Edwin Edwards sits in a federal jail waiting to hear if President George W. Bush will pardon him or commute his 10-year sentence. There's a lot of justice in that picture beyond the fact that the Silver Zipper has gone to jail for his crimes. Much of the time he was governor — wheeling and dealing to enrich himself, his family and his cronies — the people of Louisiana sat waiting for him to live up to his enormous potential and give us the kind of government we so desperately needed.
Of all EWE's crimes, perhaps his greatest transgression was the squandering of his enormous talent. I've been covering Louisiana politicians since 1973, and I can say, without fear of contradiction, that he had more political talent in his little finger than any 10 other politicians put together.
But, rather than use his unparalleled gifts to uplift the people of his state, he chose instead to spend his time chasing coeds, cutting deals with crooks, squandering rather than investing hundreds of millions of dollars in mineral revenues, turning our land and water over to polluters, and turning a blind eye to coastal erosion.
But he didn't do it alone. He had lots of help. From the rest of us.
As a state, Louisiana fell for his charm, his charisma, his way of turning anything that threatened him into a joke. He entertained us, and so we cut our own deal with him: As long as he made us laugh and money came easily, we dismissed his pilferage with a wink and a smile. In the end, we got exactly what we bargained for. And we're still paying for it.
Under federal law, EWE must serve 85 percent of his sentence; his expected release date is July 6, 2011. He'll be 83.
My friend James Gill has joined the "Free Edwin" chorus, which is led by, of all people, former Gov. Dave Treen, a man Edwards taunted mercilessly on the campaign trail. Treen is a forgiving man.
This newspaper last August published an editorial titled, "Keep the Crook in Jail — It's Important." After listing his many legal, political and moral offenses, we noted that he "has yet to admit his crimes and apologize to the people of Louisiana for all the harm that he has brought upon us."
He still has not apologized. Moreover, he glosses over his crimes by saying he didn't steal public money, just cash from crooked business people trying to get the inside track on the state's riverboat gaming licenses.
Even if those were his only crimes — and they're not, not by a long shot — Edwin Edwards took something much more than money when he corrupted the riverboat licensing process. He sold out the people of Louisiana, and he did it on the cheap.
As I grapple with the Christian imperative to forgive, I also wonder what keeps Edwards from admitting and apologizing for his wrongs. I've come close many times to concluding that I should join Treen, Gill and others in urging his early release.
But I keep coming back to the fact that Louisiana is still paying for those wrongs, and for our deal with the devil. So, instead of joining the "Free Edwin" chorus, I'd like to offer EWE one last deal. Here it is:
Edwin, if you admit publicly that you let the people of Louisiana down in the worst way, if you admit that you squandered your enormous talent, if you admit that you corrupted state government to enrich yourself and your cronies, and if you admit that you let Louisiana become the nation's dumping ground — and if you apologize for all that, offering the most sincere mea culpa that a man can express — I'll gladly add my name to the list of those who campaign for your release.
Until then, we'll all continue to pay for our sins.