Edwin Edwards likes to tell the story about after graduating from Law School at LSU when he had to decide where to set up his practice. As a native of Avoyelles Parish, the town of Marksville would have been a natural choice. However, when visiting a sister in Crowley he looked through the phone book and was surprised at the scarcity of lawyers there, far fewer than Marksville. So, he made his move to Crowley where he discovered there were more lawyers than he thought. It turned out that some pages had been ripped out of the phone book he had looked through.
Politically though, Crowley was no rip off. From there he was able to parlay a political career as a state senator followed by representative and then, the big one, governor.
This Aug. 7 will be Edwards’ 90th birthday. He has served more time in the mansion (four terms) than any other governor. (He has also served more time in prison, eight years, for gambling-related racketeering charges, eclipsing Huey Long protégée Richard Leche by three years.)
When he set his mind to it, Edwards could be a skilled governor and will always be remembered for delivering a new state constitution in 1973 after previous administrations failed. With his Cajun accent and his mastery of Louisiana French, he literally spoke the state’s language but he could also talk the talk among the power people and frequently come out ahead.
For a Louisiana politician 1927 was a significant year to be born. He arrived only four months after what is still remembered as the “Great Flood,” a tragedy that made the state ripe for populist appeals to the have-nots. Huey Long mastered local populism in 1928; Edwards would carry it through his career displaying both political finesse and glibness.
Edwards stories abound: One I witnessed was shortly after Dutch Morial had been elected New Orleans’ first black mayor. Edwards, as governor, attended a fund raising event for Morial. Casino gambling was an emerging issue. Morial joked that he and the governor could go into the hotel’s back room and shoot some craps. Edwards responded quickly: “I may not be the smartest person in the world, but I have enough sense not to gamble with a black politician.”
Morial, usually a stern man, was doubled over with laughter. (An Edwards classic was the amorous former governor’s comparison of himself to former Klan leader David Duke: “We’re both wizards under the sheets.”)
On election night 2016 a crowd gathered at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans to celebrate the election of a different man named Edwards as governor. A security guard questioned an elderly man in the crowd until someone pointed out that that was the former governor. Related to the new governor only by political party Edwin Edwards at least got to experience the thrill of election night at the Monteleone one more time.
Next year will be the 45th anniversary of the adoption of the state constitution that Edwards guided to passage. It is the document that has governed the state since. Power passes on, but Edwin Edwards was never too far from it.
OF TERMS AND CHANGES: CLARIFICATIONS
Some comments about last week’s blog, “Lame Duck: The Longest Flight,” particularly as they pertain to the mayor’s term, which will end in May 2018:
• Nowhere did the blog say, or imply, that the mayor had “extended” his term until next May. His term was always set to end that month. What did change was the election date, which, along with a possible runoff, was advanced to October/November of this year as opposed to next February/March. The misunderstanding may have come from a rumor being whispered around town that the term had been extended. The election was advanced partially so as not to compete with the busy winter season, which could include Carnival parades and the football playoffs.
• In no way were the comments meant to be a criticism of the League of Women Voters, which was one of the proponents of the change. I have great respect for the league. The blog even referred to, the change “advanced by well-intended people such as the League of Women voters…” The league has produced a booklet on the topic entitled “To Celebrate or Vote.” It is available by calling the league office.
• There was an error made in explaining the legislative path taken to make the change, particularly as it pertained to State Senator J.P. Morrell. That part was removed from the blog. We have acknowledged the mistake to the senator. We of course, regret the error.
• Advancing the election date will create an unusually long lame duck period at least by modern standards. Most often someone elected in October/November would expect to take office in January. The new mayor will have to wait four more months. While there is nothing illegal about this it could be governmentally awkward. Shorter transition periods are better. We stand by that position.