Voters in Louisiana have always placed a premium on political entertainment. As a result, our state elected as Governors such characters as Huey and Earl Long, a singer named Jimmy Davis and a charming rogue like Edwin Edwards.
Because of his strong bond with the voters of Louisiana, Edwards was elected to four terms in office, longer than any other Governor in Louisiana history. During his four terms, Edwards endeared himself to the people of Louisiana because of his charm and sense of humor. For example, when campaigning against Dave Treen in 1983, Edwards said his opponent was so boring it took him “an hour and a half to watch 60 minutes.” In his 1991 race against David Duke, Edwards said he was similar to the former KKK leader because they were both “wizards under the sheets.”
Edwards targeted many politicians with his legendary barbs; however, he was also able to use his charm to accomplish his political goals. Edwards worked the Louisiana Legislature as well as any other Governor. While Edwards can claim credit for funding many roads, bridges, arenas and other capital projects during his terms in office, he also presided during a time of decline for Louisiana. During the Edwards era, Louisiana began losing jobs to other states as population out migration became a serious problem for the state. To offset a weakened oil and gas industry, Edwards promoted gambling as an economic answer for the state. Twenty years later, the gambling industry has not lived up to the lofty expectations of many supporters.
It was his connection to the gambling industry that was the eventual downfall for Edwards. In 2000, he was convicted for his role in a bribery and extortion plan involving the riverboat casino licensing process in Louisiana. Throughout his political career, the former Governor claimed he was the subject of over two dozen federal investigations. In the mid-80’s, he was indicted on racketeering charges for his role in hospital and nursing home investments. After a high profile trial in which he blamed a Republican administration for targeting him, the Governor was acquitted.
The Governor’s good fortune ran out in 2000 and despite a number of appeals and pleas for a presidential pardon from former opponent Dave Treen and others, Edwards was not released early from prison.
Although his prison sentence was for ten years, Edwards was released early for “good behavior,” an unusual depiction for someone as notoriously naughty as the “Silver Fox.”
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Today, the Governor is probably being besieged with offers from his friends to “get back to business.” Once his term at the halfway house is over, the Governor’s first priority is to write an autobiography and embark on a book tour.
Many of his supporters would love to see Edwards back in the Governor’s mansion. If he ran for office again, he would undoubtedly receive plenty of support. People tend to forget the felony and fondly remember the Governor. Despite his conviction and reputation for corruption, Edwards is beloved by many in Louisiana. There is a clear nostalgia for the bygone era of personality politics in Louisiana.
In the years since Edwards left, the legislature has passed enhanced ethics laws and the Governor’s office is not as powerful. These reforms are considered positive and helped improve the ranking of the state as a place to “do business.”
If this state is ever going to compete with our neighbors, we must never again have a reputation for corruption. Business leaders must not feel they have to bribe state officials for contracts and opportunities.
While it is nice to welcome the former Governor back from prison and credit him for his many skills, our state should never elect another Edwin Edwards again. We literally cannot afford that type of entertainment.
Opening of Southern Railway Exhibition And Dedication of Basin St. Visitor Station
Photos of LABI's annual meeting, January 12, 2011