James Gill: Gov. Edwards’ rehabiliation just about complete

The rehabilitation of former Gov. Edwin Edwards is just about complete, and only a churl could forbear to cheer. The old rogue still makes other politicians look drab and boring.

He has, however, never been held to account for one blatant theft. It happened 30 years ago when he said that Dave Treen was so slow it took him an hour and a half to watch “60 minutes.” That quote appears in every published list of Edwards’ greatest cracks.

Nobody admires the Edwards wit more than I do, and I can attest to the folly of trying to match it. But I can remain silent no longer. When Edwards said that about Treen during the gubernatorial election, it rang a bell. Sure enough, Rodney Dangerfield had used the same line about his wife.

Edwards unleashed several original put-downs in that campaign, and would no doubt have won the election anyway. So let’s not make a federal case out of a lifted gag.

Edwards, in Sunday’s interview with Larry King, seemed convinced the federal case that led to his 10-year prison sentence was not justified either. To suggest he was “railroaded” was “on the right track,” he said, pointing out that he was convicted on the testimony of several felons. It is true that witnesses who swore Edwards had shaken them down for riverboat gambling licenses had struck plea deals to save their own rotten skins, but that is often the only way the feds can convict the big fish. The feds only went after him because he is one, Edwards told King.

Trial Judge Frank Polozola never tried to hide his disdain for Edwards, who was allowed to remain free for two years while the court of appeals considered claims that his conviction was unfair, largely because a sympathetic juror had been dismissed.

But that was ruled insufficient to constitute a denial of due process, and, regardless, nobody who attended the trial could have mistaken Edwards and his codefendants for Boy Scouts. The FBI had them on tape counting out the loot and discussing how to launder it. But even Republicans will admit that Edwards drew a pretty savage sentence for scamming scumbags.

Edwards told King that he has finally “found something good to use Republicans for — sleep with them.” He would have expressed that sentiment less politely in the days before a Republican became his third wife and mother of his infant son, Eli.

One Republican got no sympathy whatsoever in Edwards’ interview with King: “I don’t understand the man,” Edwards said of Gov. Bobby Jindal. “He’s sitting on a program which would provide immediate health benefits for 300,000 to 400,000 people in Louisiana, and he refuses to sign onto it. He’s a different sort of person.”

The difference could hardly have been greater. Edwards would have grabbed the Obama moolah to expand Medicaid coverage without a second thought, while Jindal says no because the state would have to kick in a share down the road. Edwards describes himself, with the politician’s characteristic modesty, as the “last great populist” governor. He believes Jindal’s has adopted a frugal stance as a “springboard” for his political ambitions.

Edwards’ shtick is the happy-go-lucky champion of the needy, Jindal’s the earnest ideologue. Some voters may admire Jindal, although the polls suggest his numbers are decreasing, but the public still clamors for Edwards when he is 86 years old.

Of Jindal Edwards says, “I don’t see him as having the demeanor for being governor of Louisiana.” It certainly appears from the Larry King interview that Edwards believes Jindal regards Louisiana as a way station on the road to the White House. Not that it requires a politician of Edwards’ caliber to figure that out.

Life is sweet, Edwards told King as he darts around giving speeches and signing copies of his authorized biography, sales of which reportedly reflect the public’s continuing fascination.

Edwards did pay Jindal one compliment in the interview. “In many ways he’s very smart,” he said.

But he did not say it only takes him three-quarters of an hour to watch “60 minutes.”

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