GRANTHAM: Edwards And Edwards

There are the deep connections between former Gov. Edwin Edwards and State Rep. John Bel Edwards. While they share the same last name, Edwards & Edwards are not related… but they might as well be.

First, a history lesson for those new to the State of Louisiana. Edwin W. Edwards was the four time Governor of the State of Louisiana. His fourth term was 1992 to 1996. Edwin Edwards was in trouble with the law several times before being brought down by U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan and his 1st Assistant Jim Letten in 1998 on 17 counts of racketeering, extortion, money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud. All of these charges were related in some form or fashion to his introduction of casino gaming to Louisiana.

Edwin Edwards was a master legislator and had a close circle of friends and advisors which included then Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee, then Speaker of the House John Alario, State Senator B.B. ‘Sixty’ Rayburn, State Representative Raymond ‘Lala’ Lalonde and State Senator Cleo Fields.

Harry Lee was a legend in his own right, ruling Jefferson Parish with an iron fist. Harry Lee’s first Lt. and successor is Jefferson Parish sheriff Newell Normand. Current State Senator Danny Martiny also worked for Harry Lee and is close friends with Normand.

The main priority for Edwin Edwards in his 4th term was legalized gambling in Louisiana. He pitched it as a panacea to the state’s economic problems and a job development engine.  Edwards had a problem, though, as he could not legalize gambling by executive order. It had to be approved by the legislature. And in his way were several young good government oriented legislators-David Vitter and Mitch Landrieu among them.  Vitter served in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1991 to 1999.

Edwards and his allies grew to despise David Vitter. Indeed, David Vitter made a habit of pointing out Edwin Edwards’ myriad conflicts of interest, filing ethics charges against Edwards in 1993 related to Edwin Edwards taking an all-expenses paid trip to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas while Caesars was bidding on a casino license in Louisiana. The other ethics charge dealt with Edwards’s volatile son Stephen Edwards interests in riverboat casinos while the same riverboats were also appealing for state licensing.

The primary reason for Vitter’s distaste for Edwin Edwards can be born out of this 1992 infamous house vote to legalize gaming in Louisiana.

As you can see this ridiculous vote was pushed through by Speaker John Alario with help from Lalonde; with Speaker Alario demanding that the voting machine be closed before the customary three count ‘are you through voting’ call was finished.  “They stole this vote, pure and simple!’ shouted Vitter on the floor of the house. This was government under Edwin Edwards.

Casino gaming was approved and Louisiana has never been the same since. Nobody was happier than Sheriff Harry Lee who promptly started a casino boat handrail company in 1994. Not to be outdone, Gretna deputy police chief Arthur Lawson began a video poker company. Vitter consistently shoved back on dubious ethical arrangements like these and in the process drew Harry Lee’s enmity forever.

Meanwhile, Edwin Edwards was conducting some similar dubious arrangements with Cleo Fields. Edwards and Fields were recorded in 1997 by the FBI with Edwards giving 20K in cash to Fields who then gratefully stuffed it in his pants. Fields, although he campaigned against Mike Foster in 1995 with the claim that he was ‘anti-gambling’ had actually worked to secure a gaming license for a group of New Orleans lawyers called ‘Jazzville.’ Jazzville included trial lawyers Wendell Gaither, Calvin Fayard and John Cummings.

Let’s fast forward to 2015. David Vitter is the Republican candidate for Governor of Louisiana. He spent the year trying to bat away spirted challenges from Scott Angelle, who was the Gov. Bobby Jindal backed candidate and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. Gov. Jindal’s political mentor was Gov. Mike Foster who beat Cleo Fields in 1995. State Representative John Bel Edwards is the Democrat in the race.

Vitter has consistently been a voice for good government and has stood up to the ‘good ole boys’ like the Edwards/Lee political machine for decades. The epitome of this was when David Vitter passed a legislative term limits bill (with Jay Dardenne) in 1995 which forced an end to the endless political careers of Rayburn and Lalonde and forced John Alario to jump from the House to the Senate.

John Bel Edwards is currently supported by nearly the entire Edwin Edwards political apparatus. Cleo Fields just cut a radio spot for John Bel Edwards. “We need to elect a governor who cares about the people of our state and will put the people’s interests over his own ambition,” Fields says in the ad “We need John Bel Edwards as our next governor.”

Former Harry Lee deputy and current Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand is campaigning hard against David Vitter. Yesterday 13 Jefferson Parish Republicans came out against David Vitter. All have ties to Normand and/or Harry Lee, who died in 2007. State Senator Danny Martiny joined Normand, Harry Lee’s daughter Cynthia Lee-Sheng and now Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson in endorsing John Bel Edwards.  State Representative Joe Lopinto is Danny Martiny’s law partner. He endorsed Edwards as well.

John Cummings has given $25,000 to the John Bel Edwards campaign and Edwards affiliated PAC’s.  The law firm that Wendell Gauither founded, Gauthier, Houghtaling & Williams has donated heavily to Bel Edwards and affiliated PAC’s. (Gauither died in 2001).  Calvin Fayard is a John Bel Edwards donor.

The political and financial power behind Edwin Edwards has shifted behind John Bel Edwards.

For their part, Jindal and Angelle have stayed out of the runoff (John Bel Edwards assertions that Vitter will be a Jindal ‘3rd term is laughable; they loathe one another) but Mike Foster has not…he endorsed David Vitter. The remaining prominent politico that has not endorsed in this race in none other than John Alario. Alario, who ironically announced yesterday that ‘gaming revenues have surpassed oil and gas revenues’ in the state of Louisiana is famous for pivoting to maximize his political standing over his 30 year political career.

Since he hasn’t gotten behind either candidate while the majority of his political allies have endorsed Edwards it begs the question: what does Alario know that we don’t?



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