By Robert Mann
I’ve been around politics long enough to know that elections are usually choices between the lesser of two, or many, evils. There is no perfect candidate, just as there is no perfect spouse, friend or job. Most of life, in fact, is a series of choices among imperfect options.
Yet, there are certainly completely unacceptable candidates for public office, just as there are individuals totally unsuited for marriage or friendship.
When it comes to political candidates, former Gov. Edwin Edwards is unacceptable in almost every way.
That’s why it was so disappointing to learn that the state’s Democratic State Central Committee had overwhelmingly endorsed Edwards for Congress on Monday. In embracing Edwards’ campaign, the state’s Democrats endorsed someone who represents the worst of the state’s political history – a sorry legacy of corruption that has now sullied their party and finally persuaded me to change my party registration.
It’s not just that Edwards spent eight years moldering in a federal prison after being convicted on 17 counts of racketeering, extortion, fraud and conspiracy.
It’s not just that he’s 87 years old and probably not up to the physical challenge of representing the district while commuting each week to Washington. (I actually believe that Edwards’ greatest fear is that he might win.)
It’s not just that over a lifetime in politics he demonstrated no concern for ethical behavior (this is, after all, the man who once boasted to “60 Minutes” about selling seats on the state’s Mineral Board).
It’s not just that his candidacy seems to be driven primarily by an insatiable appetite for attention and an acute hunger for acceptance after his very public humiliation.
It’s not just that his election would further embarrass a state that really should stop reminding the nation how much we tolerate corruption.
It’s not just that he has little or no chance to carry the 24th most Republican congressional district.
It’s all of that and more.
As someone who cares about who represents Louisiana’s 6th congressional district in Washington, I fear that Edwards’ presence in the race means that a moderate candidate has far less chance of being elected. In an open primary, especially, the former governor’s candidacy means that a far-right Republican is likely to make the December runoff – and then defeat Edwards’ handily.
Absent Edwards, Republican candidates would have been vying for the votes of Democrats. With Edwards in the race, however, the half-dozen serious Republican candidates are free to focus only on the right side of the electorate. There is no incentive to tack to the middle.
If you’re an independent, or a moderate Republican or Democrat, and wish to send someone to Washington who might be to work constructively with Democrats to get something done (you know, help end Washington’s paralyzing gridlock), Edwards’ candidacy means that won’t happen. Whoever we elect to this seat will likely hold it for a long time; Edwards, on the other hand, will probably never run again.
As someone who believes Louisiana needs two strong political parties, so as to function like a representative democracy, Monday’s endorsement further drove the Louisiana Democratic Party into irrelevance.
In announcing the endorsement, the state Democratic Party chair, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, didn’t mention Edwards by name. Instead, she announced, “We are proud to feature a slate of candidates that represents the Louisiana Democratic Party’s illustrious past and our proven present.”
I assume “illustrious past” was Peterson’s tacit acknowledgement of the Edwards endorsement.
To be fair, I don’t entirely blame Peterson for the committee’s vote. After all, Edwards forced the issue by requesting an official endorsement.
However, if Peterson had wanted to be more accurate, she would have substituted “illustrious” with “shameful,” because Edwards’ four gubernatorial terms will not be remembered as any Louisiana renaissance.
To any Democrat who suggests that Louisiana still needs Edwards’ “illustrious” leadership, I would simply ask you the same questions I posed several months ago: after serving 16 years as governor, how did Louisiana’s poor citizens fare under Edwards? How about our children? Did our poverty rate plummet during his tenure? Did record numbers of businesses flock to the state to offer our citizens jobs?
Sure, he did some good. Nevertheless, his accomplishments are greatly diminished by how he sold state jobs to contributors, enriched his friends and held up the state to international ridicule.
Edwin Edwards brought us much more shame than acclaim.
Simply put, he left the state and its reputation in worse shape than he found it. And that was all before he added to our shame by shipping off to prison.
On Tuesday, the day after the Louisiana Democratic Party made its endorsement, I drove to the East Baton Rouge Parish Governmental Building to change my party registration to “none.” After 30 years, I’m no longer a Democrat. It was my own small act of protest.
By endorsing Edwards, the Louisiana Democratic Party embraced Louisiana’s corrupt past. It said that winning, not governing honestly and well, is the more important thing. Its leaders said they’d rather be represented by a crook than a conservative. I want no part of such a political party.
As a former Democrat, I’d much rather see a liberal represent me in Congress. But I’d have to move to the 2nd congressional district, or another state, for that to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, I’ll be voting Republican in November and December.
My new mantra: “Vote for the conservative. It’s important.”