In a field of 13 candidates for Congress, only one has “articulated measures relevant” to Louisiana’s sixth district.
So says Len Bahr, whose views carry some weight. A former LSU professor, and coastal science adviser to five governors, Bahr is nowadays a dedicated blogger and fan of the Flood Protection Authority lawsuit seeking redress from the oil and gas companies that bear much of the responsibility for wrecking the wetlands.
You may be surprised by Bahr’s idea of which candidate stands out. It is none other than Edwin Edwards.
Meanwhile, the congressional race is attracting attention way beyond the boundaries of Louisiana just because Edwards is running. New York Magazine sent a writer down here to join Edwards on the campaign trail and published a long piece, for instance, and CNN aired a report that featured a few vintage Edwards one-liners.
No doubt there is an element of the freak show in such media coverage. But it is surely testament to prodigious political gifts when an 87-year-old ex-con isn’t just laughed out of a race for high office.
Edwards, who quit Capitol Hill half a century ago and became Louisiana’s only four-time governor, never was anyone’s idea of chopped liver, but even his admirers could not have predicted such a comeback. Here he is, only a couple of years after completing a long stretch for racketeering, universally regarded as a cinch to make the runoff for a ticket to Washington.
Maybe this is further evidence that Louisiana is unusually tolerant of corruption and regards politics as a form of entertainment. So long as Edwards can keep the laughs coming, which he seems capable of doing until he is at least 100, he will stand apart from the general run of politicians. And the resilience that enabled him to emerge from the darkest period of his life to claim a third bride and father another son is not to be sneezed at either.
It does not explain, however, how he can be taken as a serious candidate for Congress. Bahr does so in part because Edwards thinks oil and gas should be made to pay for their depredations in the marshes and is in favor of letting the courts concoct a settlement. One of the nine Republicans running against him — and the best funded — is Garret Graves, who as Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top aide for coastal restoration mounted the furious campaign to derail the flood protection lawsuit; a court ruling is awaited on the constitutionality of the legislation designed to do so. Meanwhile it is apparent from Bahr’s blogs that he and Graves are not the best of pals.
Clearly it is because Edwards shares Bahr’s littoral views that he is rated as the soundest candidate on the issues. Edwards’ platform is otherwise unexceptional; he is, as just about all Louisiana politicians are, in favor of the Keystone pipeline and, as befits a populist Democrat, would accept the federal moolah for Medicaid expansion that Jindal has declined. Edwards also comes out boldly for high educational standards, but does not say whether he is for or against Common Core. Jindal has been both, which just goes to show what a hot potato this is. It is evidently one Edwards is not eager to grasp.
Edwards is predicted to win the primary election, being the only Democrat in the race anyone has heard of, only to lose to the top Republican finisher. The district is far too conservative to elect a Democrat, even one in the prime of life with no criminal record.
Edwards is fond of playing his down by pointing out that despite “all this claptrap about how crooked” he is, he was never convicted of robbing the taxpayer. Because he just took bribes, Edwards appears to believe himself morally superior to Jindal, whose refusal of the Medicaid money he portrays as penalizing the poor for doctrinaire reasons that will supposedly boost presidential aspirations. The shakedowns of which Edwards was convicted “had nothing to do with my career as a public official,” he said on the CNN report.
That is clearly disingenuous for it was only Edwards’ political stroke that enabled him to demand payoffs in return for riverboat gambling licenses.
In such circumstances, it is hard to imagine that any other politician could muster the magnetism and chutzpah required to reclaim the limelight for one last hurrah.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.