I confess that as a younger reporter I was, like most Louisianans, captivated by Edwin Edwards. His swagger and rapier wit made great copy, and the voters ate it up. Louisiana politics were always entertaining, but he brought things to a new level.
Which caused most of us to take our eye off the ball.
We laughed at his jokes, and he laughed up his sleeve while he and his cronies ripped off the state and invited the nation's polluters to use us as their industrial toilet.
His antics finally caught up with him when the feds nailed him for racketeering more than a decade ago. Voters caught up with him sooner, tossing him out after his troubled third term (1984-88), during which he was tried twice on federal corruption charges — and ultimately acquitted. He came back in 1991 because he had the good fortune to face neo-Nazi David Duke in "the runoff from hell." His acts during and after his fourth and final term are what landed him a 10-year sentence in the federal pen.
EWE, irrepressible as ever, served his time and now plans a $250-a-person birthday bash at the Hotel Monteleone next Saturday (July 30).
Some things never change.
But some things do, including society. I thought about that when I read The Silver Zipper's comment about his 32-year-old girlfriend (and future bride) and the fact that he will soon turn 84. "You're only as old as the woman you feel," he quipped.
Three decades ago, I would have laughed, along with many others. This time most of us winced. Perhaps EWE saw this as a harmless update to his immortal 1983 utterance, when he said of his imminent victory over then-Gov. Dave Treen, "The only way I can lose this election is if I'm caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy." That one was a hoot ... back then.
But that was 28 years ago. Back then, Michael Jackson and Culture Club topped the charts, and Rubik's Cube was the top-selling toy, along with Cabbage Patch dolls and boom boxes.
A lot has changed since then. We now get our music from satellites and the Internet, not from phonographs, tapes or even CDs. Today, our phones are also cameras — and computers.
Louisiana politics changed dramatically as well, even in the nine years since Edwards walked into prison. Our state now has a governor who is not white, and New Orleans has a mayor who is not black. Instead of "Republican" and "Democrat," a lot of folks use "red" and "blue" to describe states' political leanings. Heck, even those color references are upside-down. Red used to mean liberal, as in Red China, and blue used to mean wealthy and snobbish, as in blue-blooded. Now red means Republican and blue means Democratic.
Louisiana was a blue state in 2002. Now we're decidedly red. The year EWE entered the Big House, seven of Louisiana's nine statewide elected officials were Democrats. A year later all but one of them were Dems. Today, all but one are Republicans — and the Legislature has a GOP majority in both chambers.
As Edwards scans the audience at his party next Saturday, he might notice that there aren't many folks there under the age of 50. Truth is, less than half the voting age population in Louisiana today ever voted for him. It's been 20 years — an entire generation — since EWE last won an election.
The paunchy, aging EWE is not what he used to be. Neither is Louisiana. He'll always be quotable, but he has outlived his political relevance — except, perhaps, as a cautionary tale.