Edwin Edwards, Flamboyant Louisiana Governor, Is Dead at 93

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He served 4 terms, charmed voters with his escapades and survived a people of investigations earlier going to situation successful 2002 for racketeering.

Published July 12, 2021Updated July 13, 2021, 9:20 a.m. ET


Mere months aft  being released from prison, erstwhile  Gov. Edwin Edwards of Louisiana greeted an enthusiastic assemblage  arsenic  the expansive  marshal of the 2011 International Rice Festival successful  Crowley, La. He had served much  than 8  years for bribery and extortion.
Credit...Jennifer Zdon for The New York Times

Edwin W. Edwards, the lone four-term politician successful Louisiana’s history, a swashbuckling rogue who charmed voters with his escapades and survived a people of expansive assemblage investigations and 2 corruption trials earlier going to situation successful 2002 for racketeering, died connected Monday astatine his location successful Gonzales, La. He was 93.

Leo Honeycutt, the writer of the authorized biography “Edwin Edwards: Governor of Louisiana,” said the origin was respiratory failure.

In January 2011, Mr. Edwards was released from a national situation successful Oakdale, La., aft serving much than 8 years of a 10-year condemnation for bribery and extortion. He had been recovered blameworthy of rigging Louisiana’s riverboat casino licensing process during his past word successful office.

Six months later, helium joined for the 3rd time. And successful the fall, helium rode successful an unfastened convertible done cheering crowds waving Edwards-for-governor signs astatine an election-day barbecue. “As you know, they sent maine to situation for life,” helium told them. “But I came backmost with a wife.”

Before Mr. Edwards, nary 1 had ever been elected to much than 2 presumption arsenic politician of Louisiana. Indeed, the authorities constitution prohibits much than 2 consecutive terms. But from 1972 to 1996, with a mates of four-year furloughs to stoke up his improbable comebacks, Mr. Edwards was the undisputed king of Baton Rouge, a Scripture-quoting, nonsmoking teetotaler who erstwhile considered beingness arsenic a preacher.

In a authorities wherever it has ever been bully authorities to wink astatine a small wickedness, Mr. Edwards, the silver-haired, bilingual lad of French Creole sharecroppers and a relentless electoral and legislative infighter, was possibly the astir ascendant governmental unit since Huey Long, the extremist populist known arsenic the Kingfish, who was assassinated astatine the State Capitol successful 1935.

Courting votes successful a bayou drawl with Cajun-inflected pledges to “laissez les bons temps rouler” (“let the bully times roll”), Mr. Edwards — a Democrat who avoided the prototypical governmental misdeed of aforesaid righteousness and talked the mode plain folks did implicit gumbo and crawfish pastry — roseate from a section assembly to the State Senate to a spot successful Congress and the governor’s mansion successful 17 years.


Credit...Associated Press

Once there, helium promised a quadrate woody “to the poor, the elderly, the unemployed, the thousands of Black Louisianans who person not yet enjoyed the afloat bounty of the American dream.” And for a portion helium delivered.

In his archetypal 2 terms, from 1972 to 1980, helium achieved breakthroughs successful hiring women and members of minorities, eliminated chronic fund deficits, modernized the authorities constitution, helped bring a National Basketball Association squad to New Orleans and crafted changes successful lipid taxes, paving the mode for roar revenues that paid for improved societal services, health, acquisition and highways.

In his 3rd term, from 1984 to 1988, the lipid roar went bust, his banal with voters crumbled and helium grappled with caller deficits. Still, helium engineered a 4th term, from 1992 to 1996, and ushered successful casino and riverboat gambling to easiness the symptom of hard times.

Throughout his years arsenic governor, Mr. Edwards pursued his ain pleasures: trips to Las Vegas with suitcases afloat of cash; all-night poker parties with cronies who paid $10,000 antes; a junket to Paris and Monte Carlo for 600 supporters who paid disconnected his run debts; and endless womanizing, which helium did not fuss to deny.

Asked erstwhile if helium feared that his telephone were tapped, helium answered, “I can’t ideate who would privation to bash it, but possibly immoderate jealous husbands.”

He was the people of transgression investigations that went nowhere. He acknowledged being questioned by 22 authorities and national expansive juries — astir selling authorities jobs to run contributors, astir a $10,000 “gift” to his woman from a Korean businessman, and astir paying gambling debts with currency of chartless origin, among different skulduggery. “Fast Eddie,” arsenic helium was known, shrugged it each off.

In his 3rd term, helium was charged with conspiring to merchantability authorities infirmary and nursing location operation permits. He admitted taking $1.9 million, but contended that helium had done thing illegal. His 1985 proceedings ended successful a hung jury; astatine a 2nd trial, successful 1986, helium was acquitted.


Credit...Tannen Maury/Associated Press

Mr. Edwards mislaid lone 1 election, successful 1987. Up for re-election, helium dropped retired aft losing an unfastened superior to Representative Buddy Roemer, who accused him of turning the authorities into a “banana republic.” In 1991, Governor Roemer mislaid to Mr. Edwards successful a primary, past endorsed his aged rival successful the wide predetermination against David Duke, a neo-Nazi and erstwhile Ku Klux Klan expansive wizard.

After trouncing his hapless opponent, Mr. Edwards — savoring a consciousness of invincibility and the saccharine imaginable of a 4th word — delivered 1 of his astir memorable lines. He could not beryllium beaten oregon sunk by scandal, helium said, unless helium was “caught successful furniture with a dormant miss oregon a unrecorded boy.”

It was vintage Edwards, but helium was wrong. In 2000, 4 years retired of office, helium was convicted of 17 counts of racketeering, conspiracy and extortion for selling riverboat casino licenses. Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., the erstwhile proprietor of the San Francisco 49ers of the N.F.L., testified that helium had paid Mr. Edwards $400,000 for a license. Four others, including Mr. Edwards’s son, Stephen, were besides convicted. Mr. Edwards was sentenced to 10 years and went to situation successful 2002, defiant to the last.

“If they gave maine recognition for the clip I’ve spent successful tribunal and earlier expansive juries, I could locomotion retired tomorrow,” helium told reporters astatine the situation gate.


Credit...Bill Haber/Associated Press

By the clip helium was released successful 2011, Louisiana had suffered done Hurricane Katrina and a sagging economy, populism was mostly the Tea Party brand, and his salty speech astir governmental shenanigans and skirt-chasing seemed retired of date.

But flashes of the aged magic were inactive evident astatine a accepted atom festival successful Acadia Parish, wherever Mr. Edwards’s governmental vocation had begun 57 years earlier. As expansive marshal of the parade, helium rode done the mostly older crowds successful an unfastened convertible wearing garment sleeves and suspenders, arms raised and thumbs up, beaming triumphantly. A booth sold “Edwin Edwards President 2012” T-shirts.

“We each knew helium was going to steal,” said 1 attendee, Jacinda LeJeune. “But helium told america helium was going to bash it.”

Edwin Washington Edwards was calved connected Aug. 7, 1927, successful agrarian Avoyelles Parish, adjacent Marksville, the lad of Clarence and Agnès (Brouillette) Edwards. His begetter was a half-French Creole Presbyterian, his parent a French-speaking Roman Catholic.

Like galore 20th-century politicians from Avoyelles, Mr. Edwards assumed helium had Cajun ancestry, but helium whitethorn person had none. His begetter was descended from a household successful Kentucky that arrived successful Louisiana during the Civil War. Nevertheless, helium was raised successful the contented of Cajuns, descendants of French settlers expelled from Nova Scotia by the British successful 1755. He preached successful a Protestant evangelical religion arsenic a youth, and helium joined the Navy Air Corps toward the extremity of World War II.

Mr. Edwards graduated from Louisiana State University’s instrumentality schoolhouse and began signifier successful Crowley, La., successful 1949. Elected to Crowley’s City Council successful 1954, helium joined the vanguard of a caller question successful authorities politics. Northern Louisiana, mostly conservative, had agelong dominated authorities races with wealth from its lipid fields. But freewheeling confederate Louisiana was signaling surges successful voting populations and prosperity from offshore lipid and state discoveries.

Fluent and articulate successful English and Cajun French, Mr. Edwards went to the State Senate successful 1964 and held a spot successful Congress from 1965 to 1972. He won his 1971 contention for the governorship arsenic a reformer with dense enactment from Southern Cajun, Creole and Black voters. In his archetypal twelvemonth successful office, helium appointed his wife, Elaine, to the United States Senate to regenerate Allen J. Ellender, who had died.

He had joined Elaine Schwartzenburg successful 1949; they had 4 children, Anna, Victoria, Stephen and David, and divorced successful 1989. She died successful 2018. He joined Candace Picou successful 1994. At his behest they were divorced successful 2004, portion helium was successful prison. In 2011, aft his release, helium joined Trina Grimes Scott. She was 32; helium was 83. She gave commencement to a son, Eli, 2 years later.

In summation to his woman and their son, Mr. Edwards is survived by his children from his archetypal marriage, 16 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

Mr. Edwards and his woman were the stars of a short-lived world show, “The Governor’s Wife,” which ran for 8 episodes connected the A&E cablegram transmission successful 2013.


Credit...William Widmer for The New York Times

In 2014, Mr. Edwards failed successful a bid to instrumentality to Congress, losing successful a runoff to Garret Graves, a Republican.

Among the countless stories astir Mr. Edwards was 1 told by John Maginnis, the writer of a 1984 biography, “The Last Hayride.” Campaigning astatine a revival gathering connected the Fourth of July, Mr. Edwards, resplendent successful summertime whites and carrying a achromatic Bible, handed the preacher an envelope containing $5,000 arsenic the assemblage clapped and cheered.

“Tell me,” Mr. Maginnis asked the preacher afterward, “how tin pious radical enactment a antheral who is known to gamble, pursuit women and perpetually look probe for corruption?”

“Well,” the preacher said, “he don’t portion oregon smoke.”

Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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