As a child, my parents were certain that at every opportunity they exercised their right to vote. They viewed it as a responsibility and the only way that they could make their opinions heard. However, I do remember my father referring to most politicians as “People who over promise, under deliver and lie at every opportunity.” I believe that was a non-partisan view of those who ran and spent their lives in public office. Dad seemed to feel that voting for the better of two not so good alternatives was still the right thing to do.
The example that my parents set stuck with me. Since I was first able to do so I have voted in every primary and general election. But I must admit that with very few exceptions, I cast my ballot with little enthusiasm for those who were listed. I simply tried to find the better of two poor alternatives. There have been several exceptions, times at which I was truly enthusiastic about a candidate and not only worked for him or her but actively campaigned on their behalf. Normally, they lost the election.
There is a sort of moral vindication in my voting. As an estimate I would say that only twenty percent of those for whom I have voted actually won. That number may be a bit inflated. So, I can say that I did my civic duty – and bear very little responsibility for the outcome.
There are some who believe that people who serve in public office should be held to a higher standard than the rest of us. Frankly, I would be satisfied if they were merely expected to observe the same standard – and actually met it. I don’t believe that in election to public office, somehow there is a “Deus ex machina” moment in which a person who is base and corrupt is transformed into a better person. In fact, with the new power which has been bestowed on them, quite the reverse seems to happen as mere venality becomes pure corruption.
In Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) is running for the senate against incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu. Former Democratic Governor, Edwin Edwards, now 86 years old, has announced his decision to run for the seat that Cassidy is vacating. Edwards is a veteran politician having served as Louisiana’s governor for four terms. In the last of those elections he ran against David Duke, the head of the Ku Klux Klan.
Louisiana’s constitution prohibits anyone from holding more than two terms consecutively. So after his second term, Edwards took a hiatus, but immediately began raising money for his third term, four years later. This might have proven to be a good thing in terms of voter perception as his first two terms were filled with charges of corruption.
He was accused by a former associate of selling political appointments for cash and both he and his wife were investigated when a Korean rice broker, looking to gain advantageous prices on rice exports from the state, gave Mrs. Edwards an envelope containing ten thousand dollars cash. The Edwards admitted to accepting the money but claimed it had been given them out of friendship and Edwards opined that “It was ‘super moralistic’ for the government to prohibit Americans from accepting gifts from foreign businessmen.”
Edwards soundly defeated the man who succeeded him to the gubernatorial mansion, David Treen. Treen had only been elected by a narrow margin when he succeeded Edwards and during the campaign, Edwards quipped to reporters, “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.” Today, being caught in either of those acts might serve more as an endorsement than a negative.
Apparently the old saw, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” held true in Governor Edwards’ case. There were further charges leveled against him for corruption in the awarding of contracts to those vendors who provided products to state hospitals. This resulted in both a mis-trial and a re-trial in which the governor was acquitted. He laid the blame for these “phony charges” on politically motivated prosecutors. However, the governor’s reputation was well known to voters. With a wide field of contenders in what would have been Edwards fourth term, he withdrew from the race at a late date. But he was to make another comeback.
In his fourth and final campaign for governor against Duke, the most popular bumper sticker bore the message, “Vote for the crook – it’s important.” Edwards, who was minority friendly was up against someone who was an avowed racist. Edwards defeated Duke handily in an election that gained nationwide attention.
Old habits die hard. Edwards was accused of accepting an $845,000 bribe so that he would approve a private juvenile correctional facility in the state and also was charged with accepting a $400,000 bribe from Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr., the owner of the San Francisco 49er’s so that DeBartolo could obtain a gaming license.
Edwards was prosecuted by U. S. Attorney Eddie Jordan and convicted on seventeen of twenty-six counts which included racketeering, money laundering, extortion, mail fraud and wire fraud. On his way to prison, he quipped, “I will be a model prisoner as I have been a model citizen.” As a result of his conviction, Edwards served nine years in state and federal prison and an additional three years on probation.
Edwards petitioned President George W. Bush for a commutation of his sentence, a request which Bush denied. He also petitioned President Obama but has not received any response from the current White House occupant. Notwithstanding his criminal conviction, a poll of Louisiana residents indicated that thirty percent of them believed that Edwards was “The best governor Louisiana ever had.” I wonder if Huey Long was included in that poll.
As I write this post I have a vision of a very brief film in which an animated Statue of Liberty looks over the American landscape, removes her crown and lays it on the ground next to her torch and as she rises, uses the folds of her robe to wipe the tears from her eyes.
I guess it’s true that, “the people get what they deserve.” Nothing could prove that old saw more true than if Edwards is successful in his most recent comeback and is elected to the House of Representatives. But while he may be able to vote on the floor of the House, I do take some comfort in the fact that as a convicted felon, he won’t be able to vote for himself in the general election.