Populist Edwin Edwards, a 'Cajun King,' loved his Louisiana

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They were pugnacious acts to travel connected the signifier of 20th period Louisiana politics: the arm-flailing Depression-era orator Huey Long, a legislator and erstwhile politician changeable to decease portion eyeing the presidency; country-singing Gov. Jimmie Davis, who erstwhile rode up the Capitol steps connected horseback; and Gov. Earl Long, Huey’s brother, who cavorted with Bourbon Street stripper Blaze Starr successful the 1950s.

But Edwin Washington Edwards, the high-living “Cajun King” who died Monday astatine 93, proved up to it, matching their deft governmental instincts portion coolly delivering a dependable proviso of memorable one-liners. His deadpan jokes punctuated a vocation of highs and lows that spanned 4 presumption arsenic governor, a triumphant fundraising jaunt to Paris economical booms and busts — and much than 8 years successful national prison.

“The lone mode I tin suffer this predetermination is if I’m caught successful furniture with either a dormant miss oregon a unrecorded boy," the lifelong Democrat wisecracked during a 1983 contention against a lackluster Republican.

And, portion comparing himself to his 1991 opponent, ex-Ku Klux Klan person David Duke Edwards owned up to his ain estimation arsenic a womanizer, saying “We’re some wizards nether the sheets.”

Eulogies poured successful arsenic a nationalist viewing was prepared successful the authorities Capitol’s Memorial Hall. Current Gov. John Bel Edwards, nary relation, said Louisiana has “lost a giant.”

A autochthonal of Louisiana’s Acadiana portion who took his 1972 oath of bureau successful French and English, Edwards enjoyed renewed popularity aft emerging from situation successful 2011 astatine property 83 with his speedy wit and flamboyant quality intact. He soon recovered woman No. 3 successful 32-year-old Tina Grimes, a situation pen-pal.

“I would person walked into situation a blessed antheral had I known however it was going to end,” helium said astatine his lavish 90th day bash successful August 2017.

They had a son, Eli, successful 2013 — Edwards’ 5th kid — and starred successful a short-lived world TV show, “The Governor’s Wife.”

The national lawsuit that led to his May 2000 condemnation progressive his taking payoffs from interests seeking riverboat casino licenses during his 4th and last word successful the 1990s. Edwards maintained the lawsuit was built connected secretly taped and misinterpreted conversations and the lies of his erstwhile cronies, who made deals to debar jail.

But the condemnation and the galore investigations and allegations were an unavoidable stain connected his legacy.

“He had eloquence, creativity, a razor-sharp mind, enforcement abilities that galore lacked, and enactment skills that galore envied. He could subordinate to crowds amended than astir immoderate person I ever knew,” Louisiana State University journalism prof Robert Mann said successful an email Monday. “He had everything, and yet squandered it by devoting overmuch of his clip to enriching his friends. I’ve seldom seen a wider chasm betwixt the committedness for greatness and reality.”

Edwards was calved Aug. 7, 1927, to a sharecropper and midwife successful Avoyelles Parish. His authorized biographer, Leo Honeycutt, wrote that his father’s ancestors were Welsh, and his mother’s were continental French. But Avoyelles was portion of Acadiana — an country settled successful the 1750s by French exiled from Nova Scotia by the British, and Edwards proudly proclaimed himself 1 of them — a Cajun.

Silver-haired and charming, Edwards was afloat of contradictions. Raised a Roman Catholic, helium preached successful the Church of the Nazarene arsenic a teen, didn't portion oregon smoke, and peppered his speeches with biblical references. Catholics and fundamentalists followed him contempt his unabashed fondness for high-stakes gambling, soiled jokes and changeless flirting with women.

Edwards was a consummate dealmaker, and similar Huey Long, aimed his populism astatine the state’s downtrodden. He claimed a benignant of spiritual kinship with Black radical successful his archetypal inaugural address, noting that Cajuns had suffered discrimination, too. He went connected to name much African Americans to policy-making positions than immoderate erstwhile governor, and spearheaded the adoption of a caller authorities constitution.

“My dada ne'er saw colour and ne'er turned his backmost connected anyone successful need,” said his lad Stephen Edwards, who worked alongside his begetter successful the Edwards Law Firm, according to the household statement.

Edwards had a cooler demeanor than Huey Long, and didn’t demonize almighty interests adjacent arsenic helium went aft their riches. In 1974, helium seized connected an lipid roar to capable Louisiana’s coffers, changing the severance taxation from 25 cents a tube to 12.5% of value. He besides eliminated a regressive income tax. The moves made Louisiana the nation's astir cash-rich authorities portion New York City was going bankrupt, said Honeycutt, his authoritative biographer.

Edwards near bureau successful 1980 wildly fashionable but constitutionally barred from a 3rd consecutive term, and returned successful 1984 aft defeating David Treen, the state’s archetypal Republican politician since Reconstruction and the people of immoderate of his sharpest barbs. Edwards called him “so dilatory it takes him an hr and a fractional to ticker ’60 Minutes'."

Tragedy interrupted that run erstwhile his youngest brother, lawyer Nolan Edwards, was murdered by a disgruntled lawsuit who aboriginal killed himself. The client, who did clip connected cause charges, had been pardoned by Edwin astatine Nolan’s behest.

After the run resumed, a grieving Edwards won successful a landslide, past paid disconnected the indebtedness from a $14 cardinal run by chartering a $10,000-a-head travel to France for friends and supporters.

“I’ve wanted each my beingness to beryllium a king, and present I tin be,” helium quipped during their halt successful Versailles.

But lipid prices plummeted during his 3rd term, and Edwards pushed done $700 cardinal successful unpopular taxes.

And determination was scandal, arsenic determination had been for years: Grand juries had looked into his finances successful the 1970s; determination were legislature hearings; helium admitted that helium and his archetypal woman Elaine had received $20,000 successful 1971 from South Korean authorities cause Tongsun Park portion helium was successful Congress; and his disgruntled erstwhile adjutant Clyde Vidrine wrote a publication successful 1974 accusing Edwards of exchanging high-level jobs for run contributions.

Edwards seemed impervious to it each until 1985, erstwhile helium was indicted connected national racketeering charges involving investments successful hospitals and nursing homes. Partly to poke amusive astatine the trial's dilatory pace, helium arrived astatine the New Orleans courthouse 1 greeting successful a mule-drawn carriage.

A mistrial and an acquittal followed, but his fortunes had waned. Running for re-election successful 1987, helium earned the runoff against then-Democratic Rep. Buddy Roemer, lone to retreat successful the look of definite defeat.

Analysts wrote him disconnected arsenic politically dead. But they hadn't foreseen Roemer’s downfall aft helium backed a taxation overhaul rejected by voters — oregon the emergence of Duke, who had narrowly won a authorities House spot and was gathering a important hard-core powerfulness basal connected the right.

Louisiana was trending Republican by then, but Roemer didn't assistance himself by switching parties. Edwards and Duke each got a 3rd of the ballot earlier Edwards won the 1991 runoff successful a landslide, aided by fears of economical ruin if an ex-Nazi reached the governor’s mansion.

“Vote for the crook. It’s important,” work 1 fashionable bumper sticker.

Edwards hoped to burnish his representation but again recovered himself nether national indictment aft retiring pursuing his 4th term. This time, witnesses included erstwhile cronies specified arsenic Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who mislaid his beloved San Francisco 49ers aft accusing Edwards of demanding a $400,000 payoff for assistance with a casino license.

Even immoderate of Edwards’ opponents decried the 10-year condemnation helium received arsenic a effect of the trial. They included Treen, who, who until his decease successful 2009, pushed unsuccessfully for Edwards’ aboriginal release.

Edwards’ past effort astatine a governmental comeback failed: He earned a runoff spot successful a southbound Louisiana legislature contention successful 2014, lone to suffer to Republican Garret Graves. His critics called that past contention a fool’s errand, fixed his precocious age, GOP gains and his penchant for scandals.

Edwards had 4 children during a 40-year matrimony to his precocious schoolhouse sweetheart, the erstwhile Elaine Schwartzenburg. They divorced successful 1989. Five years later, helium joined Candy Picou; helium was 66, she, 29. That matrimony lasted 10 years; situation drove them part. He said successful a connection from down bars that his woman “just cannot grip the accent and slump of this forced separation.”

Edwards died of respiratory problems with household and friends by his bedside, household spokesperson Leo Honeycutt said, days aft entering hospice attraction astatine his location successful Gonzales, adjacent the Louisiana capital.

“I person lived a bully life, had amended breaks than most, had immoderate atrocious breaks, too, but that’s each portion of it. I tried to assistance arsenic galore radical arsenic I could and I anticipation I did that, and I hope, if I did, that they volition assistance others, too. I emotion Louisiana and I ever will,” were immoderate of his past words.

Edwards had made wide helium had fewer regrets, and overmuch to beryllium thankful for.

“I can’t archer you however fantastic my beingness has been,” Edwards told friends and admirers who paid $250 apiece to be his 2017 day celebration. They were treated to immoderate acquainted stories, specified arsenic Edwards’ assertion that helium erstwhile asked Pope John Paul II to perceive his confession erstwhile the 2 met astatine the White House.

“He declined,” Edwards said. “Because helium said he’d lone beryllium successful municipality 3 days.”


AP writer Melinda Deslatte contributed from Baton Rouge.

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