By Robert Mann
As I left Monday’s Baton Rouge Press Club luncheon, during which former Gov. Edwin Edwards declared his candidacy for Congress from Louisiana’s 6th congressional district, I could muster only this thought: Governor, have you no shame?
“I haven’t had this much attention since the trial,” the 86-year-old former four-term governor joked from the podium as he began his remarks.
And so began the first congressional campaign announcement in my memory that began with a reference to the candidate’s federal corruption trial.
Bathed in the TV lights and facing more than a dozen cameras, it was clearly a heady day for the ex-governor, ex-con. He clearly enjoyed every moment back under the klieg lights, including the grand entrance, as he and his wife, Trina, pushed through a phalanx of photographers, the former governor steering a baby stroller — the passenger, his infant son, Eli.
But Edwin Edwards also had a running mate at his side on Monday. That would be his 2001 federal racketeering conviction and his subsequent eight years behind bars.
While Edwards gamely talked about issues — he would have voted against Obamacare, is for Medicaid expansion, and believes we need high-speed rail between Baton Rouge and New Orleans — the fact of his conviction enveloped the event like heavy Louisiana-morning fog.
Before talking about the issues, he was forced to argue for why he can legally run for Congress. “I’m positive I can run and I’m confident I can win,” Edwards insisted.
And, yet, while he gamely discussed the issues, his running mate continued pushing him aside to take center stage. Most of the questions by reporters were about one aspect or another of his federal conviction, so much so that Edwards finally acknowledged that he will devote part of his time this summer and fall to explaining why he was wrongly convicted.
“It [the trial] was not about Edwin Edwards, the governor,” he said, meaning that he was convicted of crimes committed after he left the Governor’s Mansion.
Edwards, however, revealed that he’s not really banking on persuading anyone that he was wrongfully incarcerated. “Forgiveness, understanding, second chances are important in politics, as in life,” he said.
While he might not change many minds about his guilt, Edwards almost certainly can count on making the runoff. “I’ll end up in the runoff with one of them,” he said, when asked to comment on the bevy of Republican candidates running to replace Rep. Bill Cassidy.
He’s right. He’s the odds-on favorite for the runoff, a fact that clearly delights some of the Republicans who showed up for Monday’s announcement.
Edwards, however, must also know that whoever makes the runoff with him will win the congressional seat in a landslide.
My dog has a better chance of winning a seat in this very Republican district.
But, no matter, Monday’s show wasn’t about winning a congressional seat. It was, rather, about a corrupt and washed-up former governor who cannot bear the thought of two minutes out of the limelight. If you don’t believe me, just watch ten minutes, if you can bear it, of “The Governor’s Wife,” the now-cancelled reality cable show that starred Edwards and his family.
You might say, “If Edwin Edwards wants the attention, why shouldn’t he have it?” I guess you’d be right. If he wants to make a fool of himself, that’s certainly his right.
But he cannot run for office and truthfully tell us he really cares about Louisiana. If he cared about us, he’d stay home and raise his child. If he cared, he’d go fishing. If he cared, he’d ask for forgiveness for making us a national laughingstock for so many years.
Not content with the damage he has already done, Edwards is back for more.
His candidacy will make national news. The national media will flock to Baton Rouge to cover the story. And when he makes the runoff, every national news outlet in the country will report it.
And the rest of the country will laugh at us. They’ll say, “Look at those ignorant, corruption-tolerating idiots.”
So, laugh at Edwards’ jokes if you like. Snicker at the idea of an 86-year-old ex-con running for Congress with his infant son at his side.
It’s all quite entertaining.
Except, the joke’s on us.
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I originally stated that Edwards cannot vote for himself. That may not be accurate. According to a source at the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, “If he has taken to the registrar his documentation from the Bureau of Prisons attesting that he is no longer under an order of imprisonment for the conviction of a felony, then his voting rights are restored.”