Edwin Edwards, the colorful, flamboyant former congressman and four-term governor of Louisiana has died at the age of 93.
According to his biographer and family spokesperson, Leo Honeycutt, Edwards died Monday morning, July 12 at his home in Gonzales surrounded by family and friends.
Honeycutt says Edwards died of respiratory problems at around 7:00 am.
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"I have lived a good life, had better breaks than most, had some bad breaks, too, but that's all part of it," Edwards reportedly said. "I tried to help as many people as I could and I hope I did that, and I hope, if I did, that they will help others, too. I love Louisiana and I always will."
Last week, Edwards placed himself into hospice care after complaints of pain in his right lung. Tests by doctors revealed nothing out of the ordinary.
Honeycutt says that Edwards had a hospital bed placed in his bedroom and was administered 24-hour care. No intravenous tubes or heart monitor were used, only oxygen was administered
Edwin Washington Edwards was born on August 7, 1927, in Avoyelles Parish to a half-Creole Presbyterian father and a French-speaking Catholic mother. Edwards initially set out to be a preacher, delivering sermons in his youth at a Marksville church. After returning home from a stint in the U. S. Navy Air Corp during World War II, he received his law degree from LSU, married Elaine Schwartzenburg, and moved to Crowley to open his law practice.
Edwards entered politics in 1954 when he ran for and won a seat on the Crowley City Council. Edwards held that seat for 10 years before winning a seat in the Louisiana State Senate, upsetting the incumbent, Crowley businessman Bill Cleveland. Two years later, voters sent Edwards to Washington, electing him as the Seventh Congressional District's representative in a special election.
Edwards would be reelected to that seat three more times.
Edwards entered his first gubernatorial race in 1971, joining a crowded Democratic primary field that featured future U. S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston, congressmen and Long Family cousins Gillis and Speedy Long, Lieutenant Governor Clarence "Taddy" Aycock, and former Governor Jimmie Davis. Edwards and Johnston, who both ran on reform platforms, reached the runoff. Edwards beat Johnston in that runoff by less than 4,500 votes. Edwards credited his win to African-American support in New Orleans. In February 1972, Edwards then went on to beat Republican candidate Dave Treen in the general election to win his first term as governor.
During his first four years in office, Edwards would usher in changes still felt today by Louisiana residents.
Edwards championed the creation of a new state constitution to replace the 1921 state charter. He called a constitutional convention in 1973. One year later, voters approved the new constitution, which took effect in 1975. That constitution is still in force today.
Edwards restructured the state government, scrapping more than 80 agencies and remodeling what was left of the state government after the federal government.
Edwards also pushed a bill through the state legislature changing Louisiana electoral system. The legislature approved Edwards's plan in time for the 1975 state election, putting in place the "jungle primary"/runoff system the state uses today.
Edwards first two terms coincided with the oil boom of the 1970s, allowing Edwards to balance the state's budget while expanding education and healthcare programs.
Edwards did not seek reelection in 1979 because of term limits, but he made it clear he would run again in 1983. He did, beating his successor Dave Treen. The campaign, which cost more than $18 million dollars between Edwards and Treen, was notable for Edwards' one-liners and cracks at Treen. Edwards said to reporters that the only way he could lose to Treen is if he "were caught in bed with a live boy or a dead girl." Edwards also joked that Treen was "so slow it takes him an hour-and-a-half to watch 60 MINUTES."
The campaign was brought to a halt several months before the election after tragedy dealt Edwards a major blow. Edwards' younger brother Nolan was shot and killed in his Crowley law office by a disgruntled client--a client Edwards had pardoned in his second term. Despite his loss, Edwards finished the campaign strong and beat Treen in the election.
Edwards' third term was marred by an oil bust and numerous scandals that led to a federal indictment.
To make up for the loss in oil revenue caused by the bust, Edwards pushed through a package of tax increases, including hikes in the state sales tax, business taxes, and gasoline taxes which hurt his popularity among Louisiana voters.
Edwards' popularity also took a hit from two trials on mail fraud, bribery, and obstruction of justice charges stemming from state government approval of health care contracts. The first trial, held in 1985, ended in a mistrial. The second trial, held in 1986, ended with Edwards' acquittal.
Still, the damage was done, and Edwards suffered his first electoral defeat in the 1987 gubernatorial race. Congressman Buddy Roemer finished first in that year's primary, beating Edwards by five points. Instead of risking a landslide defeat in the general election, Edwards conceded the race, allowing Roemer to win the governorship without forming a consensus. In the process, Edwards laid the groundwork for his next political comeback.
Edwards entered the 1991 gubernatorial race as a major underdog-- so much so that the SHREVEPORT JOURNAL wrote that the only way Edwards could win was if he ran against Adolf Hitler.
Those words turned eerily prophetic, as Edwards made the runoff against neo-Nazi David Duke. Some of Edwards' usual political foes, including Treen and Roemer, moved to Edwards' corner, endorsing him in the race over the former Ku Klux Klan leader. Edwards again used his wit to his advantage in the campaign, quipping that all he had to do to beat Duke was "stay alive." Edwards also told journalists that he and Duke had only one thing in common--they were both "wizards under the sheets." Edwards went on to win a landslide victory over Duke in the runoff, claiming an unprecedented fourth term as governor.
Edwards returned to the Governor's Mansion without Elaine Edwards by his side. Years of Edwin being a ladies' man took a toll on their marriage. In 1989, Elaine moved out of the family home and filed for divorce, ending their 40-year marriage.
Edwards spent most of his fourth term fighting for casino gambling in Louisiana. In 1992, shortly after the start of his fourth term, Edwards convinced the legislature to allow a large land-based casino in New Orleans. He also appointed the board that would hand out the state's 15 riverboat casino licenses. Those licenses would ultimately lead to Edwards spending time in prison.
In 2000, a federal jury convicted Edwards on 17 counts of racketeering, mail fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering for extorting nearly $3 million from companies that applied for casino licenses during his final term in office. Edwards became the second Louisiana governor to be convicted on federal charges, with his guilty verdict coming nearly 60 years after that of former Governor Richard Leche. Edwards was sentenced to 10 years in prison, which his lawyer called a "death sentence."
Edwards served eight years and three months in federal prison before being released in 2011. During that time, he divorced his second wife, Candy Picou, whom he married in 1994 while still in the Governor's Mansion. His probation ended early in 2013 because of good behavior.
Nine months after leaving jail, the twice-divorced Edwards married Trina Grimes Scott, who was 51 years his junior, in a New Orleans ceremony. In February 2013, the Edwardses announced that Trina was pregnant. That August, their son Eli was born.
That same year, the Edwards family starred in the A&E reality TV show THE GOVERNOR'S WIFE. That program lasted only eight episodes.
In 2014, Edwards made one final run for public office, seeking a return to Capitol Hill by running for the Sixth Congressional District seat based in Baton Rouge. Edwards took first place in the primary, but he lost in the runoff to Republican Garrett Graves, ending Edwards' political career.
Edwards is survived by his wife Trina; one of his ex-wives, Candy Picou; and his children Anna, Victoria, Stephen, David, and Eli. He was predeceased by his parents Clarence and Agnès; brothers Nolan, Allen, and Marion; and his ex-wife Elaine.
Funeral arrangements are pending, according to the family, but will include lying in state in the rotunda at the Louisiana State Capitol for visitation by the public.
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