I wanted to bring back some old political history, simply to fulfill folks curiosity. Everyone here has probably heard of Edwin Edwards, of "The only way I can lose this election is if I'm caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy" fame. Well, here's some background so that political junkies and history buffs have some background to go on.
Edwards first ran for Governor in 1971, after served just over one term in the U.S. House, and one in the Louisiana State Senate, (where he had upset a 20 year incumbent in 1964, for a seat covering Crowley and Acadia parish). Incumbent populist Democrat John McKeithen was term limited, and Edwards ran to replace him, along with the legendary Jimmie Davis (his last campaign), and the young upstart Shreveport State Senator J. Bennett Johnson. Both ran as reformers, but Edwards proved a more deft campaigner, and, despite Louisiana's typical aversion to Cajun politicians, defeated Johnson in the Democratic primary 50.2% - 49.8%, on the basis of Cajun, Creole, and black voters. He went on to defeat Republican David Treen 57-43 in the General Election.
On a side note. J. Bennett Johnson went on to run against the 82 year old, 6 term incumbent U.S. Senator, Allen Ellender of Houma. My grandfather played flag football on Ellender's lawn and used to caddy for him, and when asked about him, still praises the man. Ellender was a standard conservative Democrat, with the exception that he wasn't very hawkish on foreign policy and opposed the Vietnam war. Ellender was well known among his Senate colleagues for his Cajun cooking, and the U.S. Senate Dining Room still serves "Ellender Gumbo." However, in 1972, during the Democratic primary Ellender died and Johnson won the priamry and general election, holding the seat for 24 year until his preferred sucessor, Mary Landrieu won it in 1996.
Edwards was easily reelected in 1975, and in 1979 he sabotaged the campaign of Democrat Louis Lambert, and put Republican Congressman David Treen in office, believing Treen would be easiest to defeat. Indeed Treen had to govern with the specter of Edwards over him, as Edwards began campaigning and crisscrossing the state long before 1983, maintaining his "government in waiting." Treen was wildly popular as governor, for sure, but he was unprepared to deal with the loyalty of Edwards' coalition and political skills. Edwards hit Treen with some truly stunning put downs, including the memorable, and classic, "David Treen is so slow it takes him an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes." And Edwards also made his famous "dead girl, live boy" remark in relation to this election, which he won 63-37 despite Treen's 70% approval rating.
This third term proved to be a disaster (more on that later). And the next time around Edwards faced a crowded field of opponents, as the religious anti-gambling lobby, North Louisiana, and good government types came after him with the long knives. It was quite an election. Republican Congressman Bob Livingston, then Democratic Congressman Billy Tauzin of Houma (who later founded the Blue Dog Coalition and then switched to the Republican party for no discernible reason other than assholishness), Secretary of State Jim Ferriday, and Democratic Congressman Buddy Roemer of Shreveport all ran against him.
In the end, Buddy Roemer's hypocritical self-righteousness vaunted him to 1st place in the first round of the blanket primary. During a debate, all candidates were asked if they would endorse Edwards should they fail to make the runoff. Roemer took off after saying "No, we've got to slay the dragon. I would endorse anyone but Edwards." I find it hypocritical because Roemer's dad was a high-level Edwards official who was indicted for corruption and mafia ties during Edwards' first tenure as Governor. The results in the first round of voting were 33% - Roemer, 28% - Edwards, and Edwards promptly dropped out, a move that to people at the time seemed to show Edwards acknowledging the end of his political career.
However, it was actually political kabuki, very high level political kabuki. By dropping out, Edwards actually subtly set Roemer up for failure. Conceding the governorship to Roemer before the runoff campaign meant that Edwards' denied Roemer the chance to establish a real, governing coalition and made him a 33% governor lacking in rapport with various political groups. Ironically, after the 1987 gubernatorial election, the Shreveport Times wrote that the only way Edwards could ever be elected again was if he ran against Adolf Hitler.
In 1991, Buddy Roemer was bogged down himself, having been a spectacularly inept politician. Roemer did the right thing in finally getting Edwards' gambling and lottery proposals through, but it meant the "Baptist" lobby was pissed off at him. And his decision to switch to the Republican party pissed off all the old school Democratic establishment voters. Lastly, Roemer vetoed a highly controversial abortion bill, the Cross Bill, that banned abortion even in cases of incest, and he did it practically, saying it simply wasn't a legal measure and would get overthrown. Well, his veto was overridden, (which is how socially conservative Louisiana's legislature has almost always been), and the bill was later struck down by a Federal District Judge, but the political damage to Roemer was done. Roemer also tried ambitious reforms, had to deal with big budget deficits, and actually put importance to environmental protection and angered the gas and oil industry.
So why did Roemer switch parties? Taking the disastrous advice of the continually idiotic and inept John Sununu, Bush's Chief of Staff who was meddling with parochial state politics. Roemer's party switch didn't just anger Democrats, it actually upset the party he was switching to! Roemer had to skip the Louisiana Republican party's endorsement convention, where they endorsed social conservative congressman, Clyde Holloway. Marine Shale, a company targetted by Roemer's administration as a polluter, spent half a million dollars on anti-Roemer ads.
In essence, Roemer wasn't a bad governor. Most of what he tried to do was fundamentally sound in my opinion, and he was actually a genuine moderate, opened minded and pragmatic. But his lack of political skills and attempts to do the right thing, meant that he had no natural base his 1991 reelection campaign, and thus came in a distant 3rd place, behind a crook and a neo-nazi Republican State Representative, the legendary-for-all-the-wrong-reasons David Duke. Now David Duke had run for Senate against the non-offensive 3 term incumbent, J. Bennett Johnson in 1990, and had the same clouds of white supremacy hanging over his head, and come up short only 54-46, so he had a strong base of supporters and that was before he became totally deranged and still had some political charm and campaigning skills, including the ability to disgusie his racism like most Republicans do these days.
Edwards' charm and wit were once again in full swing. When asked if he had anything in common with Duke, Edwards replied, "The only thing we have in common is that we both have been wizards beneath the sheets." His campaign released popular bumper stickers like "Vote for the Crook. It's important." And poked fun at his serpentine reputation from the 1987 campaign ("Slay the Dragon"), with "Vote for the Lizard, not the Wizard." bumper stickers. That's the kind of chutzpah Edwards had; to turn his own ubiquitous corruption into a running gagline and marginalize its importance. In the end, Edwards did much better than Johnson, defeating Duke 61-39.
Now I come to the section that many are probably interested in reading; as folks love juciy scandals, and Edwards' is never mentioned without talking about corruption, even if most people just have that vague idea and don't know what's behind. Well, you won't be disappointed:
A Chronological History of Edwin Edward's Major Scandals
In his first two, most sucessful terms as Governor, Edwards had recurring issues in illegal campaign contributions. Edwards' response? "It was illegal for them to give, but not for me to receive.”
"Koreagate" -- South Korean businessman Tongsun Park came under investigation for bribing U.S. Congressmen, on behalf of the South Korean Government. Edwards admited that Park gave his wife, Elaine Edwards, an envelope filled with 10,000 dollars in cash, but claimed the money was a gift of friendship.
Right as his third term began in 1985, Edwards was indicted for mail fraud, obstruction of justice, and bribery by U.S. Attorney John Volz. Edwards claimed that the charges were politically motivated, and he wasn't entirely wrong, as Volz was a conservative with ties to the Louisiana Republican party, and the result of the two trials was first a mistrial, and then an acquittal. Still, Edwards and his brother Marion played with the trial like buffoons, making a joke of the whole thing. Edwards made a toast about Volz kissing his ass, and before the mistrial, rode a donkey to the courthouse. Marion Edwards dressed in pinstripe suits replete with top hat and cane (you can't make this shit up), and as attorney held comedic press briefings where he often insulted both the judge presiding over the trial, and the prosecution.
After the 1983 election campaign, it was reported, again in The Shreveport Times (which like much of north Louisiana really had it out for Edwards on a seemingly personal level), that Edwards did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and did not expect to get into heaven, (you can imagine how that went over in Louisiana's bible thumping religious circles).
This wasn't really a scandal, but more how Edwin operated; after the 1983 campaign left them with 4.3 million dollars of debt, his brother Marion Edwards arranged an 8 day tour in France, that included dinner at Versailles, and a trip to the Monte Carlo casino. They charged supporters 10,000 dollars a piece to go on the trip, and gave away bumper stickers with the slogan "I did Paris with the Gov".
How did Edwards finally get caught with something? Well in 1998 U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan indicted Edwards on charges relating to a supposed 845,000 dollar bribe from Patrick Graham, a Texas businessman who operated for-profit prisons. The investigation also forced San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo to admit to paying Edwards' 400,000 dollars in exchange for securing a casino license. This time, Edwin Edwards was found guilty on 17 of 26 counts. The jury found him guilty of racketeering, extortion, money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud among other offenses. Even to the end, Edwards was unapologetic:
"I did not do anything wrong as a governor, even if you accept the verdict as it is, it doesn't indicate that," Edwards told the press after his conviction. On his way to prison he said, "I will be a model prisoner, as I have been a model citizen"Later, in both George W. Bush's tenure, and Obama's tenure, heated attempts were made to get Edwards pardoned, bipartisan attempts I might add, that included support from Edwards' old Republican rival David Treen, and Bush's father George H. W. Bush. Neither President, for some reason, heeded the requests, and so it took until January of 2011 for him to get out of prison, and he was unable to run against Bobby Jindal like he wanted.
The Good Stuff
One can almost understand Edwin Edwards' corruption, knowing that he came from a family of sharecroppers of Cajun descent in Avoyelles Parish, in a state that traditionally treated Cajuns little differently than black voters. That sense of growing up so poor that you went hungry at night, and saw a system where everybody (in Louisiana what Edwards was doing was not unique and still isn't, except for scope and pure gravitas), on the inside was taking advantage of and giving nothing back to others.
As a U.S. Congressman, Edwards was one of the only southern Congressmen to vote for the first renewal of the VRA, in the last 1960s/early 1970s. As Governor, in his first term, Edwards rewrote the aging and extremely convoluted State Constitution, (it had hundreds of amendments on it), which voters then passed by a 3:2 margin. Through this Edwards basically created the structure of Louisiana's modern government, and brought into line with the rest of the country, creating a cabinet based executive system, as opposed to the hundreds of politically independent boards and commissions that had existed before as graft filled, expensive, unresponsive fiefdoms. He abolished nearly 80 state agencies in route to consolidating the state government.
Edwards' first two terms coincided with the state's oil boom, and by placing a severance tax on a percentage of the barrel price, rather than charging a flat rate, he helped the state into a windfall of money, which he tried to channel into public programs, increasing the sparse Louisiana state budget 163% during his first two-term tenure as Governor. He was also the first Governor since reconstruction to appoint black people and women to high level administrative positions, and in the early 1990s he became "the first Southern governor to issue an executive order protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons from discrimination in state governmental services, employment and contracts."
This clip showcases Edwin Edwards' raw charisma, and talks about his popularity and immense presence in Louisiana politics for nearly 40 years:
Currently, Edwards has a cursory spot in a reality TV show on A&E called "The Governor's Wife" which is about his 34 year old wife he met while in prison, including the couples attempts to conceive a child. He's marshaled some Mardi Gras parades, and been on the speaking tour, including to the West Monroe Chamber of Commerce, where he was a hit with some of the most conservative voters in the state, using his old self-deprecating charm. He really did want to run against Bobby Jindal in 2011, and the thing is, he probably would have won a lot of central and southwest Louisiana Parishes and come pretty close if not won the actual election. He probably would have won his home parish of Acadia pretty easily (Obama got about 22% of the vote there against Romney). And there is a bit of background on Louisiana politics, and one of it's most colorful and oft-mentioned figures.
Here is a some blurb he uses frequently on his stump speeches of late:
"When I was 9 years old … I got my first federal job. I was a water boy. … I would pull that bucket from out of an open barrel and walk down a line of 200 men, who would drink out of the same bucket, the same dipper. … I was paid 9 cents an hour," Edwards explains. "As fate would have it, 66 years later, I got my second federal job. That was in a little Louisiana town called Oakdale. I was the prison librarian. I was being paid 22 cents an hour, so things were getting better."P.S. While Dkos does have reader gauges, these aren't entirely accurate. I always appreciate users who vote in my poll as that gives a more accurate count of readership. Which is always nice to know for something you worked hard on; sucks to feel like you are talking to a wall.