Profile By Scott Raymond • Photos Courtesy of Congressman Clay Higgins Office
On first meeting Louisiana Third District Congressman Clay Higgins at his Lake Charles office, this writer is impressed with his relaxed, self-confident manner and friendly welcome. Wearing business casual attire with black slacks, dress shoes and an open-collar blue shirt and gray vest, his hair is short and neatly trimmed. And if it weren’t for what he carries on his belt, he could easily pass as a well-dressed businessman. But the holstered sidearm and Lafayette City Marshal’s Office deputy marshal’s badge say otherwise: he is not only a U.S. Congressman, but also a commissioned law enforcement officer.
Before answering the first of my list of questions, Higgins offers up some introductory remarks to establish up front his political views:
“Well, before there were republicans and democrats,” says Higgins, “there were British citizens (who) determined that new land would be born. It would be the United States of America and (they) would be Americans.
“There is, I believe, virtually no challenge that we cannot conquer when we recognize our truly American roots,” say Higgins. “When we look past party ideology and some of the vitriolic fervor that has come to manifest itself in our country — a faction here, a faction there, in (Washington,) D.C., in Baton Rouge; culturally. I believe there is a great deal of division that we have been led to believe exists that’s not real.
“This is what I hope we can return to: a day when ideologies are respected, but the capital (letter) ‘A’ (American) by our name becomes more important than the small (letter) ‘r’ (republican), the small (letter) ‘d’ (democrat), or the small (letter) ‘i’ (independent).
“I am a constitutionalist, strict constitutionalist, and I’m a conservative man,” he says, “but that’s reflective of my understanding that our founding documents were not written by republicans and democrats, they were written by Americans (who were) determined to be Americans regardless of their birthright and their cultural heritage, their ethnicity or their background or their position on the economic strata. There were no politicians; our founding fathers were patriots.
“Christian principles founded our nation and to Christian principles we should return.”
GROWING UP ON A RANCH, READING, AND DEVELOPING A POLITICAL IDENTITY
The seventh of eight children, Clay Higgins came from what he describes as a “very much working class (family) from an Irish community in New Orleans.”
He says his Irish heritage is “200 years deep out of New Orleans.” (This writer quickly picks up on his uniquely New Orleans thick southern accent.)
A story that was repeated, no doubt, many times during a more innocent and youthful America: a young Irish girl met a young Irish boy from the same neighborhood — in this case, his parents — and they married. The time was the Great Depression-World War II era.
“The origins of our family (are) like most American families, from legal immigration and struggle,” says Higgins, “and generation after generation, we gradually established ourselves.”
After getting his college degree in mechanical engineering — one of the first in his family to do so, Higgins points out — Higgins’ dad went to war in World War II as a navy fighter pilot flying combat missions from the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga.
Higgins speaks glowingly of his father.
“My dad was a man amongst men,” he says. “He was a very handsome man and a brilliant engineer. My father created a way to weld aluminum in the late ‘50s — he had a skill in welding. After the war, he opened a little welding shop and devised a way to weld aluminum that had never existed before. This began the modern age of aluminum construction. The shop grew and grew quickly because of the technology he had developed, and by the time I was born in ‘61, my father was a successful businessman, entrepreneur, (who) had major business contracts welding and fabricating aluminum. He ended up with a contract with NASA (National Aeronautics Space Administration) building fuel tanks for NASA missions.
“It was in the late ‘60s that my father decided that he wanted to leave that industry and raise and train horses. He had become quite a skilled equestrian trainer, (and) my older brother and sisters wanted horses. By the time they were young teenagers, my dad had enough money to buy some horses, so he did and we kept them at the stables in City Park in New Orleans.”
Higgins says when he was still a young boy, his father sold his business holdings in New Orleans and moved the family to the country in St. Tammany Parish where his dad designed and built a large home and barn and where they raised and trained horses.
“We were a city family that moved to the country and that’s how I grew up, raising and training horses — very successfully,” says Higgins. “I probably have eight (to) 10 state championships from the ‘70s when I was a young teenager competing in equestrian events. My childhood was wonderful. It was (also) hard work and … we had very challenging financial times that I didn’t recognize until later in life. Sometimes we were very poor because there were good times and bad times in the horse business,” he says.
Higgins says that early on when he was a young boy on the ranch, his father became concerned about his education and vocabulary and encouraged him to read. He says that his father had a vast library. He began reading and quickly became addicted to it. In particular, Higgins grew to be very impressed with American history.
“I was fascinated by history and the birth of our nation,” says Higgins, “and I was fascinated by what I came to understand was constitutionalist ideology and the concept of a nation born of common men and run by the people, (who) were to be governed. Never in the history of mankind — it (had) never happened before. There had never been a nation envisioned, devised and carved from the wilderness where the people ran the government. I was fascinated by that. Truly, a representative (form) government of the people, by the people and for the people.
“I clearly remember a (political) turning point (for me): in 1972, the presidential election between (Senator) George McGovern and (President) Richard Nixon. The first political campaign I ever participated in was passing out leaflets for (the campaign of) Richard Nixon in my grade school in ‘72. I was 11 years old.”
Redemption And The Journey
The redemption Clay Higgins speaks of in this interview symbolically involves a long and winding road. Some history:
In his late teens, Higgins left the family ranch and the world of horses to go to LSU and study political science. “… that was the one curriculum that required no math!” he smiles.
During his college years, he got married and eventually left school, he says, to take care of his wife and several members of her family. “I just walked away from my degree with the idea that I would go back, but then you just never do.
“I had a child with my first wife, but that child died, as did my first wife,” he says.
Higgins joined the U.S. Army/Louisiana National Guard in 1988, became a Military Police Officer, and served on active duty in Central America. He advanced quickly through the ranks, he says, and, after several years, left the military an E-6 staff sergeant.
Following his military service, Higgins, who again had a family, managed a business and became a financially successful businessman.
“I was very successful as far as money goes,” Higgins says. “I had the trappings of success — a nice house and fancy cars and ate at expensive restaurants — but I came to realize I was gradually losing my soul. I began to recognize that I had drifted from the path that the Lord wanted me to embrace. I wasn’t the Christian that the Lord needed me to be. I was in business; I was doing very, very well financially but very, very poor spiritually. It was the beginning of change in my life, which was gradual.”
Higgins’ change reached a turning point, he says, when, in 2004, “I left business and big money and became a street cop with the Opelousas Police Department.”
Higgins says that his previous military service in the Army fit well with his law enforcement service with the “Thin Blue Line.” “It was clear to me that God wanted me in uniform service. (He) said He was going to restore my soul, and He did.
“After several years of struggle and suffering and dedicated service, I had established myself as a solid police officer. I gradually became a highly decorated cop. I made the SWAT Team right away. Beautiful things started happening. I became very close with my children. I felt rebuilt as a man. And I suffered financially. I knew what it was to bounce checks and have my lights turned off and things like that. We were making $8 an hour. I went from making over $100,000 a year to making $8 an hour,” he says.
Three years later, in 2007, Higgins met his wife Rebecca, whom he also calls “Becca.”
“Becca has been the light of my life since I met her on May 26, 2007,” Higgins says. “Let me say that I was not worthy of Becca prior to May 26, 2007. I wear a band on my wrist (he shows me the band he wears) that says ‘Redemption’; it doesn’t say ‘Perfection.’ And I share (that) with any of an ear to listen that redemption is not a destination, it’s a journey.
“So the bottom line is when I met my wife in May of 2007, it had been after three years of being a cop, which was a time (in which) I had rebuilt myself as a man from a spiritual foundation and become a guy that my children respected, that I didn’t mind (looking in the mirror while) shaving in the morning. This is what I meant earlier when I said I wasn’t worthy of Becca until the time that I met Becca. So I felt that God was rewarding me for restoring Him as the foundation of my life.”
Crime Stoppers PSAs
In 2011, Clay Higgins signed on with the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office and three years later was promoted to captain and became the agency’s public information officer (PIO) and spokesman in public service announcement (PSA) Crime Stoppers videos. The PSAs quickly made him a cult hero with some of the local viewing audience and, after the videos went viral, Higgins developed an even larger following by those in the public who loved his compelling persona.
“The sheriff called me one night, it was on night shift, and he asked me if I would be his public information officer. It’s an honored position; it’s not the sort of thing you say ‘no’ to, so I accepted the position. But I did not seek it, and I discovered when I took the job that I had to do these public service announcements. I really had not put it together that our PIO was doing Crime Stoppers. It’s like real cops didn’t really pay attention to Crime Stoppers. To patrol cops, certainly the SWAT patrol cops, that was a whole different aspect of being a police officer that we just didn’t pay attention to. All of a sudden I was the PIO, and I went from being a night shift guy to being a day shift administrative scheduled guy, (however) I maintained my position on the SWAT Team.
“I asked the sheriff, could I perform the job in uniform. He said, ‘Yes.’ I asked if I could stay on the SWAT Team. He said, ‘Yes.’ I asked him if I could stay in a marked vehicle. He said, ‘Yes.’ People have speculated about my cowboy hat, wondered why I regularly wear a cowboy hat … it’s because that’s how I grew up. The cowboy hats are real; I’ve got several of them. For the Sheriff’s Office, the (PSAs) campaign hat was part of the Class A uniform for formal presentation. Although the previous PIOs had all worn civilian clothes, like detectives, I said, ‘No. I want the citizens to see the officer’s uniform and vehicle that shows up on the scene when they call.’ I wanted to convey that. They had a script that they had been using for eight or nine years. I was not comfortable with the script because I’m (a) rather unscripted fella.
“I studied the crime that was to be featured, which was given to me, by the way, by the captain of detectives, and I would study the crime. I would research the crime as an investigator, which I was. So I would investigate the entire crime, all the photographs, everything about the crime — get my head wrapped around the crime — the fugitive being sought, and I would think about what that crime meant, what it said about … what did it do to the victim. What did it say about our society? How could a crime like this take place to begin with (and) what could possibly be going on in the mind and the soul of the suspect.
“Being a man that believes in the redemptive nature of every human being, having been a failed and fallen man that had been stood back up by the will of God, I thought about all of this and I just delivered that message. I didn’t know that it was going to be wildly popular, but it certainly got that way very quickly. I spoke from the heart.
“Twenty-one men and one woman,” he says, “22 children of God (who) responded in some way to the message. Twenty-two Americans turned themselves in.”
A Philosophy And Some Current Issues At Hand
My conversation with Congressman Higgins shifts to a discussion of his philosophical approach to the running of government and a few of the issues he is currently working on as Louisiana’s Third District Congressman.
“Envision (the Calcasieu Ship Channel dredging) project and multiply it a hundred fold, (with) other channels, other water management projects across the Third District. That’s (one of the things) we’re focused on.
“I serve on three committees,” he says, “one of which is the Veterans Affairs (VA) Committee (and) the VHA (Veterans Health Affairs) Subcommittee and there are tremendous challenges that we face as a nation and as a Committee, and as a Party — Republican Party. We are up to the challenge of reforming the VA and the VHA. That has been in decades of decline.
“It’s sort of reflective of everything that’s wrong with Washington, (D.C.). Washington has become just a bloated, massive, bureaucratic nightmare and we must scale back the size and scope of government so that services can be more efficiently delivered to the American citizens who are funding these bureaucracies. The VA is no exception. So I’m certainly involved in that battle and shall continue to be.”
When asked what the first year of his first term in office as a congressman has been like, Higgins first gives credit to Donald Trump’s presidency for the tremendous economic growth the country has experienced over the last year.
“First, I’m thrilled we have a President Trump,” he says. “We (have) averaged over three percent in the last year — first time in a decade. Our economy has been languishing. We are over three percent in 2017. We are at five percent right now. Just to give you an idea of what that means at the federal level, not to mention the local and state level. At the federal level, one point of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) equals 300 billion dollars of federal revenue.”
“I’m a balanced budget guy. I believe government should be small, efficient and effective. It should operate within its parameters regarding funding, and I believe that waste and fraud and duplicity of services should be eliminated. I believe we should do more with less. The American economy, healthy (and) growing at three percent-plus as far as the eye can see means a broadened tax base, a healthy tax base. If you can decrease fraud, waste and abuse and duplicity of services, reduce the scope and size of federal government as it intrudes and interferes with the lives of the citizens of the 50 sovereign states and at the same time increase revenue by encouraging economic growth and continuing economic growth, then we can balance our budget and provide more services for the citizens that we serve.”
When asked his stance on entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, Higgins says the following:
“We are a Christian-principled nation of compassionate people. I want to take better care of our elderly, our truly sick, our truly needy (and) our mentally unstable. I want to provide more services for those that truly need a hand up, ought to be cared for in their elderly years or that are sick or truly needy. But when you have Americans that can work and won’t work, that are sucking up money, I’m all for fixing that — loud and clear — I’m all for fixing that.
“I think that if you are an American and you are in a country that has a healthy economy like we have now and you can work, you should work, if you are within work age parameters. I also believe that a large — it’s not even debatable — a large percentage of the money gets devoured by the bureaucracies at the administrative level that is intended to provide the services we are trying to get to the American people. That money should go to Americans that deserve it, and you have Americans that are just working the system. I think that the entire entitlement system should be reformed because of these facts that I just pointed out.
“When they take a dollar out of your check, it’s worth a whole dollar. They send it to Washington and they spend 62 cents of it on administrative expenses and bureaucracy in order to get the rest of it back to the Americans who sent it to them when it was worth a dollar. Why not let Americans just keep that dollar, which we just did with tax reform?”
Characteristics Of A Good Public Servant
I ask Congressman Higgins for his thoughts on the characteristics of a good public servant and he begins by saying that, as a congressman, he believes he has been humble, courageous and forthright.
“I believe we should have love and respect for our fellow man of every color and creed and ethnicity and political affiliation and ideology and background and culture, heritage,” he says, “however, we should courageously embrace what we believe to be righteous. We should be prepared to stand for that — righteousness. We should be forthright. I think a public servant should be transparent. We should be accessible and I am prayerful that I do represent those things.”
The Future For Congressman Clay Higgins
Finally, I ask Congressman Higgins about his vision, if there is one, for his own political career. His answer is direct and to the point.
“I can answer the question. I’ll be the Representative of the Third District for as long as the people of the Third District want me to be the Representative, not a day longer.
“This is the path the Lord manifested in front of me. My wife and I didn’t ask for this. I resigned from the (St. Landry Parish) Sheriff’s Office as a matter of principle on Feb. 29, 2016. I had never envisioned serving my country at this level. Over the course of the weeks that followed, my wife and I prayed and considered and it became clear to us for a variety of reasons, by clear signs from prayerful consideration, that I was intended to serve my country at the federal level and in this seat. So once my wife and I came to that amazing conclusion — that this is what God wanted us to do — we embraced that path.
“Regarding the future of our nation, I’ve said many times that man’s character shouldn’t be measured by how he falls … it should be measured by how he stands back up. In many ways, America has fallen. The character of America is strong … together, we can stand this thing back up.”