NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Edwin Washington Edwards, the high-living, quick-witted four-term governor who reshaped
Louisiana’s oil revenues and dominated the state’s politics for decades, a run all but overshadowed by scandal and eight years in federal prison, died Monday. He was 93 years old. Edwards died of respiratory problems with family and friends by his bedside, family spokesman Leo Honeycutt said, days after entering hospice care at his home in Gonzales, near the Louisiana capital.
“I’ve made no bones that I have considered myself on borrowed time for 20 years and we each know that all this fun has to end at some point,” Edwards said days before he died, according to his family’s statement.
Active till the end! Edwards has his iPhone on speaker mode. He leans into his desk as a client lists potential dates for them to meet and mull over real estate openings. They agree on a time, so the 91-year-old former four-term governor jots the appointment onto his desktop calendar, which sits beside a name plate engraved with “illegitimi non carborundum” — a Latin phrase for “don’t let the bastards get you down.”
“I’m going to be active until I die,” Edwards said at the time. “It’s who I am. I can’t help it.”
Always wanted to be Governor! His mother said that when he was about seven years old, he got to acting up and playing a clown at a party or some gathering. She said, “I had to get him to quiet down so I grabbed him by the ear and took him out to the front porch to give him a talking-to.” When she finished, Edwards looked up and said, ‘”You’re not going to do that one of these days when I’m governor.” Again, he was seven years old.
He served a brief time in the U.S. Navy toward World War II’s end before completing Louisiana State University Law School at age 21.
“I hitchhiked from Marksville to Baton Rouge to go to law school,” he said. “My parents didn’t even know where LSU was.”
As a lawyer, Edwards capitalized on the Cajun French dialect that he and his family spoke at home. He flipped through the phonebook and saw what he believed were not nearly enough practicing attorneys in Crowley, roughly 100 miles away from Avoyelles Parish. Even fewer lawyers knew enough French to represent Acadia Parish’s working class, he concluded.
“I’d be a rich man today if I stayed as a practicing lawyer,” he said. “I was a good lawyer.”
The itch for elected office was too strong not to scratch. He spent time on the Crowley City Council, the Louisiana State Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives — becoming one of the few Southern congressmen to support extending the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But for this child of the farmlands, the Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge was prime real estate.
“Many people who are in politics don’t like it and want to get out,” he said. “I had a different attitude. I wanted to be in. I wanted to be governor. I wanted to serve people.”
Voters wanted him. On May 9, 1972, Edwards took the oath as Louisiana’s 50th governor. The self-proclaimed prince of the populist Kingfish fired his motives — an upheaval of the state’s constitution and a more diverse public workforce. A 1973 convention on Edwards’ watch streamlined Louisiana’s charter from 267 agencies to 15. He appointed more minorities and women to state government than any of his predecessors had.
“Edwards was not only astute at knowing the pulse of the public, but he also knew exactly where the Legislature was moving pretty much at all times,” Honeycutt said. “There’s one thing he was extremely good at: delegation.”
He got the state to cash in on the 1970s oil boom by basing crude oil tax collections on percentages, rather than flat volume. Much of the newly generated revenue went toward state social programs. In 1985, he convinced car dealer Tom Benson to purchase the New Orleans Saints and keep the NFL franchise from flocking to Jacksonville, Fla.
EDWIN EDWARDS’ POLITICAL RESUME:
Crowley City Council (1952-1965)
Louisiana State Senate (1964-1965)
Louisiana Supreme Court (1980)
U.S. House of Representatives (1965-1972)
Governor of Louisiana (1972-1980, 1984-1988, 1992-1996)
A funny fella! Edwards may have flaunted his swagger most on the campaign trail, with one-liners that lured out-of-state political students to Louisiana.
“I did tell him on different occasions, ‘You know, governor, if you had been a stand-up comedian, you could have been as big as Seinfeld? But no, you had to be governor.’” Honeycutt recalled. “He said, ‘Don’t you think I think about that?’”
Edwards uttered these lines in 1983, while vying to unseat Republican incumbent Dave Treen for a third term:
“Treen is so slow, it takes him an hour-and-a-half to watch ’60 Minutes’”
“The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy”
In 1991, the reputed ladies’ man made these remarks about David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who faced Edwards in a gubernatorial runoff.
“The only thing we have in common is that we’re both wizards under the sheets.”
The same year, Edwards sought humor by referencing decades-old corruption claims against him. Campaign bumper stickers read “Vote for the Lizard, Not the Wizard” and “Vote for the Crook: It’s Important.”
The former governor’s additional one-liners over the years include:
On the afrodesiac quality of oysters: “I had a dozen last night, and only 10 of them worked.” (2011)
“I give blood for them to make Viagra.” (2011)
On the usefulness of Republicans, including his wife Trina: “You sleep with them.” (2012)
He was the Cajun King and will always be a part of Louisiana lore.