The sad demise of the Louisiana Democratic Party

Former Gov. Edwin Edwards last March at the Baton Rouge Press Club (Photo by Robert Mann)

Former Gov. Edwin Edwards last March at the Baton Rouge Press Club (Photo by Robert Mann)

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.”

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33 Responses to The sad demise of the Louisiana Democratic Party

  1. Randy hayden says:

    So unfortunately true…shame on those who support this endorsement.


  2. August West says:

    I will be voting for Edwin Edwards in November – and hopefully again in December – and would like to explain my reasoning:

    The U.S. House of Representatives long ago ceased being a deliberative body. The moderate middle that once brokered compromises and actually turned ideas into laws has disappeared. Virtually every important vote breaks down along party lines, and members without seniority have no choice but to go along if they want to get along.

    So it doesn’t really matter if the Republican who gets elected from the 6th District is a sane person with a moderate temperament like Dan Claitor, or a raving lunatic like Lenar Whitney. Their voting records, once entrenched on Capitol Hill, will be virtually identical. A few years ago it might have made sense to hire someone young for the job and let them acquire enough seniority to bring back some much-needed dollars for the district. But Congress did away with earmarks so that no longer plays a significant role.

    Corruption? Governors have countless opportunities to steal or sell out their state. They control thousands of appointments and the fate of thousands of bills, not to mention rules, is under their control. A freshman congressman? Not so much. They control a dozen staff members, a budget of less than $1 million, and their vote. Nobody bribes congressmen anymore because they don’t have any power. Except, of course, for the legal kind of bribery that’s called campaign contributions.

    What they do have is a vote. If we elect Edwin Edwards he will vote for policies that support the middle class, that help reduce the cost of a college education, that support health care coverage for everyone, that raises the minimum wage so that hard work gets rewarded and that protect the entitlement benefits our seniors have earned. When he breaks from his party it will be to protect Louisiana’s oil and gas industry.

    Any Republican we elect will vote with John Boehner and the rest of the House GOP against the interests of most 6th District residents. They will vote for tax cuts that favor the rich and health-care policies that leave poor people without coverage; they will abolish consumer protections, cut entitlements and spend heedlessly to “protect” a border from vulnerable children whose lives are being threatened by gangsters and drug barons.

    I am not excusing Edwin Edwards’ crimes or the embarrassment he brought to our state. I wish there was a better alternative. But the alternatives were too chicken to run. I hate that it has come to a point where I vote strictly along party lines. But it’s the only practical response to the farce on Capitol Hill.


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  4. John Kline says:

    What worries me more is Vitter becoming governor and further embarrassing our state. I see him mentioned all the time in comments and political stories, always mentioned his prostitutes and his diapers.


  5. Steve Maley says:

    Reblogged this on Maley's Energy Blog and commented:
    Rather remarkable, considering the source. In his disgust over the Party’s endorsement of Edwin Edwards in LA-6, Robert Mann changed his registration from “D” to “none”. “Vote for the conservative. It’s important.”


  6. Jim Devillier says:

    Edwards has paid the price for his greed and self enrichment. On the other hand I think in his governance he generally did so in the best interests of the state and its citizens. In comparison Jindal has not been convicted of any crime – but without a doubt he has no concern for any one other than the agenda of ALEC and the Oligarchs. He is destroying this state with his devious, manipulative, self serving, dictatorial actions to the detriment of education, health care, and services for the elderly, disabled,and poor. His Privatizations in itself are scandoulous, costly in dollars and reduced services or value to the public. He promotes these with lies as austerity related when in reality more taxes are needed – with the disgraceful manipulation and stealing dedicated budgeted funds from wherever available to plug the holes in his unbalanced budget. I will take EWE any day over this – most everyone has representation and a voice under his administration. I don’t agree with your decision – the Demo party is on the ropes especially since SCOTUS has decided that money is freedom of speech and needs support.


  7. A Republican (Still) says:

    Edwards will not win.

    Quit giving him his day in the sun.

    As stated above, start worrying about David Vitter becoming our Governor. We cannot allow that to happen.

    He will be Jindal on steroids.


  8. Reblogged this on LAB Louisiana Boy and commented:
    An excellent article by Professor Mann giving another example of how we need to vote for the individual and not merely party line. Our vote should be for the individual who we feel will do the best job representing us and working to make the country and world a little bit better. Sadly the lesser of two evils statement is often true in politics and while I’ve only worked for candidates I truly support, my vote has more often than not for the lesser evil.

    On a side note: even though I have not lived in LA for years and obviously vote in another state, the 6th District is the district in which I was reared. The current gerrymandering of it and the other LA districts are ridiculous in my opinion, but the 6th and the Florida Parishes have been unique historically. While he looked and campaigned like a Long, Jimmy Morrison really didn’t fit neatly into either the Long or anti-Long machines. While I never knew Henson Moore like I got to know Morrison post Congressional career, Moore came to my Grandfather’s place on a few occasions during my childhood. I didn’t always agree with Richard Baker’s positions, but I did receive actual replies to questions I posed to him.

    All I can say is wherever you reside, please cast your vote for the individual and get with your neighbors to encourage your elected officials to represent the best interests of their constituents and not be voiceless yes people to a political party.


  9. Richard Vermillion says:

    In the age of gridlock and lockstep Washington are you asking me to believe that the 6th will be better represented by any Republican than Democrat Edwin Edwards? You failed to explain how any 6th district Louisiana Republican will rise up, see the light, adjust his/her moral compass and work with Democrats for a better Louisiana or Nation. No matter which Republican wins the result is the same, more power for Boehner. Am I to understand that you don’t believe a Dem can win and you are looking for a moderate Republican as the lesser evil or is this more personal? Any Republican will produce the same result so you may as well vote for the party that most represents your convictions without regard for your personal feelings toward Edwards.
    Face it Bob, the Republican party is more likely to work towards repeal of the Emancipation Proclamation than to ever do anything productive towards the betterment of the poor, working class, women, education, veterans, social security, the economy, the unemployed, immigration, or any other concern that DEMOCRATS fight for every day.


  10. TheEbonyFrenchman says:

    Please! Come to your senses, Edwin Edwards, Dollar bill Jefferson, Chocolate City Nagin and Deer in the headlight Blanco are not fond memories for our state.


    • Bob in BR says:

      No they don’t represent high points for Louisiana. Come to think of it, I can’t remember many Louisiana politician who did. But all of those you mention, even put together, do not come close to replicating the damage our AWOL governor has brought upon our state. We will be decades undoing his “conservative” damage, if at all. And sadly the people of this state will probably follow the Swindal Administration with Diaper Dave Vitter. You voting for him Bob? If you are then this blog becomes another hypocritical rag. “Vote for the conservative, it’s important” my ass.


  11. charles bowman says:

    I spent many years of my young adult life fighting against Edwin Edwards primarily because of his championing of gambling in Louisiana. My feelings about gambling have not changed, but my appreciation of Edwards has changed with my advanced years. I remember his 2013 appearance before the Louisiana Legislature where he was given a near unanimous standing ovation. What did this overwhelming acclamation mean? I mused at that time that it meant that he was probably the most honest man among them! I hope that that is not the reason for their tumultuous affirmation of the person of Edwin Edwards, but it probably was an acknowledgement that in his exalted circumstances, they probably would have failed just as badly as he did. Aside from Huey Long perhaps no populist has captured the admiration of the electorate like Edwards. I listened to Edwards earlier this year for the first time and I was amazed that the man I hated so much, was so much more than my superficial prejudices had allowed him to be. He gives the very best stump speech on the hustings. He has something to say and it is concise and understandable. He spoke for nearly an hour interrupted only by numerous standing ovations. His Cajun humor was infectious. He is still able to run circles around his opposition and leave a gathering with somthing to remember. Perhaps the reasons he is endeared to so many is that he disdains the impoverished politicians whose every expostulation testifies of their self righteousness, and their honesty. Edwards will have none of it, and we would hate him if he did. His mockery of the phoney righteousness of most politicians makes him stand apart as certainly the one most likely to be listened to, and as the candidate most likely to lead once he wins the office.
    Yes, I would place my bets on Edwards and I’m not a gambling man, but I see his victory in November as important to revive the Democratic Party which tumbled during his incarceration. Vote for the old man who still has a lot of life in him, it’s important!


    • lasunshinebr says:

      Not all party and ideology. It is personality, charisma, people skills, relating to the people, knowing the people, etc. Party is not it with me It is the individual and I take one issue at a time, not an issue of a logue.


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  13. Liberal Dan says:

    I am right there with you. I have not officially dropped my party affiliation but i will be doing so as promised when i said i would do months ago if the Louisiana Democratic Party endorsed this clown.


  14. earthmother says:

    Any group that could produce Pathetic Piyush Jindal and the ALEC agenda, both of which are completely antithetical to true American values, will never get my support. It’s not about Edwin Edwards, it’s about electing anybody but the likes of Jindal and the ALEC lackeys. Is their vision of America a country you want to live in?

    Bob, you and I have spent time in Third World countries and you must know the conservative agenda is to turn our country into that type of nation, with a small group of Haves served by the large population of Have Nots. Read The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein if you have not already done so. You will truly be shocked by the greed agenda.

    The warm feelings that so many in Louisiana have for EWE, and Huey Long for that matter, is not necessarily about the individuals. It’s about nostalgia for a Louisiana where the governor actually stayed home and governed for the benefit of the citizens.

    Can you envision an America ruled by the likes of Jindal, his Koch Brothers/ALEC puppetmasters and the Dominionists? First casualty – the Fourth Estate and college professors. America Next – a clear threat.


    • LafayetteNick says:

      Wow. The use of “Piyush”; “ALEC”; “Koch”; and “Dominionists” all the same comment. Congrats. You are some kind of special.


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  16. Mr. E says:

    “…because Edwards’ three gubernatorial terms will not be remembered as any Louisiana renaissance.”

    You describe yourself as a political historian, you hold the Manship Chair in Journalism at the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University, and you write a weekly political column for the Times-Picayune, yet you mistake Edwin Edwards as having only three gubernatorial terms when he actually had four terms and is celebrated as the only person to have achieved this feat in Louisiana history. That is a major flub for someone so esteemed on the political circuit.

    The Democrat Party endorsed Edwards because he is the only person in Louisiana who balanced the budget and stayed at home to govern this state. I’m as conservative as they come, but Edwards is still far better than the likes of Bobby Jindal who only visits Louisiana when a photo op presents itself and the spineless Kathleen Blanco he replaced who folded like a cheap lawn chair in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina! Edwin Edwards is the last man standing for a demoralized Louisiana Democrat Party so scarce that it should be listed as an endangered species! Edwards was no saint, but he was no radical progressive either!


  17. Robert Mann says:

    Thanks for catching my mistake. You are correct. It was four terms of corrupt leadership, not three.


  18. Al Haus says:

    Nothing sad about the demise of the La. Dems or any Dems. The ENTIRE Democrat party needs to be investigated in their complicity of electing a FRAUDULENT president. Those TRAITORS need to be arrested, convicted and imprisoned ESPECIALLY Obama, Biden, Reid and Pelosi. This isnt a joke. This NEEDS to be done to restore America’s credibility and future.

    The Democrat party is the most evil and corrupt organization in American history bar none.

    The Democrat legacy:
    Civil War
    The Ku Klux Klan
    Failed war on poverty costing trillions
    Border crisis
    The housing crash
    Phony President

    And the list goes on and on.

    The Democrat party NEEDS to be DESTROYED…before they finish destroying America!


    • RealWorldGuy says:

      I would be LOL if you, and so many otherwise intelligent people, hadn’t been so pathetically brainwashed by billionaire Rupert Murdock and conservative talk radio.

      The world got better when there were only actual facts and politics was the art of compromise. Now we have conservative pseudo-facts given the same weight as real facts and “gridlock” as poor dupes like Al become shills for the hyper wealthy.

      Unfortunately, this letter is no more disturbing than Bob’s post. It is so upsetting when someone whose opinion you value loses their way. Bob, you seem to be so consumed by your hatred of Edwards that you have lost sight of your values and how they have been attacked by the conservatives.

      Please pull yourself out of this Edwards fixation and get back in touch with what is really important to you and to the nation. This is only one out of more than 500 congressional races. There are more than 30 Senate races this year, including an important race here in Louisiana. Do you really believe a tea party radical conservative like Cassidy will be better for Louisiana than moderate Mary? Please come back to your senses soon!!!


    • Bob in BR says:

      Hey Al, you left out global warming, the Ebola outbreak, West Nile virus, and Justin Bieber. Hahaha. You really should get out more. There is more to life than Faux News and Rush Limbaugh. Thanks for the laughs though. By the way, has anyone verified Jindal’s birth certificate? LOL!


    • Richard Vermillion says:

      Al I think the legacy left to us from the Bush era (remember when Republicans controlled all 3 branches of government?) proves the importance of the Democratic party in American politics. Don’t confuse Democrats with Dixiecrats. Because they couldn’t hang with all that JFK, LBJ civil rights business they switched to the dark side taking most of that nonsense on your legacy list with them and leaving it where it sits today.
      I am NOT saying that the Republican party is full of every negative thing on your list. For instance, no Republican will ever be confused with a Socialist. Their work against the SNAP program alone will make my case. Any group that would work collectively to starve poor children while causing tax breaks for the wealthy is certainly not a Socialist.
      Does forcing a government shutdown to aid in the denial of healthcare reform for American citizens count as sedition?
      And by the way, that Republican WMD thing was huge in shaping American credibility around the world, and has certainly shaped the future of America now hasn’t it?


    • lasunshinebr says:

      and LBJ, the Divider. –Lyndon Baines Johnson, March 31, 1968.


    • Judith A. Howard says:

      Thanks to Democrats we have Social Security and Medicare. Most of your list is so off-base as to not warrant a response. Phony president, are you kidding me???


  19. lasunshinebr says:

    I remember at 17 when I was with Jimmie Davis, 69 (whom they all said, “You are TOO OLD!” 69 come on, now!, Hello. He was more livelier than me. What goes around comes around.


  20. JGreen says:

    While I admit Edward legacy is forever tarnished. He is not to blame for the demise of the Louisiana Democratic Party. The Louisiana Democratic Party’s failure to incorporate and promote progressive policies and candidates has lead to it’s own demise.

    Progressives in state have had to settle for candidates like Landrieu and Blanco who pushed mostly conservative policies and would be labeled Republicans is most other states. Progressives in Louisiana have watched the national party move to the left while their own state party sticks to the same conservative center-right policies of 80s and 90s. Democratic candidates like Landrieu have been forced campaign on “Well I not as bad as the Republican (Cassidy, Kennedy etc)” instead of defining their own values.

    While Edwards is far from the best choice for LA-6th and probably won’t win he is still a candidate Democrats in Louisiana can get excited about(Something that is extremely rare for Democrats living in Louisiana). Furthermore if moderates and progressives are too ashamed to call themselves Democrats and vote for democrats because of the party’s history, the Louisiana Democratic Party will never have a chance to win. If the Louisiana Democratic Party sticks to the same conservative policies of the 80s and 90s the party as well as the state will remain stuck in the time when those idea were still popular.


  21. Judith A. Howard says:

    Do you really think a Republican Congressman is going to do anything other than entrench gridlock? I fail to see how that helps anybody in your district. Edwards is hardly the only politician who was corrupt. I suspect there are few who are not.


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