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Gov Convicted of Taking Casino License Payoffs, Dies

Written by:
Associated Press
Published on:
Jul/13/2021

NEW ORLEANS, La. (AP) — They were tough acts to follow on the stage of 20th century Louisiana politics: the arm-flailing Depression-era orator Huey Long, a senator and former governor shot to death while eyeing the presidency; country-singing Gov. Jimmie Davis, who once rode up the Capitol steps on horseback; and Gov. Earl Long, Huey’s brother, who cavorted with Bourbon Street stripper Blaze Starr in the 1950s.

But Edwin Washington Edwards, the high-living “Cajun King” who died Monday at 93, proved up to it, matching their deft political instincts while coolly delivering a steady supply of memorable one-liners. His deadpan jokes punctuated a career of highs and lows that spanned four terms as governor, a triumphant fundraising jaunt to Paris, economic booms and busts — and more than eight years in federal prison.

“The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy,” the lifelong Democrat wisecracked during a 1983 race against a lackluster Republican.

And, while comparing himself to his 1991 opponent, ex-Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, Edwards owned up to his own reputation as a womanizer, saying “We’re both wizards under the sheets.”

Eulogies poured in as a public viewing was prepared in the state Capitol’s Memorial Hall. Current Gov. John Bel Edwards, no relation, said Louisiana has “lost a giant.”

A native of Louisiana’s Acadiana region who took his 1972 oath of office in French and English, Edwards enjoyed renewed popularity after emerging from prison in 2011 at age 83 with his quick wit and flamboyant character intact. He soon found wife No. 3 in 32-year-old Tina Grimes, a prison pen-pal.

“I would have walked into prison a happy man had I known how it was going to end,” he said at his lavish 90th birthday bash in August 2017.

They had a son, Eli, in 2013 — Edwards’ fifth child — and starred in a short-lived reality TV show, “The Governor’s Wife.”

The federal case that led to his May 2000 conviction involved his taking payoffs from interests seeking riverboat casino licenses during his fourth and final term in the 1990s. Edwards maintained the case was built on secretly taped and misinterpreted conversations and the lies of his former cronies, who made deals to avoid jail.

But the conviction and the numerous investigations and allegations were an unavoidable stain on his legacy.

“He had eloquence, creativity, a razor-sharp mind, executive abilities that many lacked, and leadership skills that many envied. He could relate to crowds better than almost any politician I ever knew,” Louisiana State University journalism professor Robert Mann said in an email Monday. “He had everything, and yet squandered it by devoting much of his time to enriching his friends. I’ve rarely seen a wider chasm between the promise for greatness and reality.”

Edwards was born Aug. 7, 1927, to a sharecropper and midwife in Avoyelles Parish. His authorized biographer, Leo Honeycutt, wrote that his father’s ancestors were Welsh, and his mother’s were continental French. But Avoyelles was part of Acadiana — an area settled in the 1750s by French exiled from Nova Scotia by the British, and Edwards proudly proclaimed himself one of them — a Cajun.

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