Besides both of them having lived in the governor’s mansion and neither having been nominated for president, Edwin Edwards and Bobby Jindal have little in common—that includes rankings of their place as governor. As part of a far-ranging series of poll questions released by WWL-TV and The New Orleans Advocate, voters were asked to rank the last six Louisiana governors (Dave Treen to Bobby Jindal) from worst to best. Despite both his reputation as being a bit of a rogue and his having served a decade in the federal pokey, Edwards ranked first—and it was the right decision. During his four terms as governor, Edwards was a builder. He could bridge factions. Early in his first term, he delivered a new constitution for the state, a task that had been a political quagmire. When the World’s Fair was stalled in New Orleans he helped move it along. He might have saved the Saints franchise from moving by cajoling Tom Benson into buying the team. He supported the deal to build the arena, which capped the dome’s neighborhood as a sports entertainment area. Edwards, who was born the year of the 1927 flood, which was also the year before Huey Long was elected governor, was raised in the spirit of old style populism. Government, because of its need to appeal to so many people, cannot always work perfectly but if it gives the poor and needy confidence that it is on their side, that isn’t always so bad.

   Edwards may have built too may hospitals and he may have been too enamored with casinos, yet, just as it is conceded that Mussolini made the trains run on time, we see throughout history that the hutzpah that makes scoundrels out of men frequently makes them effective at moving mountains, or, in Louisiana’s case, building bridges.  During the Katrina recovery it was frequently lamented that Edwin Edwards wasn’t in charge. His method might not have been pretty but he produced results, and U.S. Attorneys always had something to keep their eye on.

      As for Bobby Jindal, who the poll ranked as the “worst” governor, I would put an asterisk by that word. Jindal impresses me as a person who became so brilliant at such a young age, and who achieved political success so early in his career that he never developed the social skills needed of a governor. A good governor is supposed to be a parental figure to the populace; Jindal, who often seems aloof, has been an absentee father. People have been in awe of his mind but not his warmth. The fact that he has been eyeing the presidency has made him seem as though he cares more for New Hampshire and Iowa than Louisiana.

      Yet, one day when his governorship is more distanced by time, I think he will be regarded as an important governor. Painful as they were, especially to those who benefited by them, he did help close some of the financial excesses linked back to the state’s big spending days. It was time to take a hard look at the structure of health care and higher education. Budget cutters never get the same sort of ovation given to builders; yet we need them both. That’s why history should never be judged too hastily. As a personality Bobby Jindal was no Edwin Edwards and, for the moment at least, the state welcomed that.




BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.