Bribery On the Bayou

It was a hot, sticky September afternoon in New Orleans. I had time on my hands and dust on my shoes, so I decided to treat myself to a shoe shine. Working feverishly on my cordovan loafers, a chatty young guy who popped a question as he polished. “You got a five on ya?” Thinking he was short on change I nodded sure. “Ok, well got a five, against your Abe Lincoln, because I bet I know where you got your shoes?”

Ha, no way this polished gambler knew about The Bass Shoe outlet in Vermont, where I had bought them. “Ok, buddy you’re on”

“You got your shoes, “ he cackled, “on your feet!”

So long Mr. Lincoln. It was fun, good natured and the fellow turned my size 10’s into walking mirrors. It was typical of the pre-Katrina vibe in New Orleans, and most of Louisiana, but it was ending that week as the popular 4 term Governor and Official State Rascal, Edwin Edwards announced he would not serve a fifth term as Governor. Even the pickpockets, petty thieves and hookers were despondent. A Convention of cheap, wary News Executives in town–and Edwin Edwards on his way out. Outside of Louisiana Republicans and a few prosecutors everybody loved Edwin Edwards, who helped a coalition of White, Black, and Cajun working people, while he helped himself to as much of other people’s money and other people’s wives and girlfriends over several decades. Every night was Fat Tuesday for the state’s only Cajun born Governor, who had little formal education but a PHD in politicking and street smarts. Edwards, who never left home without a smile, a wicked sense of humor and a lust for–just about anything, died this week at 93. One of the few democrats who ever thought people could do just fine with  severely limited government, he led the passage of a new state constitution that gave local cities and parishes, as the county type government is known, the independence to regulate themselves without getting the legislature involved. People loved it, but it came at a price. Edwards allowed all comers in the oil business to pollute the Bayou’s and Gulf Coast, an environmental clown show that would bring much pain to Cajun Country and several adjacent states with the BP Oil Spill of 2010.

It all caught up with Edwards, who was convicted of taking bribes from anyone with a checkbook; hospitals, casinos, riverboat operators and others who needed his influence. Much of the dough reportedly fed a wicked gambling habit. Many politicians would be shamed behind bars. Edwards flourished, operating as the prison’s chief librarian, helping fellow cons get their GED’s and a path to straight life. Upon his release he married his prison pen pal, fifty years younger, who bore him a son as he turned 87.

Edwin Edwards legacy. Four terms as Governor. 4terms in Congress. 8 Years in Prison. 3 wives. 12 Grandchildren. 19 Great Grandchildren and too many one-liners to count. Once he stopped short of calling him stupid, but noting it took him an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes. Asked in another November if he would defeat American Nazi David Duke, Edwards told a reporter, certainly, unless he’s “caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy”

Edwin Edwards. The Good, The Bad, and the Very Funny.