Don’t let Edwards mislead you

By By Jim Beam / American Press

Give the old man his due. Former governor and prison inmate Edwin W. Edwards knows how to milk any occasion for as much positive

publicity as one person can generate. The Baton Rouge Press Club probably can’t remember any of its news conferences that

drew as much attention as the one Monday when Edwards was there to announce he is running for Congress.

Robert Mann, a columnist for The Times-Picayune and holder of the Manship Chair in Journalism at LSU, described the occasion

best.

“Bathed in the TV lights and facing

more than a dozen cameras, it was clearly a heady day for the

ex-governor, ex-con,” Mann

said. “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.

Edwards, 86, will run for the 6th

Congressional District seat that is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Bill

Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge,

who is trying to unseat U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in

November. Parishes in the district include all or parts of East

Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberville, Lafourche, Livingston,

Pointe Coupee, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. John, Terrebonne

and West Baton Rouge.

Congress wouldn’t be anything new for

Edwards. He served the former 7th Congressional District from 1965 until

1971 when he

ran for governor for the first time and was elected. However,

political analysts say although he could probably make the runoff

for the 6th District seat, they don’t think he can be elected.

“I haven’t had this much attention

since the trial,” Edwards said, and therein lies his major problem — the

trials. His liberal

code of conduct has dogged him for much of his political life.

Edwards admitted, for example, that a South Korean businessman

gave his wife $10,000 in cash while Edwards was a congressman. And

he said in 1976 he saw no problem with American businessmen

having to pay bribes to foreign officials to sell their products

abroad.

Edwards was indicted in 1985 on charges

of conspiring to obtain and sell state hospital construction permits.

The jury couldn’t

reach a unanimous verdict, and a mistrial was declared. He was

tried a second time, along with four others, and all five were

acquitted. In 1998, he was indicted on charges of rigging the

issuance of riverboat gambling licenses, and a year later for

fraud in an insurance case.

A conviction on 17 counts of

racketeering fraud and extortion involving those casino licenses came in

2000, but six of those

were dismissed. Edwards was acquitted in the insurance case, but

he was sentenced to a 10-year prison term, and served eight

on the gambling charges.

The Associated Press said, “Before and

after his prison term, he defended himself as a victim of an unfair

federal judge in

Baton Rouge, perjured testimony by former friends who had sought

casino licenses and an overzealous federal government. Federal

prosecutors denied all of those accusations.”

Actually, wiretapped conversations played during Edwards’ corruption trial proved to be extremely damaging evidence. Listeners

heard a plotting and scheming side of Edwards they hadn’t seen or heard before.

Some have said Edwards got in legal

trouble because he couldn’t say no to his friends. And you can be sure

those who are still

around are happy to see their old pal trying to get back into the

political rat race. Jeremy Alford of LaPolitics.com mentioned

that “hangers-on from old campaigns, like staffers and

fund-raisers,” attended the Monday press conference.

Edwards accepted his punishment and served his term without showing any public bitterness. He was released in 2011, and has

successfully managed to stay in the public limelight since that time.

Mann, who has worked with some outstanding Louisiana congressmen, gave all of us food for thought about Edwards in his Monday

column.

“His candidacy will make national news,” he said. “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.”

Edwards still has his wit and charm,

and is always entertaining. No one can match him when it comes to

reacting to questions

and criticism in his quick and disarming manner. But don’t be

fooled by his winsome ways. He escaped retribution for his misdeeds

on a number of occasions, but eventually got what he deserved.

Don’t expect Edwards to ever admit he did anything wrong. As I said when he went to prison in 2002, Edwards has trouble with

the truth.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com.