And just in time for Christmas.
The book was written by journalist Leo Honeycutt, who provides both the forward, written by the late former Governor Dave Treen, and a preface on the website www.edwinedwards.net
An excerpt from Governor Treen’s forward:
His (Edwards’s) wit was certainly unmatched and no one knows that better than I do. But I believe this ultimately made him a target. For whatever reason, Governor Edwards liked to poke fun and sometimes in frustration he said things people didn’t easily forget. Being in politics for 50 years, anyone is going to create enemies but Governor Edwards attracted controversy with his tongue. This is partly the reason I reconnected with him after the sentencing in his 2000 trial. I believe the federal government, and by that I mean Judge Frank
Polozola and U.S. attorney Jim Letten, doubled his sentence from the prescribed five years purely out of vindictiveness. They didn’t like him. That’s not a good reason to double someone’s sentence and is, I believe, a misuse of power.
And an extensive and fascinating passage from Mr. Honeycutt’s preface:
He liked being governor in a state that still thought in European terms of kings and kingdoms. Fleur-de-lis, Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, Vieux Carre, and Lassez le bon temps roulet (Let the good times roll) were as foreign to the Beltway as France itself. Edwin Edwards was Louisiana through and through, up from the dirt as a sharecropper’s son born smack on the line between French Catholic South Louisiana and English Protestant North Louisiana in a house so divided. From the beginning, instilled in him was the art of negotiation.
All these things I discovered on the journey with him into his past as I strongly admonished him it would serve no purpose to sugarcoat anything, not now. He would look at me from his blue prison jumpsuit, brown eyes as cool as ice cubes, and say, “I’m too far from the womb and too close to the tomb for any of it to make any difference now.” Still, he protected himself, played his cards close to his vest, assessing to what extent he could trust me. I was no longer the young freckled redneck who tried to distill life into black and white. I soon discovered that in our three-hour sessions, overseen by the Bureau of Prisons, I had to chip away at his mask of cavalier insouciance to get to his heart, if he had one left. He did and eventually, after a year, he could answer in more than soundbites. Yet, Shakespeare was right. Edwards had played the role of governor so long, had so tied up his identity into the office for four terms, that he could scarcely remember anything else.
That was just as well. Knowing we faced an Everest of credibility issues, I ultimately scaled an Everest of research. Even his staunchest supporters peered at him askance, as I did, so I fell irrevocably back on my journalist instincts and dove into nearly two years of research in the basement of LSU’s Middleton Library and others. This included the dusty file room of The Concordia Sentinel under the watchful eye of Louisiana’s dean of political writers, Sam Hanna. I wanted to know for myself what the truth was about Edwin Edwards and went back to the public record where reporters had captured his tone and tenor decades before. I wanted to see Edwards evolve in real time. This meant reading yellowed pages and thousands of articles on microfilm flickering before me like a picket fence at 80 miles an hour.
The information was dizzying. There was little that happened in Louisiana for a quarter century without his imprint. So what did the analysis reveal? In this bottom-line society, we need easy answers quickly. That will not be found in these pages. Life is a moving target, people evolve, the public is mercurial. Ask the long line of football coaches at LSU. Facts, like victories, often get blurred as the public turns on their hero.
Therefore, precisely as a reporter and as objectively as I could be, I have stated facts in chronological order as seen through the eyes of those present at the time. I have found that as much maligned as today’s journalists are, America’s free press is still the best in the business and for the most part can be trusted. Since so much was written about Edwin Edwards, triangulating between various reporters usually placed me in the center of the truth.
There will be a few, some rich, some powerful, some politically-connected, who will not like this book. I remind them that all information came entirely out of the public record, previously published but forgotten. I also remind them that, for the finished book, I deleted two-thirds of my exhaustive data out of the original 1,800-page draft. I have a mountain of other information not in these pages. The original draft is safely in an undisclosed bank deposit box.
As for Edwin Edwards, he was man enough to face the inclusion of the most damning evidence against him in the 2000 trial. In fact, he balked at not a single unflattering exposure except when the information tarnished someone else’s reputation and was not material to this work. He only requested the retraction of two items about others.
So, was Edwin Edwards the Cajun Prince –another Huey Long? Was he a crook? Did he help or hurt Louisiana, his friends or himself? The answers are here but you’ll have to determine them for yourself. I can guarantee this: You’ll find out why Louisiana is the way it is and have a far better understanding of how American politics work and don’t work. This is not a game for the faint of heart. As moody as voters are, politics is as complicated as the enigma Edwin Edwards became.
Famed historian T. Harry Williams took fourteen years to research and write Huey Long, concluding of the assassinated Kingfish, “In striving to do good he was led on to grasp for more and more power, until finally he could not always distinguish between the method and the goal, the power and the good. His story is a reminder, if we need one, that a great politician may be a figure of tragedy.”
Perhaps this is also the story of Edwin Washington Edwards.