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Keep the Crook in Jail -- It's Important 

Across Louisiana, there is a budding movement to get former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards out of jail early, either via a presidential pardon or a commutation of the former governor's 10-year sentence. We oppose any such effort. We take this position after a long, sober look at what EWE has done to Louisiana and what he did to get himself sent to jail. Simply put, pardoning or commuting his sentence would send the worst possible message to the rest of the world.

First, let's recall the things Edwards did to get himself in legal trouble. He was convicted of more than a dozen federal crimes, including racketeering, money laundering and fraud. Federal prosecutors proved that Edwards rigged the state's award of riverboat casino licenses, all to enrich himself, his family and his cronies. One of the great tragedies of his downfall is that he allowed his son Stephen to become caught up in the web of corruption. Like his father, Stephen Edwards today sits in a federal jail. In the end, Edwin Edwards sold out the people of Louisiana, then thumbed his nose at us and at the law. For that alone, he should serve the entirety of his sentence.

Second, let us not forget all the other sins of Edwin Edwards. During the quarter-century that he towered over Louisiana's political landscape, we saw our state's reputation slide further into the depths of ignominy. Sure, we found him entertaining -- as long as oil prices were at record levels. But by the time the oil boom ended in the mid-1980s, he ceased to be funny. Then he was indicted by the feds for rigging hospital permits. He dodged that bullet, but his reputation -- and Louisiana's -- became forever tarnished. To be fair, since the days of Huey and Earl Long, Louisiana has had a reputation for freewheeling, corrupt politics. But Edwin Edwards took freewheeling and corruption to new lows, and our state's reputation still suffers for it.

Third, in addition to his harm to our state's national and international reputation, Edwards poisoned our view of ourselves as well. Without question, he was one of the most talented politicians ever to cross Louisiana's political stage. His instincts were uncanny, and his ability to sway lawmakers to his point of view remains legendary. What a pity that he squandered his enormous talents scheming to enrich himself and his cronies rather than striving to enrich the state and its future generations. The end result of his quarter-century of hegemony has been a state mired in mediocrity. Many citizens have given up hope that Louisiana will ever aim higher; worse yet, many more don't even realize that we can and must hold our politicians to higher standards. Consequently, Louisianans as a rule assume that all politicians are corrupt, and therefore many of our best citizens won't even consider running for public office.

Fourth, Louisiana became the nation's environmental dumping ground on Edwin Edwards' watch -- and with his blessings. Our environmental laws, to the extent we had meaningful statutes regulating such matters, meant nothing when he was governor. From creating Superfund sites to carving up the coast, from slack permitting processes to allowing the importation of hazardous materials for "disposal" here, Louisiana's lax attitude toward the environment since the 1970s paralleled EWE's lax approach to the rule of law -- particularly environmental laws. It will take generations for us to overcome his environmental legacy alone.

To this day, Louisiana continues to pay a steep price for Edwin Edwards' sins: Our schools remain at the bottom of national performance scales; he starved our state colleges and universities; our highways slipped into a state of disrepair and remain so today; we are consistently one of the nation's most polluted states; and our economy limps along, both because of our reputation for corruption and because of our unpredictable tax code -- a code that EWE steered down an "anti-business" track long ago. As long as Louisiana continues to pay for all his sins, why shouldn't Edwin Edwards continue to pay as well?

The main argument advanced by supporters of a commutation or pardon is that the former governor is now in his 80s, it would be a shame for an old man like him to die in prison. Had EWE been in jail for 20 years already, that argument might make sense. Lest anyone forget, he went to jail when he was in his mid-70s -- for crimes he committed in his late 60s. He committed the crimes; let him do the time.

Finally, Edwin Edwards deserves to stay in jail because, in spite of all the evidence produced against him at trial and the mountains of evidence that his legacy will be one of corruption and squandered opportunities, he has yet to admit his crimes and apologize to the people of Louisiana for all the harm that he has brought upon us. Louisiana still struggles to convince the nation and the world that we are worthy of federal and private investment in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Letting the biggest crook in our state's history out of jail early will send all the wrong messages. To paraphrase a well-known bumper sticker from EWE's 1991 runoff against neo-Nazi David Duke: Keep the crook in jail -- it's important.


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