Give the old man his due. Former governor and prison inmate Edwin W. Edwards knows how to milk any occasion for as much positive publicity as one person can generate. The Baton Rouge Press Club probably can’t remember any of its news conferences that drew as much attention as the one Monday when Edwards was there to announce he is running for Congress.
Robert Mann, a columnist for The Times-Picayune and holder of the Manship Chair in Journalism at LSU, described the occasion best.
“Bathed in the TV lights and facing more than a dozen cameras, it was clearly a heady day for the ex-governor, ex-con,” Mann said. “He clearly enjoyed every moment back under the klieg lights, including the grand entrance, as he and his wife, Trina, pushed through a phalanx of photographers, the former governor steering a baby stroller — the passenger, his infant son, Eli.
Edwards, 86, will run for the 6th Congressional District seat that is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, who is trying to unseat U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in November. Parishes in the district include all or parts of East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberville, Lafourche, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. John, Terrebonne and West Baton Rouge.
Congress wouldn’t be anything new for Edwards. He served the former 7th Congressional District from 1965 until 1971 when he ran for governor for the first time and was elected. However, political analysts say although he could probably make the runoff for the 6th District seat, they don’t think he can be elected.
“I haven’t had this much attention since the trial,” Edwards said, and therein lies his major problem — the trials. His liberal code of conduct has dogged him for much of his political life. Edwards admitted, for example, that a South Korean businessman gave his wife $10,000 in cash while Edwards was a congressman. And he said in 1976 he saw no problem with American businessmen having to pay bribes to foreign officials to sell their products abroad.
Edwards was indicted in 1985 on charges of conspiring to obtain and sell state hospital construction permits. The jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict, and a mistrial was declared. He was tried a second time, along with four others, and all five were acquitted. In 1998, he was indicted on charges of rigging the issuance of riverboat gambling licenses, and a year later for fraud in an insurance case.
A conviction on 17 counts of racketeering fraud and extortion involving those casino licenses came in 2000, but six of those were dismissed. Edwards was acquitted in the insurance case, but he was sentenced to a 10-year prison term, and served eight on the gambling charges.
The Associated Press said, “Before and after his prison term, he defended himself as a victim of an unfair federal judge in Baton Rouge, perjured testimony by former friends who had sought casino licenses and an overzealous federal government. Federal prosecutors denied all of those accusations.”
Actually, wiretapped conversations played during Edwards’ corruption trial proved to be extremely damaging evidence. Listeners heard a plotting and scheming side of Edwards they hadn’t seen or heard before.
Some have said Edwards got in legal trouble because he couldn’t say no to his friends. And you can be sure those who are still around are happy to see their old pal trying to get back into the political rat race. Jeremy Alford of LaPolitics.com mentioned that “hangers-on from old campaigns, like staffers and fund-raisers,” attended the Monday press conference.
Edwards accepted his punishment and served his term without showing any public bitterness. He was released in 2011, and has successfully managed to stay in the public limelight since that time.
Mann, who has worked with some outstanding Louisiana congressmen, gave all of us food for thought about Edwards in his Monday column.
“His candidacy will make national news,” he said. “The national media will flock to Baton Rouge to cover the story. And when he makes the runoff, every national news outlet in the country will report it.
“And the rest of the country will laugh at us. They’ll say, ‘Look at those ignorant, corruption-tolerating idiots.’
“So, laugh at Edwards’ jokes if you like. Snicker at the idea of an 86-year-old ex-con running for Congress with his infant son at his side.”
“It’s all quite entertaining.”
“Except, the joke’s on us.”
Edwards still has his wit and charm, and is always entertaining. No one can match him when it comes to reacting to questions and criticism in his quick and disarming manner. But don’t be fooled by his winsome ways. He escaped retribution for his misdeeds on a number of occasions, but eventually got what he deserved.
Don’t expect Edwards to ever admit he did anything wrong. As I said when he went to prison in 2002, Edwards has trouble with the truth.