There’s a very weird election going in south Louisiana that parallels almost exactly what happened during the Clinton/Trump election cycle. Some people are calling it the Trump effect.
The third district of Louisiana covers the south central portion of Louisiana. If you can imagine the state as a boot, then the congressman who gets elected would represent its heel.
Although it’s not a state that gets mentioned much in the media, the 3rd covers almost of all of what would be considered Cajun country. People who live here pride themselves on good food, good friends and a unique culture that is unlike anywhere in the world.
Congressional politics has historically been boring up until now. The current congressman for the 3rd is Charles Boustany, who decided to make a run for an open U.S. Senate seat but failed miserably, not even making the runoff.
Boustany had been a representative since 2005, and when he announced he would be stepping down to run there was a slew of political upstarts who all signed up during qualifying. The 3rd District is conservative and primarily Catholic, meaning most of the candidates who dumped in represented those views.
There were a few interesting choices, however, including a young progressive who smokes weed and plays in bands, but that’s another story.
The biggest contender for the race was Scott Angelle. If you’re from Louisiana that name may sound familiar because Angelle was thrust onto Louisiana’s political stage in 2015 when he ran for governor of Louisiana against John Bel Edwards, David Vitter and several others.
Unfortunately for Angelle, he lost in the primaries. However, when he did finally concede Angelle did not support the Republican candidate who was left in the runoff. The race then was between John Bel Edwards and David Vitter. Apart from a prostitution scandal that lost him the governorship, Vitter had bitter debates between Angelle and Jay Dardenne leading up to the election.
When Edwards won the governorship, many conservatives in the state laid part of the blame with Dardenne, who actively supported the Democratic candidate once he was out. Dardenne then became lt. Gov. for the state, which he now currently serves. Angelle was also lumped into Vitter’s defeat because although he didn’t actively support Edwards, he also didn’t actively support Vitter and silence is complicity. This is a problem that Angelle has felt throughout this campaign but more on that later.
In the early stages of the election, local pundits and newspapers reasonably assumed this would be an easy win for Angelle now that his name was a known quantity. What they did not know was that this is 2016 and literally anything can happen at any time.
See there was another famous candidate who entered the 3rd race as well, and his name is Clay Higgins. While Angelle had been galavanting on a statewide scale, Higgins was becoming a Youtube sensation as a public information officer for the St. Landry Sheriff’s Department. St. Landry is a parish in the 3rd District.
The department had a weekly show they would air on a local news channel called CrimeStoppers. What would happen is the PIO would get on-air, talk about a criminal on the loos and ask local residents to call in if they know anything. Pretty basic stuff.
Higgins, however, took it to a whole ‘nother level by brandishing a badass persona and specifically calling these criminals out. He became known as the “Cajun John Wayne” and his videos soon went viral all over the internet and even got on Jimmy Fallon’s Show.
One of his most famous videos was against a local gang called the Gremlins Gang, in which the ACLU charged him for racist rhetoric. Higgins responded like this:
Shortly after he blew up, Higgins quit the sheriff’s department. At the time, he said Sheriff Bobby Guidroz had asked him to do things that were against his value system. Most people assumed he meant that Higgins was getting too flashy on camera and Guidroz asked him to tone it down.
So Higgins enters the race with a huge press conference that he invites all local media to. At the conference he has super religious overtones in his speech. For instance he says, I’m not running for office I’m descending into the belly of the beast. This becomes the beginning of a new Higgins persona. Not only is he the Cajun John Wayne, he’s also populist preacher who understands the plight of the poor and working classes.
So all these candidates enter the 3rd District, and from the beginning Angelle and Higgins are the only two who are actually known in this race. There are a few other decent candidates, but Higgins says early on that this is “basically a two man race,” which sets the tone for the rest of the election.
Even with Higgins popularity, most people still assumed that Angelle would win. The way a Louisiana primary works is that all candidates are put against each other, and if one wins more than 50 percent of the vote he’s elected. If no one gets 50, then the two with the highest scores face a runoff, usually a month later.
There’s a strong correlation between the rise in popularity with Donald Trump nationally and Clay Higgins in the 3rd. Neither candidate has much political experience, and both were placing themselves as real Americans who would fix the damaged system.
They were also both hated by liberals. Although they may not be particularly fond of Angelle, some of Louisiana’s most well known liberal writers descended into this usually ignored district to come down on Clay Higgins with everything they have.
Zack Kopplin, a young climate activist who has appeared on Real Time With Bill Maher wrote a piece for Salon.com that began the first wave of Higgins bashing. In that story, Kopplin digs through Higgins’ work e-mail during his tenure as a St. Landry PIO, and Kopplin alleges that Higgins may more the IRS more than $44,000 in back taxes. He also finds an internal memo from St. Landry Sheriff Bobby Guidroz, who says that Higgins didn’t actually leave because he was being too flashy.
“Clay Higgins formed a personal business venture to raise money by selling mugs, t-shirts, and other trinkets using department badge and uniform. All of which are against department policy,” Guidroz wrote. “I reined Higgins in.”
Another interesting thing Kopplin found: Higgins wanted to do a reality tv show once his fame hit, where he would go around with SWAT teams and lead a criminal to confession once he was detained.
The Independent, a local Lafayette liberal magazine, jumped on the bash-Higgins train by interviewing Guidroz. Guidroz mentions that Higgins’ badge he likes to wear better not be a St. Landry one, because he’ll sue Higgins.
None of this deterred most voters. Higgins basically uses the same argument as Trump: these are all leftwing attacks. He also denies that he violated department policy in any capacity, and for the most part he doesn’t lose his supporters.
When Nov. 8 came, most pundits were not only shocked to have Donald Trump as president, but also to have Clay Higgins beating Scott Angelle by several points. Not only was there a political, but the financial difference was huge as well.
So after the first election, it not only seems that Higgins has a shot but that he’s overtaking Angelle. This puts the Angelle campaign on the offensive. They begin to leak that Higgins hasn’t paid child support for years to an ex-wife, they allege he owes at least $100,000.
There’s a twist though, the ex-wife happens to be an ex-employee for governor Bobby Jindal, and likely worked with Scott Angelle when he was lt. Gov for Jindal. Meaning this was likely a setup from the campaign.
Higgins responds by saying this is yet another political move by Angelle’s campaign to manipulate his ex-wife. It seems to go away.
Meanwhile, Angelle is releasing several attack ads, and so is Higgins. Angelle calls Higgins a fraud, and Higgins calls Angelle a political hack.
Then, days before the runoff election, the ex wife posts a video recording a conversation between her and Higgins, which is immediately picked up by the Angelle campaign. In the recording, which has Higgins fairly recognizable voice in it, Higgins claims he not only owes child support but also seems to openly consider using campaign funds to pay for the support.
The fact that the wife seemed to deliberately record the conversation is taken up by conservative websites that see this is as dirty, dirty politics.
A debate is held two days before the election. In the debate, Higgins and Angelle have virtually identical political viewpoints, with Higgins agreeing with every substantial policy point Angelle makes.
They bring up the fact that Angelle was a Democrat in 2010, and asked if he voted for Clinton in 08. They also ask why he didn’t vote for David Vitter. There are also other aspects of Angelles career that are addressed. Angelle is currently a public service commissioner, and has taken heat for sitting on the board for Sunoco Logistics, a utility company based in Texas. Although Angelle said that this is a private company and doesn’t interfere with his duties in the PSC, many see this as a case of corrupt politics and doesn’t help Angelle’s case to be appear populist.
If you’re with me this far, you can see why I called it the most interesting political race this season. An establishment candidate with a long history in Louisiana politics is being called out for his past while a local celebrity with no political experience is seen as the answer to that candidate. Sound familiar?
The election is Saturday and I think we can all tell where this is going.