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Former reporters look back on Edwin Edwards’ life

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 7:07 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 12, 2021 at 7:13 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -Veteran reporters are reflecting back on the life and times of the late four-term governor Edwin Edwards.

They say he was often endearing and perplexing and that he often tried to do right by New Orleans.

He rose out of relative obscurity to become one of the most powerful Governors Louisiana has ever seen.

“There’s no doubt that Edwin Edwards is the political heir to Huey long. He had those amazing political skills where he could see around corners and he knew what you were thinking before you knew what you’re thinking,” said Times-Picayune-The Advocate political reporter Tyler Bridges.

Bridges covered Edwin Edwards for decades and authored ‘Bad Bet on the Bayou’ and ‘The Rise and Fall of David Duke’.

Bridges watched closely as Edwards outfoxed the former Klan wizard in the 1992 governor’s race.

“He said when Duke was out goose-stepping. Edwards who was in the national guard was out handing out supplies to hurricane victims,” said Bridges.

Former Gannett reporter John Hill came to appreciate Edwards’ political savvy early on when the Crowley lawyer first ran for governor back in 1970.

“I was the only political reporter in north Louisiana and Edwin said ‘of course I know that, why do you think I’m standing here licking his ‘a..’’’, said Hill.

Edwards was praised for rewriting the state constitution of 1974 and bringing in money for teachers and new roads.

“He just had that sort of Cajun charm and razor-sharp mind plus that sense of humor that can get everybody laughing, even people that didn’t like him,” said Bridges. Bridges says Edwin Edwards was flying high in his first couple of years in office, but then the state hit an oil slump and things got much more difficult.’

“Louisiana was hit by the oil bust. It was a disaster for this energy-dependent state,” said Bridges.

Then the legal problems began with Koreagate, where Edwards’s first wife Elaine was caught taking $10,000 from Korean businessman Tongsun Park.

“He defended it by saying, we are not ordinary people. We don’t do ordinary things and our friends get really big gifts to us,” said Hill.

The Feds prosecuted Edwards twice. He was acquitted in the mid-80s in a hospital permit corruption case, but he was convicted in 2000 in a riverboat gambling corruption case, which sent him to a federal prison near Fort Worth.

“I would describe him as a delightful rogue. He entertained us while he did his shenanigans in the background,” said Hill.

“In so many ways he captured that state ethos let the good times roll but there’s always a question for him was he working for what’s best for the people of Louisiana or was he trying to help himself and his buddies and remember he did spend 8 1/2 years for defrauding the people in the state in prison,” Bridges.

Retired reporter John Hill gives Edwards high marks for appointing a large number of minorities and women to state positions. He also said he often worked hard to look out for New Orleans and Charity Hospital.

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