When Edwin Edwards finished his fourth and final term as Governor of Louisiana, I was just a freshman in high school. Not surprisingly, I don’t remember much from the Edwards years. He had already served two terms before I was born. But I do recall, quite vividly, how terrified many people were in 1992, when it looked like there was a possibility, albeit remote, that former KKK leader and Nazi apologist David Duke could be elected Governor. I remember blue and white “This is Duke Country” yard signs lining Bayou Rapides Road in Alexandria, which made me think the neighborhood was dangerous, and I remember the collective sense of relief after Louisianans decided to “vote for the crook” and re-elect Edwards to an unprecedented fourth term.
Over the holidays, I finished reading Leo Honeycutt’s tome Edwin Edwards: Governor of Louisiana, the new authorized biography of the former Governor published by Jim Brown’s Lisburn Press. Because the book is a biography of Edwards, it is also, by nature, a chronicle of contemporary Louisiana history, and in my opinion, it is the finest and most compelling book of its kind. Sure, it’s an authorized biography, which means you’ll probably be inclined to root for Edwards, the protagonist, even if you know that Edwards as inmate is a foregone conclusion. But Honeycutt knows how to tell a riveting story and, without a doubt, the story of Edwin Washington Edwards is riveting.
I highly recommend the book, if you can find it. Apparently, the book’s been selling faster than they can print them.
But instead of launching into a full-on book review (four stars), I’d rather discuss a few things Honeycutt’s book impressed on me:
Despite his failings, Edwin Edwards was an incredibly sharp and brilliant politician. To any student of Louisiana politics, that should be unquestionable. The man was elected to the most important and powerful position in the State four times throughout three decades. His first two terms, from 1972-1980, as former Secretary of Insurance Jim Brown has said, represented some of the most productive and successful years in Louisiana political history. Honeycutt’s book reveals Edwards to be funny, brash, arrogant, quick-witted, but, above all, fiercely and fearlessly dedicated, even at his own peril. Some may also say that Edwin Edwards was simply too smart for his own good, that his hubris prevented him from fully appreciating the intensity of his opposition. But it is also true that many of his most outspoken opponents, like The Times-Picayune, pretended to be objective, good government watchdogs without ever fully disclosing the depth or scope of their own personal, corporate, and/or political agendas.
At first, many in the corporate media didn’t trust Edwards because he was a smooth-talking Cajun outsider, and the more powerful Edwards became, it seems, the more distrust and skepticism he generated. Edwards loved to engage, enrage, and challenge the Louisiana corporate media, but he may have never completely appreciated that, more than anything else, the corporate media explained and defined his character to the people of Louisiana. It didn’t matter that Edwards was found not guilty of obstruction of justice, mail fraud, and bribery during his third term as Governor, and it didn’t matter that U.S. Attorney John Volz threw away substantial public resources in an attempt to convict the sitting Louisiana Governor on the flimsiest of charges– charges so flimsy, in fact, that Edwards’s attorney, Alexandria’s own Camille Gravel, didn’t call a single witness to the stand during the second trial. The prosecution actually made the case for Edwards’s defense. None of this mattered, and Edwards became branded a crook. He may have been found not guilty, but in politics, perception is reality. Volz, by insisting on trying and then retrying a ridiculous case, burdening the entire State with the ignobility of having its Governor on trial for corruption, successfully defined Edwin Edwards a crook, a label that stuck with him.
I was also struck by Honeycutt’s exhaustive account of the trial that ultimately sent Edwards behind bars. Regardless of whether or not you think Edwards was guilty of conspiracy, according to Honeycutt’s version, it certainly doesn’t seem like Edwards received anything resembling a fair trial. The government unethically installed wiretaps and video cameras in Edwards’s private home, bedroom, and office. They dragged their feet for nearly a year before finally handing down indictments, all the while withholding evidence from the defense. They entered into plea bargains with shady businessmen, a few of whom were able to avoid jail time and massive fines simply by appearing on the witness stand and agreeing to testify against Edwards, even if it meant telling wholly unbelievable and implausible stories. To me, the way Honeycutt’s account reads, the government was more than obliged to overlook other crimes and forgive other criminals, as long as they could convict Edwards, then a private citizen, for accepting money from prospective casino owners in exchange for providing licenses that Edwards never actually procured. To be sure, Edwards, as a private citizen, considered himself to be both a consultant and a private attorney, and despite the government’s best efforts, they were never able to prove Edwards exerted any undue influence over the Casino Licensing Board. Then again, in politics, perception is reality, and for most people, myself included, it’s definitely fishy that Edwards accepted $400,000 in cash from a man seeking a casino license, even if the payment was disclosed to the IRS.
Either way, Honeycutt presents a captivating story of a compelling, brilliant, and flawed man, a man who, despite his transgressions, leaves the people of Louisiana with an indelible and unforgettable legacy.
Will the book be available as a e-book … just bought a Nook and want to download …
I just read yr blog on Honeycutt’s Edwin Edwards. I was in the audience
here in Monroe at his talk/review of the book. I was trying to find the “contact” info
to send an email to him to see if a planned return book publicity tour might be planned. (I understand Edwards will be released in January.)
I am hoping that they both will return to Monroe for a presentation.
Do you know if that is in the works?
Fascinating, the way Edwards has been portrayed in the media since the onslaught of the Federal Governments case against him. His portrayal by the media stands in stark contrast to the man himself. Edwin Edwards, from my perspective as one who spent time with him in Oakdale FPC is a thoughtful, respectful and personable man. He is a man that has few regrets. A man that believes in accountability. Succinctly, Edwin Edwards is a man of integrity.
I submit that finding truly credible witnesses to his lack of integrity and honesty might be a challenging endeavor. And please, don’t bring any member of the United States Dept. of Justice into the picture as being fairly represented as “credible” witnesses to his integrity. Our Congress, the same Congress that holds sway over every citizens life in a completely detached -also diametrically opposed to the Constitution in that they are not subject to the laws they create- manner has weighted the Scales of Justice overwhelmingly in favor of the US Attorneys Office. So much so that even our Federal Judges are hamstrung to do anything about it. Many in the judicial branch are fond of the saying, “A finding of Not Guilty does not preclude one’s innocence”. The flip side of that coin is of far greater importance regarding the manner in which citizens of this country are treated in a Federal Courtroom.
Some interesting points to ponder regarding Mr. Edwards and his battle against the US DoJ. The man spent everything he had in trying to defend his name against them. And in fact, he did just that. We as citizens of this great country however, have allowed semantics to obsure any true interpretation of many of the tenets within our Constitutional Ammendments. In this particular case they simply continued to bring him to trial by bringing different charges against him. I.E. same case called by another name. This is in stark contrast to the 5th Ammendment of the Constituion. Bringing witnesses for the Prosecution who all stand and swear before God and all that they have not been promised anything for their testimony by the US Attorneys Office is yet another of these hoodwinks. Those responsible for the United States Attorneys case against Edwards were known by all to be the absolute dredge of the bottom of the barrel in character. I do not suggest total innocence on Mr. Edwards part. In fact, I do not feel qualified to judge the mans choices in exercising the responsibilities he had as this states Governor. What I do know is this, one must wade through a mountain of rubbish to make any sort of informed opinion of the character of those charged with our trust in Public Service. Rarely do we as citizens have the opportunity to actually interact with them personally in the final formulation of our opinions regarding that service. Nonetheless and in spite of the United States Dept. Of Justice’s efforts, Edwin Edwards is held in high esteem by a singificant portion of this states population. Having had the personal opportunity to speak with the man and observe his actions during his incarceration, I have the highest respect for him. He is not the whiner our news media tries to portray him being. He is a fighter. A survivor. A warrior even. But then that is just my opinion. Who am I? I am/was an offender. I was an inmate in the same facility who knew full well what he was there for. One who in retrospect knew that his own sentence was not an unjust one. One who did not feel victimized regarding the circumstances of his incarceration. Alas, one who fully realized why he belonged there at that point in his life. Yet, one who knew those that did not belong there. That is not to say there were many. Edwin Edwards is one that did not belong there. I can not wait to read his book. I suspect that history will be kind to the man. And I fully believe that is as it should be.
I’ve found, in my MOthers posessions Edwin Edwards graduation book from LSU. When he graduated from law school. I’m so excited to have this. I just wondered if he’d like to have this little book?
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