James Gill: A nostalgia act attempts a revival

Washington may be his middle name, but, after Edwin Edwards was elected to Congress half a century ago, he did not turn out to be its most dedicated member.

By the time he left in 1972, he had failed to show up for almost half the votes.

He was seldom absent for the first couple of years, but evidently lost interest as higher ambitions took hold. Perhaps, Washington was more fun when he first got there and his friend Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. Certainly, once Richard Nixon became president, Edwards became harder to find. He was pretty much a permanent no-show in his last term, and did not look back after being elected governor.

Well, he’s looking back now, and says he wants to be a congressman again. Although he’ll be 87 before Election Day, Edwards evidently does not fear the job will be too tough for him. It certainly wasn’t in 1971, when he went nine months without casting a single vote.

He was plenty busy with his campaign, however, and voters did not expect him to be in constant attendance on Capitol Hill. The public mood would be different this time, however. Edwards can’t run for governor again, because the state, being much fussier than the feds, bans felons from elective office for 15 years. So there can be no excuse for lollygagging.

Edwards, with a young wife and infant son in Gonzales, sure cannot relish shuttling back and forth to Washington for a second crack at a job that did not command his attention long the first time around. If the question is why he wants to go back, the answer might be that he doesn’t and is just pulling our leg, twitting his legion detractors and feeding an outsized ego.

Edwards’ judgment is a little suspect these days — as he demonstrated in agreeing to take part in that goofy reality TV show that did not prove a major embarrassment for the state only because no more than a handful tuned in. Still, his wife apparently talked him into it, and there is a case for cutting an uxorious old man a little slack.

There is no reason to think Edwards is blind to political reality, however, and he doesn’t need to lie awake nights fretting that he might get elected and have to buckle down. Octogenarian ex-cons are not in high demand anywhere, but Edwards has chosen to run in a district where yellow dogs such as he are liable to be whipped, even if they are young and have a clean record.

He declared for the seat to be vacated by Bill Cassidy, the latest great GOP hope to unseat U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. If Edwards and Landrieu were both to win, Cassidy’s stock in Republican circles would drop quite a bit, but you could get long odds against that.

The impression that Edwards is in this for a lark was heightened when he chose to announce his candidacy after arriving at the Baton Rouge Press Club pushing a stroller with his wife by his side. Politicians have always been prone to kiss other people’s babies on the campaign trail, but they don’t generally bring their own to sit among the grown-ups at news conferences. He may have made the point that he is frisky, but only a vain geezer would need to.

He continues to claim he was innocent of the crimes for which he was sentenced to 10 years, portraying himself as a victim of perjured testimony and a hostile judge.

Nobody who attended the trial and heard the FBI tapes will buy that, but there can’t be many of them registered to vote in his congressional district.

Edwards noted at his news conference that he hasn’t had this much attention since his trial. While that doesn’t mean it is a fond memory, it does show how much Edwards, who won his first election — to the Crowley City Council — 60 years ago, still craves the limelight.

The next few months will be quite like the old days for Edwards, but the voters’ focus will be on the future. Edwards no doubt retains his knack for the witty one-liners that served him so well when he was the colossus of state politics, but now that he has been reduced to a side show, much of the laughter may be at his expense.

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