Louisiana's Colorful Ex-Gov. Edwin Edwards Eyes Congress

Image: Louisiana's Colorful Ex-Gov. Edwin Edwards Eyes Congress Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards and wife Trina Scott Edwards

Friday, 21 Feb 2014 10:56 AM

By John Gizzi

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A new father at age 86, a federal prisoner for eight years and, until recently, co-star with third wife Trina, 35, of their own reality TV show, Louisiana's former Gov. Edwin Edwards is considering a run for Congress.

In an exclusive interview with Newsmax yesterday, Edwards stopped short of declaring his candidacy in his state's Baton Rouge-based 6th District, which Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy is relinquishing to run for the Senate.

But the former four-term governor left little doubt that, as the lone Democrat to seriously consider a race in a district that has been in Republican hands for all but two years since 1974, his consideration is very serious.

"I'm not prepared to make a formal announcement now," said Edwards, who served as a U.S. representative from the Lafayette area from 1965 to 1972. "For now, I have to familiarize myself with the rules and regulations about fundraising.

"When I was in Congress before, there were no rules regarding fundraising. Now, there are regulations that fill books and pamphlets."

One of the six longest-serving governors in U.S. history, Edwards is by far one of his state's most controversial politicians.

His four terms in the statehouse featured widespread rumors of corruption, although the governor himself dodged a bullet in 1986 when, after two trials in federal court, he was acquitted on charges of racketeering, bribery, and mail fraud.

When the hotel in which the jury was sequestered revealed that many of the jurors stole towels from their rooms, Edwards quipped that he was truly judged by a "jury of my peers."

Gov. Edwards loved to gamble, often placing wagers under the aliases of "T. Wong" and "E. Lee." Fueling his reputation as a ladies' man, he remarked when facing former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in the 1991 gubernatorial race, "The only thing we have in common is that we're both wizards under the sheets."

After Texas businessman Patrick Graham claimed he gave then-Gov. Edwards $845,000 as part of a scheme to locate a private juvenile parish in Louisiana, citizen Edwards was indicted, tried and convicted on charges of racketeering and extortion and began serving an eight-year prison sentence.

"I can vote and have re-registered, but I can't own firearms," Edwards said, adding that a survey conducted by veteran pollster Verne Kennedy showed "40 percent of voters [in the 6th District] won't vote for me because of my prison time. But [Kennedy] also said that that same 40 percent wouldn't vote for me anyway."

As to why he wants to run and serve in Congress, Edwards told Newsmax "I know the workings in Congress and I know what the problem is in Congress today: a lack of willingness to compromise and get things done. Whatever Democrats want, Republicans oppose, and vice versa."

The Louisiana Democrat also revealed that had he been in Congress in 2010, "I would have not have voted for Obamacare — definitely. While I support its concept of reforming healthcare, the bill is too long, too complicated, and it is fraught with uncertainties. And I would not have voted on it without reading the bill first, as several congressmen said they did."

But Edwards also believes that there are what he called "good provisions" in Obamacare that he would keep — "those dealing with pre-existing conditions and permitting young people to remain on their parents' health insurance until a later age" — while reforming other parts of the legislation that he said are not working.

"I'm a social conservative and a fiscal conservative," Edwards insisted, "I balanced state budgets for 16 years and Louisiana never had a problem with its credit rating."

Like 49 of the 50 states — Vermont is the exception — Louisiana has a balanced budget amendment that requires the governor and Legislature to balance the budget every fiscal year.

Under the French-style electoral system in Louisiana, which Gov. Edwards signed into law in the early '70s, all candidates regardless of party compete on the same ballot in November and if none wins a majority, the top two vote-getters meet in a runoff a few weeks later. Several Republicans are maneuvering for the congressional seat in this historically GOP-leaning district.

Winning elective office after a criminal conviction or even a prison term is nothing new in U.S politics, although relatively rare. Former Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry served a prison sentence for cocaine possession in the early 1990s and then came back to win a seat on the City Council. In 1994, he won another term as mayor. Former Rep. Thomas Lane,  a Massachusetts Democrat, was convicted of income tax evasion in 1956, served a brief stint behind bars, and won three more terms.

Edwards' equally flamboyant predecessor, Gov. Earl K. Long, ended his term in the statehouse in 1959, in and out of a state psychiatric hospital in Mandeville, La. But before he died that same year, he won the Democratic primary for Congress.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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