Some politicians who have fallen from grace — either morally or legally — take responsibility for their actions. Some go so far as to publicly repent, display contrition or show they've grown from the experience by rededicating the rest of their lives and careers to serving people in a humbler fashion. Former New Orleans City Councilman Oliver Thomas, who spent time in jail for bribery but went to work at Covenant House after his release, is an example of genuine contrition. Then there's former Gov. Edwin Edwards.
Edwards is a charming man with a quick Cajun wit. He's also a felon who spent nearly 10 years in federal prison after being convicted on multiple counts of corruption, including extortion, racketeering, money laundering and fraud. Since his release from prison in 2011, he's been no shrinking violet, but lately he has embarked on a round of publicity that would embarrass most men.
A few weeks ago, EWE made a joint appearance with Larry King at Louisiana State University's Union Theater, which billed it as a "once in a lifetime event" and priced the tickets accordingly — $60 a person to watch a softball interviewer get old war stories from a disgraced former governor who otherwise tells them for free. The evening tanked, playing to a half-empty house and costing LSU more than $45,000 of badly needed money. Edwards' share of the purse was $6,000; King got $66,000 for his efforts.
Edwards' next turn in the spotlight looks even more embarrassing — a "reality" TV show, the title of which puts him in a supporting role. The Governor's Wife is set to premiere later this month on A&E. The show has been in the can a while and has been rescheduled several times — not exactly a sign of network confidence — and it promises to reduce Edwards, once the most powerful man in Louisiana, to a cartoon character. Trailers for the show focus on his much younger wife, Trina Scott Edwards, and portray her as a fairy-tale princess (complete with castle) being menaced by EWE's grown (and much older) daughters Anna and Victoria. The former governor, meanwhile, is seen being fed by his wife and in a faux-jail pose, holding up a sign that reads, "I'm innocent."
Edwin Edwards is many things, but "innocent" is not among them — and Louisiana is not the same state that elected him four times. The wink-and-nod casual corruption that was once accepted as the price of doing business here has receded since Edwards' day (though it hasn't totally disappeared). A generation of voters who weren't even born the last time Edwards ran for office in 1991 now comprise a significant portion of Louisiana's electorate, and he only got a fourth term in the Governor's Mansion because his opponent in '91 was neo-Nazi David Duke. EWE's relevance had faded even as he reported to federal prison. He's even less relevant now.
Edwards is 86. He has his freedom, a nice home, a devoted young wife, a new son not yet three months old and the chance to do whatever he likes. He could follow the example of Thomas by showing some genuine remorse and working to clean up his name. Or he could imitate former Governors Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco, who productively engage with civic causes and enjoy time with family and friends. Or he could just fade from the public stage gracefully.
But apparently he can't do any of that — because, even though Louisiana has moved on, he is still Edwin Edwards.