Gov. Edwin Edwards was right all along.
Just ask him. The former governor used an appearance at the Press Club of Baton Rouge to polish his humanitarian street cred on behalf of fellow inmates who benefited from his legal advice. Not to mention supervision of the prison library.
That Edwards would demonstrate epic self-regard is not news, although it has been unblushingly reported over and over again in the post-prison promotion tour.
Promoting what is a good political question.
As an unpardoned felon, still on probation, Edwards was not eligible this year to tee it up for another term in the office to which he was elected four times. And that’s good news not only for the public interest, but as Edwards observed, for himself: “If I’d run, I would have won and I would have had all these problems,” he quipped.
While the former governor has no political ambitions, and says he cares only about helping people, he delved into both past and present state policy. In both cases, the old politician had a very selective memory of events.
In the score-settling of the past, Edwards recalled that he had pushed only a land-based casino in New Orleans, as a way to promote tourism. It was on Gov. Buddy Roemer’s watch that the state jumped into riverboat and truck-stop casinos.
Roemer holds a special place in Edwards lore, having defeated the latter in the 1987 race. Edwards never forgave that, or the antipathy of the state newspapers that endorsed the challenger; Roemer and “so-called do-gooders” were “hypocrites” who opposed gambling until Roemer threw out Edwards and signed the riverboat casinos into law. Roemer allowed video poker to become law without his signature.
Edwards’ conviction came on charges of corruption related to riverboat licenses, while out of office. So perhaps his bitterness has some justification. But his recollections glided over his flamboyant personal enthusiasm for gambling and promotion of such exotica as gambling on jai alai, the wagering pushed by the old Miami mobsters.
In elder-statesman mode, Edwards was quite selective, too, about history.
Edwards argued for a surcharge of $5 per barrel on oil as a way of balancing today’s state budget. He recalled raising the tax on oil despite warnings that the industry would flee the state.
Nonsense, he said, and he’s certainly right about that. “Not only did they not leave, but they increased in size and number, and they all got rich,” Edwards said. “Where will they go? The oil is here. They can’t take it with them.”
Oil is a declining resources, and big companies are “consuming our resources,” Edwards said. “We’re not getting enough out of it.”
Odd, that picture of Edwards as a disinterested tribune of the people who took on the oil companies. On the contrary, Louisiana’s lax environmental policies and Edwards’ coziness to the industry were legend.
At the Gridiron charity show during Edwards’ day, a mocking skit included a takeoff on an old Texaco oil company jingle: “You can trust your state/to the man who’s on the take/the big, fat Texaco take.” It brought down the house, not without cause.
When. Gov. David C. Treen pushed a refining tax, Edwards allied with the oil companies to oppose it — because the latter wanted Treen wounded politically. I was a junior aide to Treen, watching that unholy alliance of the populist with the oil companies. Edwards defeated Treen in 1983 — and then proposed a “first-use” tax on refining that was so patently unconstitutional that the oil and gas industry did not bother to oppose it.
With today’s Legislature firmly in hock to energy interests, even a temporary surcharge on oil has nearly zero chance of passing. But if this or other energy taxes are discussed, they will be thoroughly discredited by the support of the great humanitarian whose administrations were largely a byword for looting the state’s resources.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is lkeller@ theadvocate.com.