In early October The Independent published a story revealing that congressional candidate Clay Higgins, who rose to prominence after his Crime Stoppers videos went viral, has quite the controversial past. In this piece, “Uniform misconduct: Inside the rise and possible fall of ‘The Cajun John Wayne,’” freelance writer Zack Kopplin reported that Higgins had not paid income taxes for years and was having his wages at the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office garnished before he resigned earlier this year.
Kopplin opined that Higgins’ political ambitions might be imperiled by the release of emails and sheriff’s department memos obtained from a public records request:
They reveal a number of curious tidbits — ruminations on how “sex and youth sells” in Hollywood and the fact that Higgins, a former car salesman, believes he’s better looking in person than on TV. More, however, these emails reveal a public servant obsessed with making quick buck after quick buck on the taxpayer’s dime. He repeatedly broke sheriff’s department rules, using his job in law enforcement to launch a series of lucrative schemes, and has done little to show he would not do the same with a seat in Congress.
After he became famous in early 2015, Higgins began exploiting his position in the sheriff’s department to sell T-shirts and mugs, negotiate paid talk show appearances, paid speeches, paid advertisements and even a reality television show, Higgins’ emails reveal. He did all of this on his government email account during work hours without the permission or knowledge of his supervisors. Higgins also appears to have attempted to conceal his earnings from the IRS in order to avoid wage garnishment for unpaid taxes. Whether those actions constitute tax fraud is unclear.
“I get paid 1500 for a television production and a grand for a radio production, plus 150 an hour travel time and an additional grand for a photo session,” Higgins wrote in an email to Lafayette attorney Tony Morrow, who he had agreed to film television ads for. “That’s a total of 10 grand for the eight productions.”
But Higgins added an unusual request. “I prefer to get paid in cash,” he wrote. “I have my reasons for preferring cash, reasons best discussed, if need be, in person.”
Then, in a Nov. 4 story, The IND reported that records from the Opelousas Police Department’s internal affairs investigations showed that Higgins roughed up a young black and was less than truthful about it when interviewed by The IND.
That was then, as Higgins did indeed go on to make the runoff with Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle. Higgins came in second in a 12-candidate field, grabbing an impressive 26 percent of the vote (84,809 votes), just behind frontrunner Angelle, the former secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources, who claimed 29 percent of the vote (91,374).
Now both The Advocate and Daily Advertiser are reporting that Higgins also failed to make child support payments and is being sued by one of his ex-wives for $100,000 after falling in arrears a decade ago. The ex does have connections to the Bobby Jindal administration, which has close ties to Angelle and Timmy Teepell, Jindal’s former adviser who is now running Angelle’s campaign, so you make the call on the timing of the suit.
Another ex-wife who is now deceased claims Higgins put a gun to her head during an argument in 1991.
In the past, any one of these revelations about a candidate would likely sink him. Yet Higgins — the ultimate outsider — made the runoff in a crowded field that included some very well-respected candidates.
That's why, looking back, it's obvious the headline from Zack Kopplin's October story missed the mark. The Cajun John Wayne isn’t falling; he’s rising. And residents in the 3rd Congressional District probably don’t give damn what’s in his past. Higgins, it seems, is well on his way to victory.
Call it the Trump effect.