Gus Rantz IV knows something about poverty.
Standing this week in one of his company’s specialty hospitals, four floors over Ambassador Caffery Parkway, Rantz recalled vividly his boyhood spent on the move, his years as the middle of three children in a working-poor family that lived in New Orleans public housing.
The family’s riches resided in the family itself.
His mother, who’d been a teen mom, scrapped through odd jobs to support the family, while his father, a Vietnam veteran, studied to become first a nurse, then a nurse anesthetist.
What the couple lacked in ready cash they made up for with ambition and toil.
Through it all, Rantz recalled, he had something many other poor children lack: Parents who encouraged him, who valued education, who put a hot meal on the table every night.
He learned first-hand that people can achieve success through determination.
“The American dream is not about being a Kardashian,” he said. “The American dream is about self-determination.”
For Rantz, many stops along the way
Nowadays, Rantz, 36, the youngest of 12 candidates vying to replace Charles Boustany as Acadiana’s 3rd Congressional District representative, leads a specialty health-care company that operates 20 hospitals and employs 1,850 people in eight states.
That’s now; this was then:
As a boy and through college, Rantz worked at labor and entry-level jobs, including time as a hospital orderly, on his way through five colleges. He wasn’t fickle or struggling academically: He was a college athlete seeking opportunity as a baseball pitcher.
His last stop was at Missouri Valley College, a liberal arts school affiliated with the Presbyterian church, where he earned his degree and, more importantly, met his wife, Andrea, a middle-distance runner on the Viking track team.
The couple, parishioners at St. Pius Catholic Church in Lafayette, have been married 14 years and have three children, 9, 8 and 5 years old.
Graduation was just one more step toward law school at LSU, where he studied healthcare law, and law school one step closer to a career in health care.
And why not? Rantz said he’d always been exposed to or surrounded by health-care professionals — doctors, specialists, nurses — ever since his father landed his first nursing position.
Rantz’s parents moved the family as his father, Gus III, sought business opportunities in health care.
Rantz’s story: ‘Uniquely American’
As a young lawyer, exposed to cases involving regulatory compliance, Gus IV also took his chances.
He said he and his father were “opportunistic” as the company, Acadiana Management Group, bought out failing health-care companies, one by one, and transformed them.
Their first break came when they received the keys to an acute-care hospital that was near closing. They turned it around, he said.
“That’s how my story began,” he said. “That’s how we got started.”
And his was a uniquely American story, he said.
Along the way, Rantz said, he learned, sometimes painfully, that to be successful, health-care companies have to navigate a morass of federal interference, usually doled out by bureaucrats who don’t know much about the business.
The feds, he said, can change the rules on a dime, and different agencies can lay down conflicting guidelines.
“There are a lot of good people in Washington,” he said this week, talking in the break room of his facility. “There are not a lot of accomplished people.”
Fed up: There’s room for an outsider
That’s what prompted this, his initial political campaign.
He’s seen Washington regulators, he said, sometimes providing “white papers” on his industry to Washington, sometimes lobbying, sometimes offering testimony and other insights.
Congress, he said, has 435 voting representatives from myriad backgrounds and with myriad skill sets.
“They don’t have one of me,” he said of health-care administrators and entrepreneurs.
They need one, he said. His interests as a health-care leader may coincide nicely with those of Lafayette’s as a health-care center.
Rantz doesn’t like the political system, which he said is based on political seniority and favors time-servers.
In a year when maverick politician and businessman Donald Trump has captured the Republican nomination, Rantz says there is room for other, pro-business candidates in Congress.
He says his wife gave him the nudge he needed to enter what is a crowded field for Congress.
He said he was complaining, loudly, about Washington politics at home when his wife “basically said, ‘Why don’t you get up and do something about it.’”
A candidacy was born.
So was an eight-letter catch phrase for his campaign: “Fed Up? I Am.”
Rantz is fed up with government destroying the American dream. Fed up with an oil economy dictated by foreign countries that dislike the U.S. Fed up with attacks on American values and with our immigration laws being trampled.
Seat at the table makes a difference
At heart, Rantz said, he is “an old soul,” willing to take Washington as it is and navigate it, eventually changing it where he can.
He knows as a young, freshman representative, his input might be limited.
His job, he said, would more likely be basic to good government: He’d need to reach out to others in Congress, convince them that their interests coincide with Louisiana’s in areas such as highway construction, oil and gas and deregulation in order to best serve this district.
But, he said, he would not become so comfortable with Washington that he couldn’t leave it.
His intention is to keep his family in Lafayette and commute home on weekends, to stay in close touch with his district.
Rantz said Jim Collins’ study of corporate leadership, “Good to Great,” holds lessons of value for business and for Washington. The book details how some great businesses were built, how others failed and what makes them still successful long after their launch.
And, he said, it speaks to leadership. There’s a misconception, he said, about necessary ties between leadership and “brilliance.”
As a company leader, he said, he’s assembled a top-notch team of people who know a lot about health care, oftentimes more than he does.
His task, he says, is to make sure the right people are in the right places to serve the whole.
“I know how many brilliant people have let us down,” he said, naming President Barack Obama and Bobby Jindal as two.
His influences, he said, include his own family — including his grandfather Edgar Menard and his father, Gus III and his own mother — and include Republican icon Ronald Reagan, another product of a working-class home. Like Reagan, he wants to get government out of the way of individual initiative so that hard-working people can rise, can build their own companies and fulfill their own dreams.
But he knows government can’t be ignored. Rantz appeared on talk-show host Moon Griffon’s program a few weeks back, and recalled this lesson from former U.S. Sen. John Breaux:
“If you don’t have a seat at the table, guess who’s on the menu.”