now called First Liberty Institute, in Dallas over one of my summers in law school defending First Amendment freedoms. Then I have my experience as the county judge. I’ve been able to put those policies and practices in motion. One of the things I’m proud about is having cut taxes more than 50 cents below the effective rate in Smith County during the pandemic—that’s just unheard of. Counties just don’t do that, but we were proud to do that because we knew that folks were hurt. We were trimming our budget as much as we could, and we’ve maintained one of the lowest tax rates of any county in the state over the past five and a half years since I’ve been the county judge. During the pandemic, I was proud to be recognized as a liberty-loving judge that, though we took measures to preserve life, we always had liberty at the forefront of our minds. It kept things rolling as much as we could for businesses and have received just a lot of feedback from businesses saying, “thank you for the way you handled that because we were able to continue to operate and continue to be able to make a living for our family,” which is what we want. I’m also proud that we were ahead of the legislature on election integrity. We made sure that we replaced all of our election machines to have paper backups. We’ve also upgraded the administration of our elections facility so that there’s more security and more transparency involved in that process—both are needed so that you can make it easier to vote and harder to cheat. Last year, I was proud to keep our tax rates still at 33.5 but give law enforcement an average of 14% increase in pay and detention officers starting pay—starting pay almost across the board in our law enforcement agencies here in Smith County went up by 25%. Those are important things that folks need to look at when deciding who will be their new Congressman. I think they need to look at a proven record of conservatism. You can look at my record and tell I’ve been a conservative—even when it comes to issues like pro-life issues (which are very important). We were very proud to be at the forefront of defending SB 8. We were one of the defendants in SB 8. I was able to help direct that litigation, which has gone to the Supreme Court now twice. So, those are just some of the things that I’m proud of. I’ve also got some military experience; I went to West Point for two years before going to Texas Tech. I’ve got some foreign affairs experience. I’ve studied in Russia. I have a degree in the Russian language which gives me more of a world view and world perspective on matters that will be dealt with at the federal level. So, when you’re thinking, “do I want a Congressman with a breadth of life experience,” hopefully somebody will say that I have it. I’ve got a lot of faith experience. Faith has always been important to my wife and me. We’re proud South Spring Baptist Church members, where we’ve taught Sunday school to elementary school kids for many years now. I’m raising four kids with a wife of 22 years. I’ve got education, business, law, grassroots, judiciary, military, and foreign affairs experience. Hopefully, folks will say,” wow, that’s the kind of background that we need in Congress.”
Garrit: With the vacancy created by Congressman Gohmert, many conservatives would say that those are some pretty big shoes to fill. So, first off, if you are given the opportunity, would you join the House Freedom Caucus?
Nathaniel: You know, that’s a decision that we’re going to save until later. We’ll look at and consider all caucuses after March 1 and decide what’s best for the district. We’ll decide whether or not we need to join any, some, or all of them. I mean, we want to look at all that later on. Right now, we’re just focused on March 1 and trying to get our message out. I can assure the folks of Northeast Texas that I’m a solid Christian conservative—that’s the way I’m going to vote because that’s in line with the principles and values of East Texas. Whether or not I join any caucus, they can be assured that my vote will represent and reflect the values of East Texas.
Garrit: Secondly, how will you take on the establishment?
Nathaniel: Well, here’s where the rubber meets the road on experience because county judge is not an easy spot—you have to be tough, you got to be thick-skinned, and you got to be willing to stand in the middle of the ring and fight hard for what is right all within the midst of slings and arrows coming your way from all directions. After five and a half years of getting things done as a county judge and having proven that I can do that without divorcing myself from conservative principles, I think the same can be done in Washington, DC. There’s undoubtedly that “swamp” that needs to be dealt with. When you deal with people with dignity and respect—even when you’re opposed to them—and you stand firm with your principles, I find that people begin to respect you over time. They start to see that you’re going to be a leader in whatever body you’re functioning in. That’s the way I’ve lived my life, and that’s the way I intend to do it in Congress. I don’t plan to go up there and follow; I plan to go up there and lead by example. But I also understand that if I have principles that we need to espouse through legislation or defeat legislation or get something done for our district, often that’s going to mean working with folks that aren’t aligned with me 100% of the time. My wife and I don’t agree on everything. My brothers and I don’t agree on everything. That’s the way it works. What the folks in East Texas can count on is I never move from my principles, I always stick to my guns, I’ll stand firm, and I’ll fight as hard as Congressman Gohmert did. But I plan to go up there and work with whoever I need to work with to get stuff done for this district. For me, that’s in line with our principles.
Garrit: Moving on to some specific policy positions. First off, debt, deficit, and inflation (in particular) have become a big issue. What do you think needs to be done to tackle the debt and inflation, and are there specific programs, departments, or agencies that you believe should be cut or completely abolished?
Nathaniel: Great question. So, with inflation, one of the big problems right now is that the government seems to be printing money and wanting to buy off voters, so to speak, by sending all this money back to the local level. At the end of the day, this is the citizens’ money—that’s what folks lose sight of. So, we need to stop with the government programs that are just giving so much money back to individuals and communities, really, as buy-offs. That’s unfortunate because that’s driving up a lot of the prices. I also think that the stranglehold that the government has put on the oil and gas industry is not helpful. We need to get back in a mode of helping the energy industry, lessening the regulations there, and becoming more independent. This will help us, but it will help other countries that are our friends become more independent so that they’re not tied to Russian or Chinese influence—which is happening because we cannot produce oil, gas, and natural gas here. Back to the debt issue. One of the target departments I think has been there for decades that more and more these days we see a resurgence of discussion about is the Department of Education. I’m a guy that believes that education needs to be dealt with at the state level. I’d love for the state to give more freedom to the local level. The federal government and the amount of money it spends would be best to block grant that to the states and let them decide how it gets spent. I would love to see the Department of Education minimized to a large extent and potentially eliminated. That’s not supposed to be a function of the federal government. Over time, the federal government became more and more expansive in the areas that the Constitution never intended. They did so because we’ve got so many ties through the Interstate Commerce Clause these days, but the Interstate Commerce Clause gets overused and becomes overly broad. Now, the federal government begins to believe it can have its hands in everything. States need to have the right to make those decisions. Those areas that were not specifically enumerated for the federal government, even when we know there’s going to be some states that get it wrong…and that’s hard for conservatives because sometimes we see some states doing a lousy job. We want the federal government to jump into squash certain decisions, but the moment we cede authority, that procedural protection that we have through federalism, to the federal government, we see once the tables get turned. We have a democratic government that gets turned right back on us. The best way to protect our families is to keep local control.
Garrit: Absolutely. You talked about your experience in the military and foreign affairs. There was some news recently about the Russia and Ukraine situation. What are your thoughts on that, and what role do you think the US plays in that?
Nathaniel: Well, here’s what I know. Russia responds to military strength. Short of that, I think the US will have a tough time keeping Russia from invading Ukraine altogether. We already allowed them to take the southern part of Ukraine—Crimea—and get some vital ports and oil and gas resources. With the buildup of troops along the border, I think it’s inevitable that they will invade Ukraine. We have to stand firm with making sure that we have strong alliances with Ukraine, get them into NATO, and keep our missile batteries in place to deter any military conflict in that region. I would like to get more in-depth information. I’m sure that there is a behind-the-scenes, but you know, my initial reaction is it would be great if we could have some boots on the ground and have the chance to stand up firmly to Russia. I don’t think they would be so quick to cross that border if we had a physical presence there in partnership with Ukraine’s government.
Garrit: Yeah. So, how do we convince American citizens and voters that’s what we need to do? When you talk about boots on the ground, many people might think of Afghanistan; especially in recent times, people wanted us to leave Afghanistan, and we saw what happened with that. So, how do you convince voters that we need to be there to protect Ukraine?
Nathaniel: It’s a much different scenario because you’re talking about a more traditional developed nation with a different history of engagement with the United States. We’ve been down that road with the Cold War before. So, it’s a country where we better grasp the infrastructure and their military command structure. We certainly don’t want to get entangled with another prolonged war or military engagement. But I think history tells us that if we are willing to take a strong stand at the outset, the Russian government will be less apt to take proactive military steps on its front. But once Ukraine is invaded, then it’s too late.
Garrit: You also spoke about China. What do you think needs to be done to curtail the influence of China?
Nathaniel: Well, trade issues are at the top of that list. China responds significantly to the economic realities of this world. So, we need to have more trade balance there. We also need to build economic alliances and economic ties with countries that China is trying to get into. The more economic influence they have with our friends worldwide, the less impact we will have with those particular countries. So, we need to get in front of that; we need to stand firm on the intellectual property issues that have been so devastating to many Americans. We need to be sure that our cybersecurity force here in the United States is second to none. We need to be on top of all the cybersecurity threats coming from both China and Russia, which is where a lot of it originates from. So, we need to beef that up, and I think they’ll respond positively to that economic influence as well.
Garrit: I read an article discussing how Congressional District 4, which I previously lived in, and Congressional District 1 are both ranked top in Texas for the overprescription of opioids. One, do you think there is an opioid crisis in northeast Texas? Two, what do you think can be done to mitigate that crisis?
Nathaniel: This is one of these questions that I love to get because it’s an easy question for me to answer. I was one of the few individuals in the state of Texas that was part of the committee that negotiated this most recent deal for the opioid litigation settlement with the Texas Attorney General’s office. I’ve been involved with this for a couple of years. As county judge in Smith County, I was the class representative for small and mid-sized counties in the state. I was also a representative in the federal MDL litigation in Ohio that dealt with these issues. So, I’ve had a seat at the table. And we’re talking about a small table with the Attorney General’s office to make sure that we’re all on the same page with how we can settle with these defendants, bring money to our region, and how it can best be used. So, we crafted an agreement that’s referred to as the Texas Term Sheet supporting legislation—most recently resulted in a firm—that will allow us to provide millions of dollars to RAC (regional advisory councils) that are put together based on a medical region. The Texas Term Sheet says that we want it to be used for opioid-related issues. That was one of the things that I was adamant about when we were negotiating. We don’t want this money to come from these defendants and then go directly to roads and bridges. It needs to go where the harm is. So, it’s a horrible epidemic in northeast Texas, and it needs to be addressed. It needs to be addressed medically. This first set of settlements that came through will start providing a good amount of funds to the region. These programs are on the local level—which is a great model to follow because it lets the local communities bind together and determine solutions. So, that’s something I’ve been involved with for a long time. I think it will have an indelible impact as we move forward here in the next few years as more settlements come through.
Garrit: Congressman Gohmert has been serving since 2005. So, would you limit yourself to a certain number of terms?
Nathaniel: I’m not going to self-impose term limits. I think that would be foolish for the district. That would not accomplish the district’s path. I’m not a career politician—even though I’ve been in public service here and locally as a county judge for five and a half years. My life is dictated by just giving back to the public and serving. Even when I was out of public service, one of the essential things was finding ways to give back to my community. My friend and I started an education foundation for our school district in Whitehouse—it took us about a year and a half to work through that process to do that. I was not an elected official at the time. It was just two guys that had an idea and wanted to make sure that got done to their community—that’s how you get things done. I certainly agree that we do not need politicians to make it a lifetime adventure. I don’t think that’s helpful to anybody. I’d be willing to support a measure that would limit terms—how short or long that is is a debate we need to have. Everybody knows no matter what job you’re doing. It takes you a little bit to figure out how the process works. If you have term limits that are too short, then the lobbyists are the only ones that know what’s going on. The lobbyists will be the ones turning the keys to the kingdom. So, generally speaking, I don’t think being a politician should be a lifetime career, but I don’t want to see all the power ceded over to non-elected lobbyists. If we have lobbyists in control of what’s going on in Washington, DC, then that takes the energy out of people’s hands.
Garrit: Do you have any final thoughts as we conclude the interview?
Nathaniel: I want to end where I started. I’m a proven conservative. The things that I’m espousing are not talking points that somebody has written for me. They’re not things that I’ve decided to believe so that I can get some votes. The proof has been in the pudding for the past 20 years, as I’ve served in volunteer roles, in business, in education, and as a lawyer here in East Texas. I’m an East Texas guy that has deep Texas roots. I’m proud to be from Whitehouse, Texas, and be a kid who lived the American dream. I hope that I can provide that opportunity for others as well. When I started in life, my parents had a bible college education. We lived in a single-wide trailer. I shared a twin bed with my twin brother till I was ten years old. We grew up in an era where we had to work for every dime, and I began working when I was in junior high, working in the rose fields of East Texas, mowing lawns, and doing the things I needed to do to make some money. I was proud to pay for my college. I’ve served in many roles in the faith community. So, I know that at this point in life, I’m a county judge, but when I think back to standing on a bridge on a county road when I was just a young pup and using my BB gun to shoot snakes in the West Mud Creek, that’s my heritage, and then going home, getting cleaned up, and going to church three times a week. Those are the things that I value most, and those are the values I want to pass on to my kids.
Garrit Blizzard is the Editor-In-Chief of The Texas Horn. He is a senior studying government at the University of Texas at Austin. Garrit enjoys reading, listening to music, and discussing politics and economics.