Trouble in Paradise? (Part 6)

Meet “Dr.” Higdon

Ventriloquists need a dummy to mouth their words, puppet masters need marionettes to dance on the strings, and in The Wizard of Oz, the man behind the curtain needed a fearsome figurehead to invoke fear and wonder. Similarly, in many cases politicians and elected officials are mere figureheads for shadowy influencers lurking in the background. The Romanovs had Rasputin, George W. Bush had Karl Rove, and Bill Clinton had Hillary.

In Blount County, progressives have their own behind-the-scenes figures. This essay introduces the reader to one of them: “Dr.” J. Nathan Higdon, a full-time “community activist” living in Maryville who pretends to be a “serial entrepreneur.” [1] The “Dr.” affectation does not owe to a medical degree or a faculty position; no, Higdon earned his Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University on the basis of an unimpressive dissertation entitled “Code-Switching for Work Life Self-Preservation: A Study of the Role of Sexual Orientation Discrimination on Employee Job Behaviors and Outcomes.”

So, who is this Higdon character and what role does he play in East Tennessee? Although you may not have heard of him, he wears many hats. Higdon is First Vice Chair of the Blount County Democratic Party, and filled in for the Chair, Sarah Herron, while she campaigned for the Maryville City Council this year. Moreover, Higdon was Herron’s campaign manager, although Herron has tried to scrub her social media profile to disguise that fact. Higdon himself unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the Maryville City Council in 2012.

Herron will be sworn in on December 1, having placed second in a four-way race for two open seats on the city council. The frontrunner, Republican Drew Miles, out-polled her by nearly 1,400 votes, whereas Herron surpassed the third-place finisher, Republican Suzette Donovan, by only 348 votes.  Her local supporters (especially the LGBTQ community) out-hustled the Blount County GOP, and she received considerable assistance from outside Blount County, including from groups funded by George Soros and Silicon Valley billionaires.  Herron was endorsed by many out-of-state progressive groups.

In addition to serving as Herron’s second-in-command at the Blount County Democratic Party and running her successful campaign, Higdon is Herron’s alter ego in other ways. For example, he is a co-chair of Indivisible East Tennessee, the radical organization founded by Herron in 2017. Herron’s profile on the Blount County Democratic Party website states that “Sarah is the founder of Indivisible East Tennessee, a progressive platform with groups organized in three counties, coordinated across the state and rooted in the national Indivisible Guide movement.” The professed goal of Indivisible East Tennessee was to resist the newly-elected President Donald Trump.

In an attempt to soften her image, Herron stepped away from the group when she announced her candidacy for the city council, but Higdon gladly assumed the reins. He is also the administrator of Indivisible East Tennessee’s Facebook page.

Indivisible East Tennessee’s parent organization advocates defunding the police, partnering with Black Lives Matter, statehood for the District of Columbia, the Green New Deal, “economic justice” (i.e., socialism), and many other radical policies. No wonder Herron wanted to distance herself from this vile group. Higdon gladly assumed control in her place. Higdon is involved in every left-wing fringe organization in East Tennessee.

For example, Higdon is also the Treasurer and Outreach Chair of East Tennessee Equality Council d/b/a Knox Pride, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group that organizes the annual Knoxville Pridefest festival and Pride Parade, the “Adventures With Pride” programs, and other activities that “promote inclusion and equality for the LGBTQ+ citizens of Knoxville and surrounding areas.” Higdon is very active in political campaigns on behalf of liberal Democrats. Until Herron’s fluke victory in November 2020, all of his campaign efforts ended in failure.

For example, Higdon previously ran Jay Clark’s 2016, 2018, and 2020 campaigns for the Tennessee House of Representatives, and was himself a write-in candidate for Tennessee State Senate District 2 in 2018. (Remarkably, Higdon managed to get 402 votes.) These activities earned Higdon recognition as the 2018 Blount County (TN) Democrat of the Year. Higdon also claims to have run the 2020 campaign of Jane George for Tennessee State Senate District 6.  In 2019, Higdon garnered publicity (including a breathless “news” story in the Daily Times) by walking and hitchhiking from Maryville to Nashville in order to advocate for expansion of Medicaid and to oppose school vouchers.

An indefatigable activist, Higdon is too eccentric to be taken seriously as a candidate for elective office.  Higdon is an aspiring social media influencer, whose YouTube series, The Life and Times of J. Nathan Higdon, Ph.D., has only 27 subscribers. Higdon sometimes claims to be a political strategist, a “principal” of L’Espace Consulting, and an “instructor” at Mercy College.

Higdon is, in short, a progressive/LGBT/democratic socialist gadfly, with abundant time to devote to promoting the offbeat causes he supports. He is surely the most energetic Democrat in Blount County.

One thing is clear: In conservative Blount County, Higdon is unelectable. In Sarah Herron he found a non-threatening “soccer mom” façade. She was the perfect Potemkin candidate. They formed a winning team. Maryville voters may have thought they elected Sarah Herron, but it may be that they really got Nathan Higdon instead. Maryville voters will soon realize that they chose poorly. Very poorly.

[1] Higdon describes himself as “CFO and Chairman of L’Espace, Inc., which is a ground transportation provider specializing in corporate airport transfers.” This appears to be an Uber-type service operating out of Higdon’s home. The business, funded by his parents in 2004, has a part-time workforce. It is not accredited by the Better Business Bureau. Hidgon claims that the company “has branched into multiple other sectors, e.g. consulting. Our consulting division provides HR, Marketing, and Management strategy with focuses on digital media, diversity/inclusion, and strategic management.” Some of his other business ventures include a line of blue dog toys, named Fifty Shades of Blue.

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