NEW ORLEANS -- Louisiana's only four-term governor, Edwin Edwards, is turning 90-years-old on Aug. 7. To say he is a colorful character is an understatement. Edwards, who was always dogged by controversy and investigations, was finally convicted on federal charges in 2001 and served nearly a decade in prison. When he got out of federal prison in 2011, he married a woman more than fifty years younger than him and they had a baby boy four years ago.
Now, Edwards spends a lot of time on the telephone in his home office, talking to friends, helping former constituents, but mostly running the real estate business he and his wife Trina have started. The former governor is now a real estate broker and Trina is an agent. To some people’s surprise, he’s personally held a few open houses.
“Well that’s an attraction - sometimes good, sometimes bad,” he said with a laugh. “Tomorrow, for instance, we’re going to visit a fella who has a house worth a million and a half dollars that he’s going to list with us.”
That’s a far cry from the deals Edwards worked on when he was governor, from building the Superdome and helping negotiate the New Orleans Saints deal with the state legislature to ensure Tom Benson could buy the team, to brokering the deal to bring a land-based casino to New Orleans. He feels he accomplished a lot of good in his four terms as governor (1972-80, 1984-88 and 1992-96), but through it all, controversy was always at his doorstep.
To many, he had the reputation of being “Fast Eddie,” walking up to the line and not breaking the law, but getting right up to that line.
“I had a perfect right to walk to the line, that’s what America is about,” he said. “But I want to make an observation here. The conviction that I got, unfair or fair whatever you want to call it, had nothing to do with my being governor. Nothing.”
Edwards was charged two years after he left office with extorting payoffs to influence the state riverboat casino licenses. He always maintained his innocence, but was never able to shake off people’s perception of him.
“I deserved it,” he says of the nickname “Fast Eddie” and freewheeling reputation.
“I’m not a slow-witted person,” he said. “All my life, I’ve been investigated 20 times, had reporters by the dozens try to do that. But if you go back and look, there’s never an allegation that I took money under the table, never. Never an allegation that I took a bribe. Look, I took enough money on the table, I didn’t have to take any under the table. But what I took was legitimate.”
All that’s behind Edwards. His life now revolves around his wife Trina and their son, Eli. He credits them with keeping him young. But reaching a certain age does make a person stop and think.
“A lot of things happen to you as you age and you begin to realize how wonderful it is to live in this country, how great it is to have good friends and you thank God for the opportunity to serve people and I’m very comfortable with myself.”
And if there’s anything that sums up the attitude about life it could be the sign on his desk, given to him by his brother more than a half century ago. A Latin inscription on the sign reads, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”
“It’s my motto,” Edwards said. For Edwin Edwards, no matter how hard the fight, no one will ever grind him down.
Monday at 6 a.m. on the Eyewitness Morning News, the former governor tells Eric Paulsen why, all things considered, he would gladly walk into prison again.
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