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Fri September 6, 2013
Discussing The Legacy of Former Gov. Edwin Edwards
Originally published on Sat September 7, 2013 8:28 am
Edwards’ wit will surely be on display; the kind of sound bite gold Honeycutt can recite from memory. Like when Edwards said, "The only way I could not be elected now is if I was caught in bed with live boy or a dead girl" when he was running for governor against David Treen.
Or when Edwards answered a reporter who asked if he had anything in common with Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke during the 1991 gubernatorial race with: “The only thing we have in common is we’re both wizards under the sheets.”
It was with that Cajun charm and his populist politics that Edwards won Louisiana over, despite his often questionable means of getting things done.
Always Making An Impression
Edwards had - and still has - a knack for leaving an impression. He left an impression on former teachers union leader Joyce Haynes - literally.
"I mean, I can see him plain as day, standing here shaking his hand," said Haynes. "He had the cleanest face, the cleanest hair and, you know, you observe the grip, when they grip your hand they mash your rings into your skin."
At the Louisiana Association of Teachers office, flipped through a scrapbook of newspaper clippings with headlines like: “Educators with Edwards” and “Gov. Edwards is a Proven Friend”.
During his time in office, Edwards expanded funding for state trade and vocational schools, worked to shore up the gap between the supply of teachers and the demand, and even helped teachers get paid for working extra hours.
Edwards also cut funding for public education from the Minimum Foundation Program while he was governor. But Haynes said he also suggested there was a way they could protect money for schools.
"He said to us, 'You know if it was protected in the Constitution, I couldn’t do this'," said Haynes. "And we did that - we passed a Constitutional amendment that the MFP would only be used for public education and he didn’t fight us on it."
E. L “Bubba” Henry was Speaker of the House during Edwards’ first two terms as governor. He said Edwards’ straight-talk and open-door policy also made him popular among the legislators in Baton Rouge.
"If you call him on the telephone, he’ll return your call just as soon as he can," said Henry. "And I’m talking about in a matter of minutes or certainly hours."
Henry, like Joyce Haynes believes, Edwards’ accomplishments as governor - like rewriting the constitution and balancing the state budget by capitalizing on the booming oil and gas industry - have allowed citizens and lawmakers alike to overlook his transgressions.
"Whatever happened happened. I don’t think that they tarnish what he did," said Henry. "I think we could all do a better job at some things that we do, but I think he was a good public servant."
The Legacy of Edwin Edwards
But the numerous corruption investigations while Edwards was governor and an eventual post-office conviction for nefarious activity involving the selling of riverboat gambling licenses are hard for some to ignore.
LSU professor and pundit Robert Mann thinks most people tend to look the other way because Louisiana, not to its credit, has a higher tolerance for corruption than other states.
"That’s not a good thing," said Mann. "But there are a lot of people in this state who have a tolerance for it. And a lot of the people who have a tolerance for it are getting benefits from that corruption for one thing - one way or the other."
Edwards’ biographer Leo Honeycutt said even though he was the best delegator and most business-savvy governor Louisiana has ever had, people will also remember him as corrupt and for serving the longest prison term of any former governor.
But Honeycutt said he never complained about it - not once.
"He served every single day of it and he came out and he said, ‘They put me in for life and I came out with a wife’," said Honeycutt. "So you know, he’s just unsinkable. You can’t help but like somebody like that who’s just unsinkable, he won’t accept the slap in the face and won’t just walk away. He just keeps going."
If Edwin Edwards could run for governor again, he’d be a strong candidate. The man still gets standing ovations whenever he steps up to a podium or walks into the state house. But because of his conviction, the Silver Fox will be 100 before he’s eligible to run again.
Former governor Edwin Edwards and his biographer, Leo Honeycutt, will be interviewed by Larry King on stage at the LSU Union Theater, Sunday at 4:30 pm.
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