Quin Hillyer: Dems treat felon as embraceable EWE

It is long past time for the leadership of the Louisiana Democratic Party to get out of bed with Edwin Edwards.

The very day in March that the disgraced former governor announced his candidacy for Congress in Louisiana’s 6th District, state party leaders should have issued statements distancing themselves and the party from him. They should have denounced Edwards as the tawdry grifter he is and made clear from the very beginning that no matter what happens, his campaign will not receive the party’s official endorsement. Instead, earlier in August, party communications director Kirstin Alvanitakis issued a statement to LaPolitics leaving wide open the possibility that Edwards could get the party endorsement if the race is found to be “competitive.”

This lack of moral fortitude is despicable.

Nobody who spent a whole career using public office as a means for massive self-enrichment, whether technically and barely legal or flagrantly illegal, should receive a party’s positive imprimatur. When 30 years of grift and graft culminate in a 10-year prison sentence, without the barest apology (unless I missed one) from the convict, the party should go on record saying the man is utterly unfit for office.

Instead, party leaders remain silent. (So, for that matter, does the media, except to treat Edwards as a human-interest story.) For comparison’s sake, note that based on nothing more than a videotaped deep kiss and lots of rumors, the Louisiana Republican Party demanded the resignation of new congressman Vance McAllister. Or, looking back at another hard situation that once faced the state GOP (albeit involving a candidate clearly more evil than Edwards), state party leaders from 1989-1991 made clear the unacceptability, in any circumstance, of neo-Nazi David Duke, even as he tried to run under the Republican name.

For two straight statewide races while at the very peak of his political ascendancy, Duke earned less than 10 percent of the delegate votes at Republican state conventions. Meanwhile, top party leaders within the state, including the chairman, the national committeeman and the only Republican former governor, repeatedly denounced him, and the state executive committee (the officers elected by the larger State Central Committee) passed a resolution of strong condemnation. (To be sure, I do not remember the state party publicly denouncing Sen. David Vitter for his prostitution scandal — seemingly a worse offense than McAllister’s smooch.)

But back to Edwards. Consider, as a reminder, just a small part of his litany of ethics more odiferous than an angry skunk. In 1971, while he was a congressman, Edwards and wife Elaine accepted gifts from corrupt South Korean rice broker Tongsun Park — including $10,000 cash in an envelope to Elaine. As governor, Edwards accepted tens of thousands of dollars of illegal money in return (allegedly) for appointments to state jobs or board positions. (“It was illegal for them to give, but not for me to receive,” Edwards chortled.) His chief of staff went to jail for accepting bribes amidst apparent ties with Mafia boss Carlos Marcello. Later, Edwards and cronies received as much as $2 million from people angling for state hospital contracts; he was indicted but not convicted of specific illegality.

Significant other close associates also were either indicted or convicted of various crimes. And somehow, despite a career in public “service,” Edwards amassed enough wealth that he was able to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in Las Vegas, paying losses with suitcases of cash without seeming to sweat.

And all that was before Edwards finally was convicted on 17 counts — money laundering, mail and wire fraud, racketeering, extortion!! — for his role in the ’90s in shady deals involving riverboat licenses.

Meanwhile, his private life (reportedly, and according to his own boasts) was Clintonesque in its extramarital extravagance. It wasn’t just private: Edwards used aides or guards as go-betweens for introductions to young women; he spoke outrageously crassly to perfect strangers; and even female reporters tell of being propositioned by him, sometimes in the crudest terms.

What’s worst is that while he enriched himself, Edwards accomplished very little for the underprivileged people on whose behalf he claimed to speak. Even after 16 years (out of 24) with him in the governor’s chair, Louisiana still ranked low in almost everything good and high in almost everything bad. Figuratively speaking, such lack of successful leadership is, well, almost criminal.

Not that the state Democratic Party seems to care.

New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is qhillyer@theadvocate.com, and he blogs at blogs. theadvocate.com/quin-essential.