Call it the reality show former Gov. Edwin Edwards should have had in the first place, instead of “The Governor’s Wife,” A&E’s grotesque look at his new life with his much younger third bride, which he now concedes was “horrible.”
“You may quote me as saying there’s nothing real about a reality show,” he quipped.
Or call it a farewell tour after two decades on the sidelines, including more than eight years in the federal pen for gambling corruption and nearly a quarter century after his last improbable comeback. That campaign for a fourth term as governor, against Klansman and Nazi sympathizer David Duke, drew the eyes of the world and spawned the immortal slogan, “Vote for the crook. It’s important.”
Edwards’ attempt to return to Congress, where he served from 1965 to 1972, is getting all kinds of attention, too, although for very different reasons.
At 87, Edwards is clearly feeling nostalgic and is, by all appearances, having the time of his life as he traverses the 6th Congressional District, answering questions, hugging voters, signing his book and posing for cellphone photos — so many cellphone photos — and generally upholding his reputation for having a quick, wicked and often inappropriate wit.
Take his opening line at a recent Press Club of Baton Rouge debate, after the audience was warned that only members of the working media could pose questions.
“Working media is an oxymoron,” Edwards said to a big round of laughter, before adding a conciliatory, “I’m happy to see you.”
The feeling seems oddly mutual. Edwards’ campaign has inspired a wave of nostalgia in others, as well. There’s the national media, which has flocked to his side for a chance to see a classic rogue in action, probably for the last time. And there are voters, not all by any means but more than I would have predicted, who appear genuinely excited to get a few moments with the living legend.
On a tour through the Denham Springs municipal complex this week with retiring Mayor Jimmy Durbin, everybody knew Edwards’ name, and many had stories to tell of long-ago meetings. City Attorney Paeton Burkett even showed off a 1998 picture of herself with the governor on her wall, alongside an old satirical movie poster about his trial.
Edwards held up his end of the bargain. With Durbin grinning by his side, he told nearly everyone he’d see about getting them a raise. Spotting a roomful of women dressed up for Halloween as the seven dwarves, he announced that “I’ll be Snow White.” When a man said his wife is a state worker, Edwards responded, “We’ll, I’m sure I treated her better than Jindal does.”
He told a roomful of firefighters that seeing them reminded him of a joke, that, in typical fashion, quickly veered off color. It was about a woman who called the fire departments asking for immediate help because a man with a ladder was trying to get into her second-story window. You should call the police, the operator told her, because they handle break-ins and sexual assaults.
“No, no,” Edwards said she responded. “I need the fire department. His ladder is not long enough to get up to the window.”
So what does any of this mean for those trying to predict the outcome of Tuesday’s crowded primary?
Arguably, not much. The 6th District is a GOP stronghold, and even if the Democratic four-term governor fulfills his own expectation and gets around 35 percent of the vote, whichever Republican he faces in the runoff will be the overwhelming favorite.
In an era of intense, sour partisanship, even his political outlook sounds kind of retro.
“This is not an election about Republicans versus Democrats,” he argued. “It’s more about performance and ability to get things done, and I’m running on my record as governor … I’m the kind of fella, whether you like me or not, and a lot of people don’t, but I do things, I get things done. I don’t BS people. I tell it like it is.”
Like on the Affordable Care Act, which he mocks when it will get him a laugh, but also defends. Edwards said it has good aspects and bad, but it’s the law of the land and should be fixed, not revoked.
“I’m not going to insult people’s intelligence and tell them a freshman congressman is going to go up there and repeal ‘Obamacare,’” he said. “That’s appealing to prejudice and ignorance.”
And he argued that, contrary to recent voting patterns, “this state is more middle of the road and has a concern for big government, but at the same time has an interest in having government serve our needs.”
Well, we’ll see soon enough what the voters have to say, whether they consider his candidacy at all viable or are just sitting back and enjoying one last, wild ride.
Give Edwards this: He’s obviously enjoying it, too.