Higgins Returns to a 'Very Special Place' for Town Hall Meeting
IOTA — Clay Higgins never forgot the rousing welcome this Acadia Parish town of 1,500 gave him during his 2016 congressional campaign.
A political neophyte, he'd never expected the brass-knuckles style of politics he'd have to endure to win Louisiana's 3rd Congressional District. He limped into Iota on Sept. 29 at an emotional low point. There, under the pavilion next to City Hall, he found a few hundred friends.
Higgins reported back to Iota on Monday night, this time as a congressman.
"Iota's a very special place to me," he told some 80 people gathered at the pavilion. "It was a changing moment in the campaign for me."
Monday's meeting was town hall style, and the candidate, wearing jeans, boots and a cowboy hat, was at home as he took an array of questions. He walked across the stage. Bible in hand, badge on his belt, gun at his hip — he's still a sworn law enforcement officer in this state — he fired off answers to an array of questions.
But not before he recounted that September evening and the warm crowd that had gathered for him.
"As a soldier, I understand attack," said Higgins, who spent five years in the Army. "But I've never been attacked like that."
Outspent in the campaign 5-to-1 by front-runner Scott Angelle, he'd endured accusations from several sides. His former sheriff had supported a political opponent; his ex-wife leveled personal accusations from him. He trudged into Iota, wife Becca by his side, unsure of what reception he'd receive.
There, in the pavilion, a packed crowd awaited.
"I came here after a long day in a long week," he said. "It uplifted my spirits. It touched my heart.
"I don't know if my wife and I would have had the strength to carry on."
In the long shadows of Monday's early evening, Higgins pledged to about 80 people in attendance, most of them seated at a dozen picnic tables marked with the names of fallen war veterans, that he'd keep up the fight for veterans' rights. His first bill passed in March — only four freshman lawmakers have passed legislation this session — and demands accountability in the Homeland Security department. He's got other bills in progress that assure veterans' rights are upheld.
"It's a national disgrace how our veterans have been treated," he said, urging the audience to tell veterans who've had problems securing their benefits to contact his offices in Louisiana or in Washington.
"We will not rest," he said, "and when I say 'we' I don't mean me; I mean our whole office."
He said Louisiana has about 300,000 veterans, about 133,000 in the southwestern part of the state. Only 32,800 of those are getting veterans' health benefits, he said.
Higgins addressed a variety of issues:
- He said the Interstate 10 bridge at Lake Charles, although old and foreboding, is in no danger of falling down. Nonetheless, he said, it needs replacing.
- The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — would be repealed and replaced, he said, with a simpler plan that encourages the free market. He said in 60 percent of U.S. counties, there is now only one health insurance provider. He also said the new legislation will protect people with pre-existing conditions.
- He has come to respect U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, changing the opinion he held of the House speaker before he was elected. He said Ryan is a hard worker who pays attention to House members. "Let's give him a shot," Higgins said.
- He said he's confident President Donald Trump's economic policies will encourage economic growth.
Iota drew no apparent Trump or Republican Party protesters, unlike a similar town meeting in New Iberia last week. Higgins said he welcomes "healthy and vigorous debate" and encourages people to speak freely. The country was built on vigorous debate, he said.
Crowd members seemed pleased by Higgins appearance.
"That's the first time we've ever had a sitting U.S. congressman come here," said Joel Cart.