|Honeycutt chronicles EWE for Rotarians|
Ouachita Citizen Online Exclusive
Whether you love him or hate him, former Gov. Edwin Edwards will forever dominate Louisiana politics in some form or fashion.
That's according to Leo Honeycutt who, for about an hour last week, provided members of the Monroe Rotary Club with a brief glimpse of the life of Edwards from a young, inspiring attorney through his days in the political realm.
More than 100 attended the luncheon where Honeycutt, author of Edwin Edwards: Governor of Louisiana, presented an intimate look at Edwards' life through personal pictures.
When Edwards was 13, his grandmother died, and he stayed with his grandfather to take care of him.
"I don't know of many 13-year-olds who would do that today, but Edwin Edwards went there and he cooked and cleaned for him," Honeycutt said. "Back then he really developed a kinship and heart for people who had to survive with the death of a spouse, not to mention being elderly."
Edwards graduated high school when he was 16 and immediately enrolled into LSU. After about a year at LSU, he enlisted in the Navy during World War II.
"They were destined to try and go out to the Pacific theatre, but then we dropped the bomb in August 1945," Honeycutt said. "He showed up for class with 50 cadets and the sergeant says, 'Y'all go home, the war's over.' Edwin Edwards says, 'We're almost finished with the course, wouldn't it be nice to get our pilot's license?'"
His sergeant firmly repeated, "go home, the war's over," Honeycutt said. "He learned about government programs and their efficiency."
Edwards returned to LSU and graduated in 1949 with a law degree.
Three weeks after he graduated he married his high school sweetheart, Elaine. Their first child, Anna, was born in 1950.
"He realized early on that he was going to have to get involved in things because he saw things he wanted to change ever since he was a kid," Honeycutt said.
Edwards returned to hometown Marksville to establish a law practice, but when he got there, "the other attorneys tell him there's too many attorneys here already. We don't want you."
So, Edwards ventured to Crowley, his wife's hometown, where he looked in the telephone book and found there were 12 attorneys in a community of 25,000 people.
"He thought he'd hit the jackpot," Honeycutt said. "Well, they moved to Crowley and he set up his practice, and what happened is the phone book was published again and he found out they left out 25 attorneys from the previous phone book."
Edwards begins his political career in 1954 with his election to the Crowley City Council. Ten years later he was elected to the state Senate where served alongside Monroe Sen. Jamar Adcock.
After U.S. Rep. T.A. Thompson of Ville Platte died in a car accident, Edwards was elected in a special election to Thompson's seat in Congress. Edwards served in the House of Representatives from 1965 until 1972 when he began serving his first of four terms as governor.
During his time as a member of the U.S. House, Edwards developed a relationship with President Lyndon Johnson, Honeycutt said.
"He loved to tell the story of going to a picnic with LBJ on a hot August day," Honeycutt continued. "One thing the president really loved back then was ribs. He said the closer he got to the president, he saw this big plate of ribs. The closer he got the more he realized the ribs were somewhat covered in flies," Honeycutt said. "So, immediately, the president says, 'Here, Edwards, take a rib.' Gov. Edwards has always been very fastidious about his food, and he says, 'No thank you, Mr. President, I've had lunch, but I'll have desert later.' He says he'll never forget it … the president of the United States then takes a rib, shakes the flies off it and eats it."
Edwards ran for governor in 1971 against 17 other candidates, including Monroe Mayor Jack Howard and then-state Sen. J. Bennett Johnston.
Honeycutt showed a picture of Edwards and Elaine walking among a crowd of people on his way to the governor's mansion. A number of body guards blanketed them as they walked.
"He was told not to get out of the car," Honeycutt said. "The FBI and Secret Service showed up and sealed off the capitol because they were seriously worried about snipers. He got out about a mile left to go during the inaugural parade and a number of reporters there said the police freaked out and swooped in and formed a cocoon around him. He didn't really take it seriously, but four days after taking office, State Police came into his office and turned on his TV. They said, 'See this … this is what we were worried about.' Four days later was when George Wallace was shot."
Of all the Democratic presidents Edwards knew, the one who disliked him the most was Jimmy Carter, Honeycutt said.
"Carter was afraid of him," Honeycutt said. "He was afraid if he ever ended up in a debate with him, he certainly would not win against Edwin Edwards, and he was right."
Edwards told Carter in the beginning of his presidency that his administration would live or die by its energy policy, Honeycutt said.
A month and a half before the 1980 election when Republican Ronald Regan defeated Carter, Carter asked Edwards to visit him at the White House.
"Edwin flew there and what does Carter say? He says, 'I need a communications plan with a month and a half to go on how I can beat Ronald Regan," Honeycutt said. "What do you suggest?' Edwards said, 'Nothing. I've been suggesting to you for four years so why would you want to believe it now in the fourth quarter at the end?' Carter said, 'I really need your help. Tell me what I can do.' Edwards responded, 'Nothing. Twenty-one percent interest rates, highest unemployment in history and the Iran hostage crisis. You are not going to win.' Three weeks later Carter lost to Ronald Regan, and not by just a little bit," Honeycutt said.
Back at home, Edwards popularity took a downturn shortly after he took office in 1984 to begin his third term as governor. The state faced a $500 million shortfall, and Edwards convinced the Legislature to go along with a $750 million tax increase.
"So, his popularity was gone," Honeycutt said.
Edwards conceded the 1987 governor's race to Buddy Roemer. His marriage to Elaine ended shortly thereafter in divorce.
In 1991, former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke emerged as a strong contender for governor. Duke and Edwards met in the run-off election, squeezing Roemer, who finished a distant third in primary voting
"Edwards won by a landslide, went back in for that historic fourth term, and of course, we all know what happened with that," Honeycutt said.
In 2001, Edwards was sentenced to 10 year in federal prison on racketeering charges stemming from a riverboat casino licensing scandal. He began serving his sentence in October 2002. Currently, he's being held at a federal prison in Oakdale.
Edwards is scheduled to be transferred to a half-way house in Baton Rouge in January. He is expected to spend six months in a half-way house before being released in earnest.
Edwards is 82 years old.
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