By Robert Mann
It’s not often that I agree with Gov. Bobby Jindal, but when it comes to Louisiana’s reputation for corruption, he got it right. In his first inaugural address in January 2008, Jindal noted that we are “a state with poor leadership . . . stuck in the past, [with] leaders who were unconcerned with the future.” Jindal correctly observed, “In our past, too many politicians looked out for themselves.”
What Jindal left unspoken, however, has always struck me as equally significant. If he had been completely forthright, he would have acknowledged that all those crooked leaders didn’t just appear like some provincial governor appointed by a distant prime minister. Our lords of misrule didn’t stage coups. The people trekked to the polls to elect each of the corrupt men and women whose memory Jindal invoked.
We’ve tolerated – even celebrated – our dishonest politicians for generations, none more so than former Gov. Edwin Edwards. The Cajun Prince’s four terms as governor weren’t mistakes, like Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whom prosecutors hustled off to prison after voters discovered their grievous error.
We elected the flamboyant Edwards to lead Louisiana over three decades. All the while, as he entertained us, our collective eyes were wide open to his contempt for our ethics laws and the curious way many of his friends became rich. Our ballots enabled every dishonorable moment of his tenure.
Now, after serving eight years in a federal prison, and three weeks on an A&E network reality show, Edwards is back as a candidate for Congress from Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District.
Perhaps it’s unfair to single out Edwards, as if he’s been our only corrupt leader. He’s simply the most prominent member of a rogue’s gallery of dishonest and unethical officials we’ve elected over the years – a list that includes U.S. Sen. David Vitter, whom voters returned to office in 2010 despite a prostitution scandal.
Jindal, of course, claimed a mandate to transform our politics. In his inaugural address, he heralded “a new era” in Louisiana government. Yet, his own administration is embroiled in a federal investigation over the questionable awarding of a large state contract for handling Medicaid claims. It appears that corporations have used First Lady Supriya Jindal’s nonprofit foundation to curry favor with her husband’s administration. And, as a NOLA.com|Times-Picayune investigation revealed, Jindal has awarded dozens of prominent state positions to his campaign contributors.