Clay Higgins, aka “the Cajun John Wayne,” on Wednesday delivered with messianic zeal the news that he is running for Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District seat, which Rep. Charles Boustany is leaving to run for U.S. Senate.
“Support for my message and support for this mission is nationwide,” said Higgins, who is running as a Republican.
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He is a reserve deputy marshal with the Lafayette City Marshal’s Office. He lives in Port Barre. And his followers call him “Captain,” the rank he held with the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office before he and Sheriff Bobby Guidroz had a falling out.
Speaking to about 100 supporters in a cramped hotel conference room, Higgins declared: “I’m not running for office. I’m descending into the belly of the beast” that is Congress, where “disconnected career politicians” feed off the toil of working folks.
“They breed these guys (politicians) in laboratories, experiments or something. These guys don’t know what it’s like to look into the refrigerator and wonder how you’re going to feed your children,” said Higgins, who walked up to the lectern holding a Bible.
He showed empathy: To the homeless, Higgins said, “You are not alone. Hang on. I’m coming.”
To those struggling, he said he knew their pain. “I know struggle. … I’ve wept at the crushing feeling of an eviction notice.”
Higgins didn’t bring up domestic violence, which his ex-wife accused him of in 1991, and still didn’t directly address it when asked how he would handle questions in the campaign.
“The machine is out there grinding. And the only means by which they can stop this movement is by character assassination,” he said. “Good luck with that, because I spent the first 40 years of my life trying to assassinate my own character.
Wednesday’s announcement ends anticipation on what Higgins’ next move would be.
The year he spent producing Crime Stoppers segments on KATC-TV for the Sheriff’s Office made him world famous. His Jack Webb-like delivery and tough-on-criminals verbiage garnered fans coast to coast and internationally.
Higgins mocked and belittled those suspected of crimes, then he would employe an avuncular, cajoling tone to persuade the suspects to turn themselves in. It worked, his campaign said: Of the 51 segments Higgins produced and starred in, 44 arrests were made. Of those, 19 turned themselves in.
People across the nation took notice: late-night talk show hosts, nationally syndicated radio personalities, and national and international press, among them.
“He is the rising star of weekly Crime Stoppers segments that have garnered a cult following in the four months since he first went on air,” the Washington Post wrote in May 2015. “His stern demeanor, back-country drawl and made-for-TV one-liners explain why, in towns across southern Louisiana, he is quickly becoming known as the Cajun John Wayne.”
But Higgins and Sheriff Guidroz got crosswise after the sheriff objected to the tone and substance of Higgins’ last Crime Stopper episode. That show featured Higgins labeling at-large members of the criminal Gremlins gang out of Abbeville as “heathens” who would be “hunted.”
The episode, which aired in late February, rankled Louisiana officials with the ACLU of Louisiana, whose leader Marjorie Esman called Higgins out. Higgins resigned a few days later.
Standing on the steps of the parish courthouse, Higgins said,“Some horses just don’t run well with a bit in their mouth.” He later joined the Lafayette City Marshal’s Office. On Wednesday, deputy marshals and Marshal Brian Pope stood in the hall as Higgins made the announcement.
In early May, Higgins signaled an interest in running for office by releasing a video over the Internet. He delivered the message in the same sincere and serious manner that made his television appearances go viral. Higgins speaks of America’s greatness and also the “peril” posed by the “elitist few who have seized power in Washington.” As he’s speaking, the video shows iconic American photos: a weather-faced Abraham Lincoln in the last years of the Civil War; the preamble to the U.S. Constitution; U.S. Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima during World War II.
The 3rd District race includes several other candidates, including Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, who ran for governor last fall.