Citing his integrity, family and friends say Edwards will be good for LA

Citing his integrity, family and friends say Edwards will be good for LA
Published: Jan. 12, 2016 at 2:02 AM CST
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AMITE, LA (WVUE) - At Mike's Catfish Inn in Amite, the lunchtime crowd fills the parking lot to overflowing.

Since the restaurant opened 35 years ago, owner Mike Sumrall said the Edwards family has been among the regulars.

"He's a very honest person," Sumrall said of John Bel Edwards. "I think everybody is going to be proud of him when he gets into office."

Louisiana's new governor grew up on East Mulberry Street in Amite, the seventh of eight children.

"I guarantee he lives by the West Point code," said his 80-year-old mother, Dora Jean Edwards. "He says, 'I'll never lie to you and I'll never cheat.'" Mrs. Edwards said while people might be disappointed, "you're not going to get lies and you're not going to get told what you want to hear."

In the Edwards household, politics was a frequent topic of discussion at the dinner table. His father, Frank Edwards Jr., was Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff, following in a family tradition. In fact, brother Daniel, the current sheriff, is the fourth generation in the Edwards clan to hold the office.

"I can't say I was surprised he was thinking about taking a bold step," Daniel Edwards said. "I was just not aware that he was thinking about running for governor."

Just a few short months ago, the idea of Gov. John Bel Edwards seemed a bit far-fetched, even to many people in Amite. He was, after all, a Democrat running in a red state.

Dora Jean recalls, "Every time I would tell someone 'my son's running for governor, I'd like you to vote for him,' they'd say, 'what? Does he know what state he lives in?'"

Longtime friend Brennan Kelsey is not surprised by Edwards' rise to power.

"There was something about John," Kelsey said. "It's hard to pin it, but there was something more about John that he had that you knew he was kind of destined for something really big."

In the 2015 gubernatorial race, the stars also aligned for Edwards. Political experts believe he benefited from the unpopularity of Gov. Bobby Jindal and the high negatives of his runoff opponent, Sen. David Vitter.

"You know, some people declared it was a perfect storm," said Daniel Edwards, "and I'm not going to say that they're wrong at all. But it was a perfect storm that my brother saw two-plus years ago."

Edwards may not enjoy much of a honeymoon, considering the state's budget deficit, which the governor estimates to be $1.9 billion over the next year-and-a-half. While Edwards said taxes are on the table, that is never an easy sell. He must cope with a Republican majority, which flexed its muscle on inauguration day by selecting New Iberia Republican Taylor Barras over Edwards' choice, New Orleans Democrat Walter Leger.

"I think he's going to be open-minded," Rose Sumrall said in Amite last week. "It's not just his way or no way."

Family members insist this new governor strikes a different chord than most politicians.

"He would rather see the state succeed for four years and him not be re-elected than see the state suffer for four years and him get re-elected," Daniel Edwards said.  "And I believe that with all my heart."

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