James Gill: Slim chance of an Edwards revival

To hear former Gov. Edwin Edwards tell it, he has “people working” on either a presidential pardon or what would presumably be known as a “Vote for the Crook” amendment to the state constitution.

He says he may run for election again and would need one or the other to do so, unless he is prepared to wait until he is on the brink of becoming the longest-lived Louisiana governor ever. When Jimmie Davis died in 2000, he was 101, and had been out of politics for 36 years.

The constitution says convicted felons, unless pardoned, must wait 15 years before seeking state office. Edwards, born in 1927, completed his sentence two years ago, so he will have to wait until he is 99.

The feds are less picky than Louisiana and leave it to the voters to decide whether to support candidates fresh out of the pen. And nobody ever said Washington was no country for old men. Strom Thurmond was still stumbling around the Senate at the age of 100.

But Edwards, although he was briefly a congressman decades ago, evidently has no yen to leave the home turf. A run for a fifth gubernatorial term is in the cards, he allowed in a radio interview. “I don’t want to end what I consider to be a successful political career on a sad note. But I love this state and I think I could do better than what has been done. And if I saw the opportunity and I thought that people would warm up to it, I would consider it.”

Having reached an age at which interest in the long term tends to wane, Edwards is presumably not planning to hit the campaign trail in 2026. Thus, if he is serious, he must know something we don’t, because it seems out of the question that the Legislature and the voters would agree to amend the constitution just because he thinks that running “would be a nice thing to do.”

Thus, having done his time in a federal pen, Edwards can only turn to President Barack Obama who, if he feels any temptation to issue a pardon, has had no trouble resisting it so far. When he was president, George W. Bush was no more sympathetic, despite strong, bipartisan lobbying in favor of Edwards’s release.

It all seems so hopeless that you have to figure Edwards can’t be serious and is just winding us up. Any stunt that keeps him in the public eye will boost sales of his authorized biography, but, after a lifetime in the public eye, Edwards may have been temperamentally disinclined to play the shrinking violet.

His admirers, and there are still plenty of them, will hope he isn’t serious about running. If he is, that could be proof enough that he is no longer fit for public office. He’d have to be ga-ga to think he might win.

Indeed, his grip on reality must be slipping a bit if he is really keen to avoid “ending a successful political career on a sad note.” His political career was over when he was convicted of racketeering and given 10 years, surely a sad enough note for most tastes. Since his release, he embarked on a reality TV career which was over almost as soon as it started.

Edwards had said it was at the behest of his new young wife that he agreed to let the cameras in, but daily life in their household did not make for a riveting series. “The Governor’s Wife” ended not so much on a sad note as an embarrassing one. It is unlikely that another foray into the political arena would have a happier outcome.

Perhaps the state constitution should let us elect a crook if we want to. That is, indeed, what we thought we were doing when Edwards beat David Duke, late of the Invisible Empire, more than 20 years ago. Edwards was not technically a crook at the time but exit polls showed that most voters figured that just meant he was too smart for the feds.

There’s a whole generation of voters now who never believed that, so it doesn’t matter what Edwards has his people working on. Getting back in the game would only ruin all those memories.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.