The Cajun King is back! Former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards appears to have picked up where he left off prior to entering federal prison in 2002.
“I really feel like I came out of prison more popular than when I went in,” Edwards said Tuesday evening at his first public appearance since being released from home incarceration.
Give the old boy his due. Edwards will be 84 on Aug. 7, but he looks great. He still has that wit and charm that helped elect him governor for an unprecedented four terms.
That’s not all, either. How many men his age can brag about going to a public function with a 32-year-old beautiful blonde on his arm who will become his bride in a matter of weeks.
The occasion was an awards dinner by the Foundation for Historical Louisiana. Edwards was there to help honor Leo Honeycutt, the author of the former governor’s only authorized biography, but he quickly stole center stage.
“I’m very, very happy to be back,” Edwards said. “I’m very pleased and flattered and honored that people have been so nice in welcoming me back. I didn’t really expect to have that much sympathy from people.”
Still media star
Edwards was quickly surrounded by TV cameras and a swarm of media personnel. The Times-Picayune of New Orleans ran a series of photographs of the former governor on its website.
A giant 84th birthday party and roast has been scheduled for Saturday, July 30, in New Orleans. Edwards had planned to hold his first news conference that afternoon. However, he didn’t miss an opportunity to say a few words Tuesday, and he received two standing ovations.
Why does he think he’s still popular?
“I think in some part because people realize that an injustice occurred and that I handled it like a man,” he said. “I took it. I survived. I said I would walk out, and I did.”
Those words are similar to comments Edwards made the day the former governor reported to prison to serve a term that would last nearly nine years.
“I didn’t do anything to justify my being here today,” he said outside the gates of the federal prison at Fort Worth, Texas. “But I’m not going to kick … or rail against the system. It is the system. It’s a good system. It went awry, but I will not be the first or the last person to visit these gates undeservedly.”
Friends have been quick to tell Edwards they wish he would run for governor again.
Edwards said earlier, “Thank you very much and I’m glad they won’t let me run. … Otherwise, I might be tempted.”
In a posting on Facebook, Edwards said, “I have been to the depths and risen to the heights as the only four-term governor of our state. I am now retired.”
Tuesday, he told KATC-TV of Lafayette that chapter is closed in his life.
Public office doesn’t appear to be in the cards anyway. He’s barred from running for office for another 15 years, unless he receives a pardon.
Edwards will also be on parole for the next three years and will have to get permission from his Baton Rouge probation officer to leave the Middle District of Louisiana.
Someone asked Tuesday if he might get involved in the fall election campaigns.
“If I have a particular enemy running for something, I might endorse him just to destroy his chances,” Edwards said.
A reality television show is being touted as a possibility, and you can’t help but love the way Tom Baxter of Southern Political Report described that possibility.
“If there are going to be shows about aging cat daddies and their relationships with blondes 50 years their junior, Edwards makes a lot livelier subject than Hugh Hefner,” Baxter said.
Edwards did offer some assurances if a reality show actually takes place.
“I’ve never seen a reality show, but I hear about them and I want to assure everyone that if we have one there will be nothing in its that’s embarrassing to my state or to me or my family,” he said.
Plans for a tour of the western part of the country in his RV will be put on hold, Edwards said. In addition to his birthday bash, a reality show and book tours, the former governor obviously wants to stick around and soak up some more of this adulation.
The $250 dinner and roast on July 30 appears to be more than a sellout. Brother Marion Edwards told the Times-Picayune the event sold its original 360 tickets. He said another 200 were sold to admirers who will watch the festivities on a big screen in an adjoining hotel room.
Don’t forget past
Lost in all of this adoration for Edwards is the fact he was convicted on 11 counts of racketeering, fraud and extortion for peddling riverboat licenses to his friends and supporters. As the federal prosecutor said at the time, racketeering, fraud and extortion “are not traffic violations.”
Edwards did the crime and served his time without any apparent long-term bitterness. He has worried about his political legacy from the start, but it’s tarnished because of what he did — and for no other reason.
We wish the former governor well in his readjustment to life on the outside. But let’s not forget his conviction was another stain on a state that has had more than its fair share of political corruption.
Our image has improved since Edwards has been out of the political limelight. So if we do forget, shame on us.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].