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Edwin Edwards
Then-U.S. Rep. Edwin Edwards, 1969
Governor of Louisiana

In office
January 13, 1992 – January 8, 1996
Lieutenant Melinda Schwegmann
Preceded by Buddy Roemer
Succeeded by Murphy J. Foster, Jr.

In office
March 12, 1984 – March 14, 1988
Lieutenant Robert Freeman
Preceded by Dave Treen
Succeeded by Buddy Roemer

In office
May 9, 1972 – March 10, 1980
Lieutenant Jimmy Fitzmorris
Preceded by John McKeithen
Succeeded by Dave Treen
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 7th district

In office
October 2, 1965 – May 9, 1972
Preceded by T. Ashton Thompson
Succeeded by John Breaux
Personal details
Born Edwin Washington Edwards
August 7, 1927(1927-08-07) (age 95)
Marksville, Louisiana
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Senator Elaine Edwards
(1949–1989, divorced)
Candace Picou Edwards
(1994–2004, divorced)
Trina Grimes Scott
Children Anna Edwards
Victoria Edwards
Stephen Edwards
David Edwards
Eli Wallace Edwards
Residence Gonzales, Louisiana
Alma mater Louisiana State University
Military service
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1945–1946
Battles/wars World War II

Edwin Washington Edwards (born August 7, 1927) served as the 50th Governor of Louisiana for four terms (1972–1980, 1984–1988 and 1992–1996), twice as many elected terms as any other Louisiana chief executive has thus far served with a record of 16 years in office. A colorful, powerful and legendary figure in Louisiana politics, Edwards was long dogged by charges of corruption.

In 2001, he was sentenced to ten years in prison on racketeering charges. Edwards began serving his sentence in October 2002 in Fort Worth, Texas, and was later transferred to the federal facility in Oakdale, Louisiana.

Two men whom Edwards defeated in Louisiana elections—David C. Treen and J. Bennett Johnston Jr.—and a third who was his protégé, John Breaux, confirmed in July 2007 that they intended to approach then U.S. President George W. Bush about procuring a pardon or commutation for Edwards, who celebrated his 80th birthday in prison in August 2007. Bush, however, denied a pardon for Edwards before he left the presidency on January 20, 2009.[1]

Edwards was released from federal prison into a halfway house on January 13, 2011.[2] Supporters lobbied President Barack Obama for a pardon for Edwards so he might run in the 2011 Louisiana gubernatorial election.[3] Obama did not reply to petitions by supporters of Edwards, and Edwards remains ineligible to seek the governorship again.

Early life and career

Edwin Washington Edwards was born in rural Avoyelles Parish, near Marksville. His father, Clarence Edwards, was a half-French Creole[citation needed] Presbyterian sharecropper, while his mother, the former Agnès Brouillette, was a French-speaking Catholic. Edward's ancestors were among early Louisiana colonists from France who eventually settled in Avoyelles Parish, referred to as the original French Creoles.[4] Edwards, like many 20th century politicians from Avoyelles, assumed that they had Cajun ancestry, when in fact he may have had none. His father was descended from a family in Kentucky, who came to Louisiana during the American Civil War. His great-grandfather, William Edwards, was killed in Marksville at the beginning of the American Civil War because of his pro-Union Army sentiment.

Avoyelles Parish has been known for colorful politicians; another who stood out, F.O. "Potch" Didier, actually spent seven days in his own jail after being convicted of malfeasance in office during his own heated reelection.[5]

The young Edwards had originally planned on a career as a preacher. As a young man, he did some preaching for the Marksville Church of the Nazarene. He served briefly in the U.S. Navy Air Corps near the end of World War II. After his return from the military, he graduated at the age of twenty-one from Louisiana State University Law Center and began practicing law in Crowley, the seat of Acadia Parish. He relocated there in 1949 after his sister Audrey (who had moved there with her husband) told him there were few French-speaking attorneys in the southwestern Louisiana community.

Edwards' career was thus helped by his being bilingual and articulate in both English and Cajun French. He learned to cultivate the goodwill of the media, both working reporters and editorial page editors. One of his favorites was Adras LaBorde, longtime managing editor of the Alexandria Daily Town Talk in Alexandria. LaBorde even influenced Edwards in regard to environmental policy.

In 1949, Edwards married Elaine Schwartzenburg, whom he had met at Marksville High School. The couple had four children: Anna, Victoria, Stephen, and David.

Edwards entered politics through election to the Crowley City Council in 1954. He was a member of the Democratic Party which, in that era, had a monopoly on public offices in Louisiana, but which fell out of favor in the late 20th century. Edwards remained on the Crowley council until his election to the Louisiana State Senate in 1964; in that race he defeated in the Democratic primary the 20-year incumbent Bill Cleveland in a major political upset.

After serving in the state Senate for less than two years as a floor leader for Governor John McKeithen, Edwards was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Louisiana's 7th congressional district, a position that he held from 1965 until 1972. He won the congressional seat in a special election called when the incumbent, T. Ashton Thompson of Ville Platte, was killed in an automobile accident near Gastonia, North Carolina. Edwards was easily reelected to three full terms in the House in 1966, 1968 and 1970.

In 1968, he defeated Republican Vance William Plauché (born 1924) of Lake Charles, son of former one-term Democratic Congressman Vance Gabriel Plauché, who was also a native of Avoyelles Parish. Edwards received more than 80 percent of the general election vote, even as Richard M. Nixon won the majority that year in the electoral college but ran poorly in Louisiana. While in Congress, Edwards served on the Public Works, Judiciary, and Internal Security committees. In 1970, he was one of the few Southern congressmen to support the extension for five years of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

1971–72 campaign for governor

In the election of 1971–1972, Edwards won the governorship after finishing first in a field of seventeen candidates in the Democratic primary, including the final race of former governor Jimmie Davis and Gillis Long, a relative of Huey's. His greatest support came from southern Louisiana, particularly among its large numbers of Cajun, Creole, and African-American voters. In the first primary, Edwards led with 276,397 (23.8 percent). J. Bennett Johnston Jr.., a state senator from Shreveport, followed with 208,830 (17.8 percent). In third place was former Congressman Gillis Long of Alexandria, with 164,276 (14 percent). Former Governor Jimmie Davis finished fourth with 138,756 (11.8 percent). Far to the rear of the pack was Congressman Speedy O. Long of Jena in rural La Salle Parish with only 61,359 (5.2 percent).

Both Edwards and Johnston ran on reform-oriented platforms during the primary, but Edwards was more adept at making political deals and building alliances for the runoff round of voting. Edwards said that the major philosophical difference that he held with Johnston was in regard to their "awareness of problems of the poor."[6] Johnston won the endorsement of Edwards' legislative colleague, Joe D. Waggonner of Bossier Parish, but the Shreveport state senator declined to accept Edwards' offer of a televised debate between the two.[7]

Edwards defeated Johnston in the runoff, 584,262 (50.2 percent) to 579,774 (49.8 percent), less than one vote per precinct. The victory showed that south Louisiana was eclipsing the north in both population and in the future political domination of the state.

On election night, Edwards gave public credit to the African American New Orleans political organization SOUL for his extremely narrow victory, stating that the 12,000 vote lead SOUL had bought him in New Orleans had put him over the top. Such public recognition of black political power by a Democratic governor of Louisiana was unprecedented.

In the general election held on February 1, 1972, Edwards faced Republican gubernatorial nominee David Treen, then of Metairie. He did not run as the candidate who would continue the Democratic policies of his predecessor, John McKeithen, for whom Edwards had been a state senate floor leader. Instead he derided McKeithen as a "lame duck governor who doesn't want the new administration to do well. It'll make him look bad," considering a $30 million budget shortfall facing the next governor.[8] Throughout the campaign, Edwards repeatedly insisted that Treen had no chance of victory. He said the climate was not right for a Republican governor in Louisiana. He ridiculed Treen as having "never held a public office. He has run for office four times and has been defeated all four times. He can't even generate enough enthusiasm in his home district (Jefferson Parish), where he is best known."[9] He accused Treen of having adopted Edwards' own reform platform characterized as the "Era of Excellence."[9]

Though Treen ran a vigorous campaign, Louisiana's Democratic tradition favored Edwards from the start, as Edwards had predicted. Edwards polled 641,146 (57.2 percent) to Treen's 480,424 (42.8 percent). Edwards also overcame the south Louisiana "jinx" that had doomed former Mayor Mayor deLesseps Story "Chep" Morrison, Sr., in his three gubernatorial bids. Edwards picked up the enthusiastic backing of his runoff rival, J. Bennett Johnston, later a U.S. senator.

One of Edwards' campaign strategists, Charles E. Roemer, II, of Bossier City, was appointed as the full-time commissioner of administration, a position that Roemer retained from 1972 to 1980. Roemer's son, Buddy Roemer, would serve as governor from 1988 to 1992, sandwiched between the third and fourth Edwards terms.

Bill Dodd, who was defeated for state superintendent of education in the same election cycle that Edwards was winning the governorship for the first time, attributed the Edwards victory in part to political kingmaker Louis J. Roussel, Jr., of New Orleans. According to Dodd, Roussel "can do more than any other individual in Louisiana to elect any candidate he supports for any office in this state. ... He is such a good administrator and motivator that he can put together an organization that will win in business and in politics."[10]

First two terms as governor, 1972–1980

Both in his liberal political rhetoric and in his flamboyant public persona, Edwards cast himself as a Louisiana populist in the tradition of Huey P. Long and Earl K. Long. He was inaugurated as governor on May 9. One of his first acts was to call for a constitutional convention to overhaul Louisiana's bulky charter. Many of the sections on state government were written by delegate Robert G. Pugh, a prominent Shreveport attorney, who became an advisor to Edwards and two other governors thereafter. Voters approved the new constitution by a three-to-two margin in 1974, and government reorganization resulted. For the first time Louisiana operated with a "cabinet style" executive department in lieu of the hundreds of boards and commissions that had existed for decades, each its own fiefdom.

During his first two terms in office, Edwards developed a reputation for being one of the most colorful and flamboyant politicians in the history of a state known for its unorthodox political figures. Charismatic, well-dressed, and quick with clever one-liners and retorts, Edwards maintained wide popularity.

On taking office, Edwards hired J. Kelly Nix as his executive assistant and in 1974 elevated him to first executive assistant. In the second term, however, Nix left the administration to take office as the Louisiana state school superintendent.[11] Edwards also depended heavily on Senator Sixty Rayburn of Bogalusa, whose 44-year service earned him the sobriquet as "Dean of the Louisiana Senate." He also rewarded political friends, such as former legislative colleague Fred L. Schiele, whom he appointed in 1973 to succeed the embattled Noah W. Cross as sheriff of Concordia Parish in eastern Louisiana.

Under Edwards, Michael H. O'Keefe of New Orleans in 1976 was named president of the state Senate, an office previously held by the lieutenant governor prior to the implementation of the state Constitution of 1974. In 1983, as Edwards prepared to return to office, O'Keefe was engulfed in scandal and forced to leave the Senate. He was as replaced by the Edwards loyalist, Samuel B. Nunez, Jr., of Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish. In 2013, O'Keefe was still serving time in prison based on a subsequent 1999 conviction.[12]

Policies and achievements

Edwards shakes hands with President Gerald Ford, April 1976

After enduring three grueling rounds of voting in the 1971–1972 campaign, Edwards pushed a bill through the legislature that limited state elections to two rounds by having Democratic, Republican, and independent candidates run together on the same ballot in a nonpartisan blanket primary. Ironically, though the jungle primary system was intended to benefit Edwards' own political career, many observers cite it as being a major factor in the eventual rise of the state's Republican party and the creation of a genuinely competitive two-party system. For this, Edwards was facetiously christened "father of Louisiana's Republican Party."

William Denis Brown, III, a lawyer and a state senator from Monroe, was Edwards's floor leader in the upper legislative chamber in the first term as governor. A native of Vicksburg, Mississippi reared on a plantation north of Lake Providence in East Carroll Parish, Brown was instrumental in drafting the Louisiana Mineral Code. Thereafter from 1980 to 1988, Brown was the chairman of the Louisiana Board of Ethics.[13]

Early in the first gubernatorial term, Edwards initiated the creation of the first new Louisiana state constitution in more than a half century. He intended to replace the Constitution of 1921, an unwieldy and outmoded document burdened with hundreds of amendments. A constitutional convention was held in 1973; the resulting document was put into effect in 1975. As of 2015, the 1973 Constitution remains in effect. Edwards also undertook a major reorganization of the state government, abolishing over 80 state agencies and modeling the remaining structure after that of the federal government.

In his first year in office, Edwards appointed his wife Elaine S. Edwards, also a native of Avoyelles Parish, to complete the Senate term of the deceased Allen J. Ellender. Mrs. Edwards served from August–November 1972, and during that time, the small town of Crowley boasted the governor, a U.S. Senator, and a U.S. Representative (former Edwards aide John Breaux), who all lived within a few blocks of each other.

An outspoken supporter of civil rights, Edwards appointed more blacks and women to high positions in his administration than had his predecessors.

Edwards' tenure in the 1970s coincided with a huge boom in the state's oil and gas industry after the gas pricing crisis of 1973. Edwards was able to greatly expand the state's oil revenues by basing severance taxes on a percentage of the price of each barrel rather than the former flat rate. This oil money fueled a massive increase in state spending (an 163% increase between 1972 and 1980), and Edwards was able to consistently balance the state budget due to the boom in oil revenue. Much of this increased spending went toward health and human services program and increased funding for vocational-technical schools and higher education.

Edwards easily won reelection in 1975, with 750,107 votes (62.3 percent). In second place was Democratic State Senator Robert G. "Bob" Jones of Lake Charles, son of former Governor Sam Houston Jones, with 292,220 (24.3 percent). Secretary of State Wade O. Martin, Jr., ran third with 146,363 (12.2 percent). Thereafter, both Jones and Martin became Republicans.

Early scandals

Though arguably minor compared to the Edwards scandals of the 1980s and 1990s, the governor was embroiled in several ethics controversies during his first two terms in office. At the time, Edwards was remarkably candid about his questionable practices. When questioned about receiving illegal campaign contributions, he replied that “It was illegal for them to give, but not for me to receive.” He also insisted he saw no problem with investing in a proposed New Orleans office building called "One Edwards Square" (it was never actually named that) while still governor, and demonstrated his gambling prowess to the press on one of his frequent gambling trips to Las Vegas. Later, Edwards' commissioner of administration Charles Roemer – father of future governor Buddy Roemer – was convicted of taking bribes and having connections with Mafia boss Carlos Marcello. Edwards managed to avoid direct implication in the Roemer case.

During the governor's first term, a disaffected former Edwards associate named Clyde Vidrine made several high-profile accusations of corruption, including the sale of state agency posts. The accusations were investigated by a grand jury, but Edwards managed to successfully attack Vidrine's credibility and the investigation stalled. Later, Vidrine published a tell-all book called Just Takin’ Orders, which included salacious details of Edwards' frequent gambling trips and extramarital escapades. Vidrine was later murdered in broad daylight on the courthouse steps in Shreveport.

In a 1976 scandal known as Koreagate, it came to light that Edwards and his wife Elaine had received questionable gifts in 1971, while Edwards was still a U.S. representative. South Korean rice broker Tongsun Park was under investigation for trying to bribe American legislators on behalf of the South Korean government, and for making millions of dollars in commissions on American purchases of South Korean rice. Edwards admitted that Park gave Elaine an envelope containing $10,000 in cash, but insisted that the gift was given out of friendship and that there was nothing improper about it. In the course of the controversy, Edwards stated that he thought it was “super moralistic” for the U.S. government to prohibit American businessmen to accept gifts from foreign officials in the course of their business dealings. The scandal also engulfed Edwards's former congressional colleague Otto Passman of Monroe, who was later acquitted of all charges in the case.

First political comeback: Edwards vs. Treen, 1983

Barred by the state constitution from seeking a third term immediately after his second, Edwards temporarily left politics in 1979 but made it clear he would run again in 1983. He began raising money and touring the state years before the 1983 election, maintaining what supporters called "the government in waiting."

In 1979, Republican reformer David Treen was narrowly elected governor. Edwards had supported Treen's opponent, Democratic Public Service Commissioner Louis Lambert of Ascension Parish. In 1983, Edwards defeated Treen's re-election attempt. The election offered a clear contrast between the flamboyant, charismatic Edwards and the low-key, policy-oriented Treen. Treen focused on Edward's reputation for corruption and dishonesty, while Edwards sought to portray Treen as incompetent and unresponsive to the public. Treen said of Edwards, "It's difficult for me to understand his popularity", which indicated to many that he did not understand Louisiana politics.[14] The two major candidates spent over $18 million between them; the election became renowned as one of the most expensive campaigns ever conducted in a state Louisiana's size. John Maginnis' 1984 book, The Last Hayride, chronicles this colorful campaign.

Before election day, Edwards joked with reporters: "The only way I can lose this election is if I'm caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy".[15] Edwards zinged Treen many times, once describing Treen as "so slow it takes him an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes." During a gubernatorial debate in 1983, Treen asked Edwards, "How come you talk out of both sides of your mouth?" Edwards instantly responded, "So people like you with only half a brain can understand me."

Then Shreveport Journal editor Stanley R. Tiner reported after the campaign of 1983 that Edwards disbelieves in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and does not personally expect to go to heaven. There was an uproar in conservative religious circles, but the comments did not stop Edwards from finishing his term or winning a fourth election eight years thereafter.

Edwards' brother, Marion David Edwards (1928-2013),[16] was part of both the 1983 campaign and the entourage that headed to France and Belgium in 1984 to raise monmey to repay a $4.2 million lingering campaign debt.[17] Six hundred supporters joined the Edwardses on an eight-day tour that included dinner at Versailles and gambling in Monte Carlo. Each paid $10,000. Edwards expected a 70 percent profit on the contributors' tickets to retire the debt. Bumper stickers were printed in blue and gold campaign colors and distributed to those who contributed to the retirement of this debt. For years afterwards, motorists saw on vehicles bearing the slogan, "I did Paris with the Gov."[14]

Third term as governor, 1984–1988

State finances nosedived during the third Edwards administration. Money from petroleum severance taxes decreased sharply in the middle 1980s because of plummeting oil prices. In 1984, Edwards attempted to deal with the erosion of state revenue by approving $730 million—Edwards originally requested $1.1 billion—in new personal taxes, including a 1 percentage point increase in the state sales tax $61 million in higher corporate income taxes, and $190 nmillion in additional gasoline taxes.[18] The legislature passed these taxes into law, but the taxes were highly unpopular and damaged Edwards' level of public support. Republican State Representative Terry W. Gee of New Orleans, said at the time, "Nobody realized the magnitude of what's going on; I've had 180 phone calls in two days against the higher taxes."[18]

Much of Edwards' support in the 1970s had been fueled by high levels of social spending during times of economic prosperity; with economic conditions worsening, his popularity waned. To obtain passage of the higher taxes, Edwards first submitted Treen's 1984-1985 proposed budget as a warning to lawmakers. The Treen budget, he claimed, would cut state spending too drastically and cause roads to fall apart, bridges to collapse, and insurance premiums to skyrocket. Edwards predicted that if lawmakers passed Treen's budget instead of the higher taxes the voters would rebel and blame the legislature itself for the results.[19] In the end, Edwards got most of what he wanted and was able to use the excuse of teacher pay increases to force his hand with lawmakers.[20]

The John Volz indictment and trials

In February 1985, soon after his third term began, Edwards was forced to stand trial on charges of mail fraud, obstruction of justice, and bribery, brought by U.S. Attorney John Volz. The charges were centered around an alleged scheme in which Edwards and his associates received almost two million dollars in exchange for granting preferential treatment to companies dealing with state hospitals. Edwards proclaimed his innocence and insisted that the charges were politically motivated by Volz and the Republican Party. The first trial resulted in a mistrial in December 1985, while a second trial in 1986 resulted in an acquittal. Russell B. Long had correctly predicted in March 1985 that Edwards would indeed be acquitted by a Louisiana jury and that the ensuing trial would not disrupt state government.[21] When Long announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate seat that he had held since 1948, he indicated his preference for Edwards as his senatorial successor but added, correctly, that he did not think Edwards would enter the 1986 Senate election.[22]

Prosecutors referred to Marion Edwards, also indicted in the alleged health care scheme, as a "bag man" for his brother. Marion ridiculed this characterization at a French Quarter bar in New Orleans, when media representatives were present. He placed a shopping bag on his head to resemble a crown and tossed about phony $100 bills.[17] Edwards later recited during a toast at a French Quarter bar, though his beverage was non-alcoholic as he is a teetotaler, a rhyming invitation for Volz to "kiss my ass". The trials were rather lengthy, and at one point during the first trial but before the mistrial Edwards rode to the Hale Boggs U.S. Courthouse on a mule from his hotel. When asked by reporters why he did so, he replied something to the effect that it was symbolic of the speed and intellect of the federal judicial system, but also that he supported 'tradition.' Marion Edwards, an attorney, often wore a pinstrip suit with a top hat and cane and held comedic press briefings at the end of each court session on the steps of the courthouse. Marion Edwards mocked the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney Volz, and United States Judge Marcel Livaudais, who presided over the trials.

Even after successfully beating the Volz indictment, Edwin Edwards' popularity was in decline. Despite his acquittal, the trial brought many sordid details of Edwards's conduct under public scrutiny. It was revealed that during frequent gambling trips to Las Vegas, Edwards lost hundreds of thousands of dollars under aliases such as T. Wong and E. Lee, later paying these gambling debts using suitcases stuffed with cash of unknown origin.

After the trial, Edwards' support for the legalization of gambling as a solution to the state's severe revenue shortages contributed to a further decline in his popularity. He had made unpopular budget cuts to education and other social programs earlier in his term. Beginning in January 1986, he argued that legalizing casino gambling in up to fifteen locations and creating a state lottery would be a way to restore the programs, but the state legislature rejected his gambling proposals. Entering a tough re-election campaign in 1987, Edwards seemed vulnerable. Going into the election, his disapproval ratings ranged from 52 to 71 percent.

At first Edwards had predicted that gambling, both casino and a state lottery, would net the state $600 million; then he lowered the expectations to $150 million.[23] Both gambling measures would eventually be implemented, but not in the third Edwards term.

Defeat: Edwards vs. Roemer, 1987

Several notable candidates lined up to face Edwards in the 1987 gubernatorial election. Perhaps his strongest early challenger was Republican Congressman Bob Livingston. Also in the race were Billy Tauzin, a then-Democratic Cajun congressman, Democratic Secretary of State Jim Brown of Ferriday, and a Democratic congressman from Bossier City, Buddy Roemer, who climbed up from a series of low poll rankings early in the campaign.

Louis J. Roussel, Jr., a businessman from New Orleans who began his career as a bus driver, contributed $600,000 to Edwards in the losing race in 1987.[24] Roussel had formerly been a large donor to Bill Dodd,[25] whose son, William Ford Dodd, ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in the 1987 primary election.

"Anyone But Edwards"

Edwin was the issue of the campaign. Because of his name recognition, his resilient supporters, and unmatched political skill, even a weakened Edwards could safely assume he would win a place in Louisiana's unique primary election system runoff. The question was whether his opponent in the runoff would be someone who could beat him.

There was a prevailing sense in the race that Edwards needed Livingston in the runoff. Livingston was a Republican in a state that had at that point elected only one Republican governor since Reconstruction. And Livingston was widely perceived as lacking in charisma and personality, which would work to Edwards's advantage. Any other opponent, a moderate Democrat without the ethical problems, would be dangerous. To that end, Edwards talked up Livingston. Perhaps the key moment in the 1987 race came at a forum between the candidates. As usual, the main topic of discussion was Edwin Edwards. His challengers were asked, in succession, if they would consider endorsing Edwards in the general election if they didn't make it to the runoff. The candidates hedged, particularly Secretary of State Brown. The last candidate to speak was Buddy Roemer: "No, we've got to slay the dragon. I would endorse anyone but Edwards." The next day, as political commentator John Maginnis put it, Jim Brown was explaining his statement while Buddy Roemer was ordering "Slay the Dragon" buttons. Boosted by his endorsement as the ‘good government candidate’ by nearly every newspaper in the state, Roemer stormed from last place in the polls and on election night, overtook Edwin Edwards and placed first in the primary election, with 33 percent of the vote compared with Edwards' 28 percent. This marked the first and last time Edwin Edwards ever finished other than first in an election.

In what seemed to be the end of Edwards' political career, the governor withdrew from the contest in his concession speech, automatically electing Buddy Roemer governor. In fact, he was cleverly setting a trap for Roemer. By withdrawing, Edwards denied Roemer the opportunity to build a governing coalition in the general election race, and denied him the decisive majority victory that he surely would have attained. In one stroke, Edwards made Buddy Roemer a minority governor. Also, Edwards virtually ceded control of the state to Roemer even before his inauguration. By doing so, he passed on the burden of the state's problems to the new governor, who was essentially under the gun even before assuming office. For four years, Roemer struggled to be a reform governor of Louisiana as so many had before him. And although virtually no one realized it at the time, Edwin Edwards quietly waited in the wings for a return to power.

A second comeback: Edwards vs. Duke, 1991

As the 1991 governor's race drew near, many of Edwards' friends encouraged him to abandon his planned comeback, believing that he had no chance to win. After Edwards' loss in 1987, a journalist for the defunct Shreveport Journal wrote that the only way Edwin Edwards could ever be elected again was to run against Adolf Hitler. These words turned out to be shockingly prophetic, since after the 1991 primary Edwards discovered his runoff opponent to be neo-Nazi David Duke. Edwards received 34 percent of the vote while Duke received 32 percent. Governor Roemer placed third, 80,000 votes behind Duke.

The runoff between an accused white supremacist and a former governor who was widely considered corrupt but was also minority-friendly, gained national attention. Support for Edwards grew in between the primary and the runoff. Louisiana Coalition against Racism and Nazism, an interest group, appeared to challenge Duke, with its leadership including longtime Treen supporter Beth Rickey, a member of the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee from New Orleans. The coalition claimed, but never proved, that Duke was still involved in neo-Nazi activities.[26]

Faced with the alternative of Duke, many who were otherwise lukewarm for Edwards found him looking ever better. Edwards found himself receiving endorsements from both Treen and Roemer; even Republican President George Herbert Walker Bush urged that Edwards, the Democrat, be elected over Duke. A popular bumper sticker urging support for Edwards (although clearly not produced by his campaign) read "Vote For the Crook. It's Important."[27][28][29] Another read "Vote for the Lizard, not the ." Edwards said that this would be his final term as governor and that he cared about leaving a good legacy, which made many hope that the corruption of his previous administrations would not be repeated. Edwards won by a wide margin. Continuing his artful use of humor to deflate an opponent, and referring to his considerable reputation as a ladies' man, Edwards said of Duke that "the only thing we have in common is that we both have been wizards beneath the sheets." When a reporter asked Edwards what he needed to do to triumph over Duke, Edwards replied "stay alive." On Election Day, Edwards defeated Duke in a landslide, 61 to 39 percent, a margin of nearly 400,000 votes.

Fourth term as governor, 1992–1996

In his last term, Edwards asked his boyhood friend, Raymond Laborde, to leave the state House after twenty years to serve as commissioner of administration. Laborde, who had once defeated Edwards for class president at Marksville High School and had earlier been his legislative floor leader, agreed to join the administration.[30] He invited former Representative Kevin P. Reilly, Sr., of Baton Rouge, former CEO of Lamar Advertising Company to serve as secretary of economic development. Reilly had been removed in 1986 as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee after having criticized Edwards.[31]

In the last term, Edwards promoted casino gambling in Louisiana, which had been a major part of his platform in the 1991 campaign. In June 1992, his heavy lobbying led the state legislature to pass a bill calling for a single large land-based casino in New Orleans. He also appointed a board that, at his private direction, awarded 15 floating riverboat casinos that had been authorized by the Legislature and the Roemer administration. He appointed a political ally, Paul Fontenot, to head the State Police; he would oversee the licensing and investigation of casino operators. On another front he again demonstrated his broad commitment to civil rights by becoming 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.[32]

Despite the discovery that some licensees had links to organized crime or other unsavory ties, Edwards blocked the revocation of their licenses. But a political backlash against gambling-related corruption began. Though he had originally planned to run for re-election in 1995, he announced in June 1994, shortly after marrying his second wife Candy Picou, that he would be retiring from politics at the end of his term. Edwards was succeeded as governor by State Senator Murphy J. Foster, Jr., who ran as an opponent of gambling interests. Edwards retired to a newly purchased home in Baton Rouge, intent on returning to a private law practice and living out his remaining days in contentment with his young wife, Candy (born 1964).

Ron Gomez, whose second term in the legislature corresponded with Edwards' third term as governor, describes Edwards, accordingly:

"Somehow, his brashness and arrogance over the years, traits that would have destroyed the average politician, have only seemed to endear him to his core constituency: minorities, organized labor, Cajuns and lower-income voters. It is exactly those groups who suffered the most over the quarter of a century he was in and out of the governor's office. Except for some black leaders who attached themselves to his entourage and gained political clout and monetary rewards through favors and appointments, the minority population as a whole has made very little progress culturally, educationally or socially because of his leadership."[33]

Gomez continued:

"Organized labor, once a powerful force in the state, has fallen to its lowest membership in history. And, overall, when he finally left office in 1996, the state was near the bottom in teacher pay and college and university funding (among other things). It was also near the top in high school dropouts, teen pregnancies, welfare recipients, prison population, and virtually every other negative category."[34]

Indictment and conviction

After being fingered by Texas for-profit prison entrepreneur Patrick Graham, who allegedly gave him $845,000 in conjunction with a scheme to locate a private juvenile prison in Jena in La Salle Parish, Edwards was indicted in 1998 by the federal government with prosecution led by U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan. The prosecution soon released transcripts of audio conversations, as well as excerpts of video surveillance that seemed to indicate dubious financial transactions. The Edwards investigation also tarnished the reputation of San Francisco 49ers owner Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., who admitted to paying Edwards $400,000 in exchange for Edwards's assistance in securing a casino license.

Edwards was found guilty on seventeen of twenty-six counts, including racketeering, extortion, money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud; his son Stephen was convicted on 18 counts. "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". From 2002 to 2004 Edwin Edwards was incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

Edwards' sometime co-consprirator, Cecil Brown, a Eunice cattleman, was convicted for his part in the payoffs in 2002.

In 2004, Edwards filed for divorce from his second wife Candy, saying that Mrs. Edwards had "suffered enough" during his incarceration. In June 2005, the former Mrs. Edwards was arrested for threatening a police officer at a traffic stop in Point Barre, screaming "don't you know who I am?"

In 2005, Edwards was moved to the Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale in Allen Parish, where he served his sentence as inmate #03128-095. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, he was scheduled to be released on July 6, 2011.[35] Efforts have been underway since his imprisonment to obtain a presidential pardon or commutation for Edwards, whose 80th birthday was August 7, 2007. Among those supporting the pardon effort were David Treen and Shreveport automobile dealer Ed Powell. Former President George H. W. Bush also supported commuting Edwards' sentence to time served and wrote a letter to the pardon attorney for his son, then-President George W. Bush. However, Bush denied a pardon for Edwards.[1]

In 2009, Edwards was listed as an "honorary pallbearer" at the funeral of perennial political candidate L. D. Knox of Winnsboro, who in the 1979 gubernatorial contest, when Edwards was not on the ballot, legally changed his name to "None of the Above" Knox to dramatize his support for the "None of the Above" option in elections.[36]

On January 13, 2011, Edwards was released from prison and served the remainder of his sentence at a halfway house.[37][38] His sentence ended on July 6, 2011[39] and he began three years of probation, which ended early on February 7, 2013, due to good behaviour.[40]

Personal life

In 1972, Edwards appointed his first wife, the former Elaine Schwartzenburg aka Elaine Edwards as an interim U.S. senator to complete the unfinished term of Allen J. Ellender of Houma, who died while campaigning for his seventh term in office. The Edwardses have four children: Anna Edwards, Victoria Edwards, Stephen Edwards, and David Edwards. On July 1, 1989, the couple divorced after forty years of marriage. They had begun living apart on March 15, 1989.[41]

In 1994, Edwards married the much younger Candy Picou (born 1964). In 1997, the couple entered the headlines when they attempted to have a child. Edwards had his vasectomy reversed, and the couple froze sperm to attempt to have a baby. Their efforts ended with his legal trouble. Edwin suggested divorce to his wife after his indictment, but she rejected the suggestion. While in prison Edwin Edwards filed for divorce, which was finalized in 2004. Candy and Edwin Edwards continued to be close friends, and she visited him often in prison. In 2006, Candy Edwards gave birth to Harrison Arthur Picou Low; the father is Brian Low (born 1975). Candy and Low never married. She is still single as of 2012. Candy has said that she brought the child to the prison on one of her visits with her for Edwin to see him. Candy Edwards continues to use her married name and works as a real estate agent. When asked if she and Edwin would ever get back together after his release from prison she said that "anything could happen"—but that was prior to Edwin's later marriage to Trina Grimes Scott (see infra).

Edwards said that Candy should be free to remarry while he was imprisoned. In 2005, Candy Picou Edwards was arrested for a traffic violation involving speeding, driving under a suspended license, and resisting an officer.[42]

One of Edwards's brothers, Nolan Edwards, a former assistant district attorney in Acadia Parish, was murdered in Crowley by an irate client in 1983, the same year that Edwards was engineering his comeback bid for a third term as governor. Nolan's killer, Rodney Wingate, Jr., of Church Point, Louisiana, then killed himself. Wingate had been pardoned by Governor Edwards in 1980 for two drug convictions in the 1970s, a pardon procured through the intervention of Nolan Edwards.[43] Nolan's murder halted the 1983 politicking. Newspapers carried a photograph of brothers Edwin and Marion locked in an embrace on an airport tarmac.[17]

Marion Edwards, an insurance agent and political consultant, was a cancer survivor and counseled other patients for many years. Born on July 10, 1928, in Marksville, he died on January 12, 2013, at the age of eighty-four at his home in Broussard near Lafayette, Louisiana. The cause of death was not released. The Marion D. Edwards Fellowship in Hepatic Oncology at the M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute in Houston, Texas, is named in his honor. Marion Edwards, who was Nazarene, was survived by his second wife, the former Deborah "Penny" Meaux, and three daughters from his first marriage to Aline Luther Edwards: Wanda Edwards, Elizabeth Kersten, and Donna Edwards.[16][17]

Still another brother, Allen Edwards,the longtime owner of a farm and heavy equipment company in Quitman, Arkansas, died in 2009, while Edwards was in prison. Edwards did not attend the funeral because of security difficulties. He also had a sister, the late Audrey Isbell.[16]

Edwards is an uncle by marriage to current U.S. Representative Charles Boustany, a Republican from Lafayette, whose district includes much of the territory represented from 1965 to 1972 by then U.S. Representative Edwin Edwards. Boustany's wife is the former Bridget Edwards, a daughter of Nolan Edwards.[44]

Third wife and reality television show

On July 29, 2011, Edwards married then 32-year-old Trina Grimes Scott, a Republican originally from Alexandria, at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans. A prison pen pal, she is fifty-one years his junior.[45] Beginning in February 2013, Edwin and Trina Edwards were featured in their own reality show, called The Governor's Wife, on the Arts & Entertainment Network. The program focuses on Trina's rearing of teenaged sons and acting as stepmother to Edwards' daughters who are almost twice her age. According to the A&E description of the program: "Between school projects, running for president of the Homeowner's Association, fending off skeptics who think she's a gold digger, and thoughts of adding a baby of their own to the mix, the Edwards clan truly represents a new take on the modern family."[46] The couple announced February 15, 2013 that Trina was pregnant.[47] Trina gave birth to their son, Eli Wallace Edwards, on August 1, 2013.[48]

Edwards' record of longevity

Edwards has the sixth longest gubernatorial tenure in post-Constitutional U.S. history at 5,784 days.[49] Few governors have served four four-year terms. Edwards joined the late George C. Wallace of Alabama, Jim Hunt of North Carolina, Bill Janklow of South Dakota, Terry Branstad of Iowa and Jim Rhodes of Ohio as 16-year governors. However, Branstad was elected to a fifth nonconsecutive term as governor of Iowa in 2010, placing him second to George Clinton of New York (21 years) as the longest-serving governor in U.S. history. Former Nelson Rockefeller would also have been among the long-term incumbents had he not resigned at the end of 1973 with a year left in his term as governor of New York; Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin would have also served sixteen years had he not resigned halfway into his fourth term to become George W. Bush's first Secretary of Health and Human Services. James R. Thompson, a moderate Republican from Illinois, was elected to four consecutive terms, but the first of them was a special two-year term because Illinois was moving its gubernatorial elections from the presidential year to the mid-term year.

Veteran journalist Iris Kelso once described Edwards as clearly "the most interesting" of the six governors that she covered while working for three newspapers and the NBC television affiliate in New Orleans. Kelso found Edwards more colorful than Earl Kemp Long, whom she covered for less than a year in the office.[50]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Meyer, Josh (January 28, 2009). "Bush rejected pardons for Duke Cunningham, Edwin Edwards and Michael Milken – Los Angeles Times". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 11, 2010. 
  2. Deslatte, Melinda (January 13, 2011). "Former La. Gov. Edwin Edwards out of prison". The Associated Press. Retrieved January 13, 2011. 
  4. See [1].
  5. "Philip Timothy, "Ex-governor [Edwin Washington Edwards tops list of colorful parish politicians""]. The Town Talk, March 18, 2007. Retrieved December 19, 2009. 
  6. Leo Honeycutt, Edwin Edwards: Governor of Louisiana, Lisburn Press, 2009, p. 104
  7. Honeycutt, p. 81
  8. "Treen Gets Support in State Race", Minden Press-Herald, January 13, 1972, p. 1
  9. 9.0 9.1 "GOP Doesn't Have a Chance, Edwards Says", Minden Press-Herald, January 7, 1972, p. 1
  10. Bill Dodd, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics (Baton Rouge: Claitor's Publishing, 1991), p. 158
  11. "J. Kelly Nix". Retrieved October 7, 2013. 
  12. "Inmate Locator: Michael O'Keefe, Sr.". Retrieved June 21, 2013. 
  13. "Obituary of William Denis Brown, III". Monroe News Star. Retrieved March 10, 2012. 
  14. 14.0 14.1,465776
  15. Warren, James (August 21, 2010). "Blagojevich Fatigue? Get Used to It". New York Times. p. A23A. Retrieved March 2, 2011. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 "Marion D. Edwards". New Orleans Times-Picayune. Retrieved January 14, 2013. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 "Marion Edwards, brother of ex-Louisiana governor, dies at 84". Alexandria Daily Town Talk. Retrieved January 13, 2013. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Legislators buckle under EWE threat", Minden Press-Herald, March 23, 1984, p. 1
  19. "Edwards submits Treen's budget in attempt to force legislators' hands", Minden Press-Herald, April 17, 1984, p. 1
  20. "Edwards wins tax battle", Minden Press-Herald, June 30, 1984, p. 1
  21. "Long predicts EWE acquittal", Minden Press-Herald, March 14, 1985, p. 1
  22. "Sen. Long doesn't think Edwars will run (for U.S. Senate)", Minden Press-Herald, March 29, 1985, p. 7A
  23. "Edwards hedges on gambling expectations", Minden Press-Herald, February 14, 1986, p. 8B
  24. "Notes". Retrieved October 31, 2010. 
  25. Bill Dodd, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics, Baton Rouge: Claitors Publishing Company, 1991
  26. Patricia Sullivan, "Beth Rickey dies with an immune disorder and Crohn's disease," Washington Post, September 16, 2009
  27. "The No-Win Election", TIME Magazine, Nov. 25, 1991
  28. "Voters to pick 'scoundrel' or ex-KKK Grand Wizard", Milwaukee Sentinel, Nov. 15, 1991
  29. Photo of bumper sticker, New Orleans Times-Picayune
  30. "Philip Timothy, "Ex-governor [Edwin Washington Edwards tops list of colorful parish politicians""]. The Town Talkl, March 18, 2007. Retrieved December 19, 2009. 
  31. "Kevin and Dee Dee Reilly receive honorary degrees from LSU". Retrieved March 13, 2010. 
  32. La. Executive Order EWE 92-7
  33. Ron Gomez, My Name Is Ron And I'm a Recovering Legislator: Memoirs of a Louisiana State Representative, Lafayette, Louisiana: Zemog Publishing, 2000, ISBN 0-9700156-0-7, p. 119
  34. Ron Gomez, p. 120
  35. "Federal Bureau of Prisons". Retrieved August 11, 2010. 
  36. "Obituary of L. D. Knox". Monroe News Star, June 1, 2009. Retrieved June 6, 2009. 
  37. "Former La. governor Edwards out of prison". The Washington Post, January 14, 2011. Retrieved November 19, 2012. 
  38. "Former Gov. Edwards' house arrest ends quietly". Associated Press. July 6, 2011. 
  39. "Today brings more freedom to Edwin Edwards, but he's still on probation". July 6, 2011. 
  40. "Edwin Edwards, polarizing former La. governor, still a force to be reckoned with". February 15, 2013. 
  41. Minden Press-Herald, July 12, 1989, p. 1
  42. Ex-Wife of Former Governor Edwards Arrested
  43. "Former client kills self, ex-governor's brother in Louisiana". Lakeland Ledger, August 19, 1983.,1126713. Retrieved December 9, 2012. 
  44. "Boustany, Dugal to unite in holy matrimony, May 2011". Crowley Post Signal. Retrieved December 9, 2012. 
  45. [2] "Edwin Edwards, Trina Grimes Scott marry in private ceremony|publisher", The Times-Picayune, July 29, 2011
  46. "Ex-Gov. Edwin Edwards and wife to star in reality TV show, January 4, 2013". New Orleans Times-Picayune. Retrieved January 13, 2013. 
  47. "Former Gov. Edwin Edwards' wife, Trina, announces pregnancy". New Orleans Times-Picayune. Retrieved February 15, 2013. 
  48. "34-year-old wife of Edwin Edwards, 85, gives birth to boy". CBS News. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  49. Ostermeier, Eric (April/10/2013). "The Top 50 Longest-Serving Governors of All Time". Smart Politics. 
  50. "Iris Turner Kelso: Introduction". Retrieved October 13, 2013. 


  • Boulard, Garry, "Edwin Edwards: Reflections on a Life," Times of Acadiana, August 15, 2001.
  • Bridges, Tyler. Bad Bet on the Bayou: The Rise of Gambling in Louisiana and the Fall of Governor Edwin Edwards. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001.
  • Dawson, Joseph G. The Louisiana Governors: From Iberville to Edwards. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1990.
  • Maginnis, John. The Last Hayride. Baton Rouge: Gris Gris Press, 1984.
  • Maginnis, John. Cross to Bear. Baton Rouge: Darkhorse Press, 1992.
  • Reeves, Miriam G. The Governors of Louisiana. Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, 1998.
  • Edwin Edwards at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
T. Ashton Thompson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 7th congressional district

Succeeded by
John Breaux
Political offices
Preceded by
John J. McKeithen
Governor of Louisiana
May 9, 1972 – March 10, 1980
Succeeded by
David C. Treen
Preceded by
David C. Treen
Governor of Louisiana
March 12, 1984 – March 14, 1988
Succeeded by
Buddy Roemer
Preceded by
Buddy Roemer
Governor of Louisiana
January 13, 1992 – January 8, 1996
Succeeded by
Murphy J. Foster, Jr.

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