Louisiana may not have royalty or Hollywood stars to keep us entertained, but politics has always been a much-loved spectator sport. And in the past three decades, few have kept us more diverted than former Gov. Edwin Edwards.
Not unlike the mythology surrounding the multiple incarnations of felines, Edwards seemingly appears in and disappears from the public consciousness and political radar, only to reappear again—as young preacher, city councilman, state legislator, congressman, record-holding four-term governor, target of numerous criminal probes, federal inmate No. 03128-095, newlywed to a 32-year-old prison pen pal, reality show candidate and now a regular on the book-signing circuit.
Known simultaneously as the Cajun King and Fast Eddy, he holds a place in Louisiana history as one of the most charismatic politicians in a state known for its flamboyant, populist political figures—second only, perhaps, to The Kingfish himself, Huey P. Long. Edwards has perfected the art of the one-line zingers, as when he insisted former Gov. David Treen was “so slow it takes him and hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes,” and once joking with reporters that the only way he was going to lose the election was if he was “caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.”
Edwards had originally planned a career as a preacher, but instead opted to practice law. His first foray into politics was as a councilman in Crowley, a small town in the heart of Acadiana. In 1964 he defeated a 20-year incumbent of the Louisiana Senate in a major political upset, and subsequently served as a floor leader for then-Gov. John McKeithen. He later served in the House.
He rose to the governorship in 1972, finishing first in a field of 17 contenders in the Democratic primary and defeating Treen. He went on to win two more terms after that. To retire his campaign debt following his 1983 victory, he took 600 supporters on a gambling excursion in Europe, reportedly at $10,000 each.
While Edwards will most likely be remembered by Joe Public for his blush-inducing antics, the former governor did make his mark on Louisiana government. Early in his first term, he initiated the creation of the first new state constitution since 1921. It remains in effect today. He also abolished more than 80 state agencies, modeling what remained after the federal government.
Edwards also was an outspoken advocate of civil rights, appointing blacks and women to key positions in his administration.
It was also during his first term that Louisiana's oil and gas severance taxes came to be percentage-based on price rather than a flat rate—resulting in plentiful revenues in good times, but lean times otherwise.
High oil prices in the 1970s fueled a massive increase in government spending, largely on health care and post-secondary education. But the oil tax restructuring triggered a nightmare during his third term, when plummeting oil prices resulted in fiscal shortages. Edwards compensated with new taxes on the public, eroding his public support.
He conceded election to former Gov. Buddy Roemer in 1987, but made a comeback four years later when his only serious opponent was former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. It was a dubious choice for voters, as was evidenced by bumper stickers of the day: “Vote for the lizard, not for the wizard,” and “Vote for the crook. It's important.”
Throughout his public life, Edwards was the subject of numerous ethics scandals and probes: questionable campaign donations, Koreagate, gambling trips to Vegas, and troubling state hospital contracts. He stood trial three times, and in 1998 was convicted on 17 of 26 counts in a riverboat licensing scheme. He was sentenced to 10 years.
He emerged from prison in January 2011 to finish out the remainder of his term at Ecumenical House, a halfway house. It wasn't long before he appeared his old self again, at the age of 83 marrying 32-year-old Trina Grimes Scott, who befriended him while he served his sentence.
The pair unsuccessfully lobbied President Barack Obama for a pardon so Edwards might run for governor once again. Now they are contemplating a reality show and traveling the book-signing circuit with Leo Honeycutt, who penned an authorized biography of Edwards. Trina has recently announced on Facebook her hopes for a baby, leaving open the prospect of yet another incarnation for Edwards—fatherhood redux.
comments powered by Disqus
Real estate recap: DPW reorganization recommendations coming … Capital Region home sales post 5% gain in February … WWII bombing range near Hammond at center of new lawsuit
More La. students testing at 'basic' level
Office Parks Get a Makeover
What Families Are Spending on Prom Night