We news people were gathered in the Governor’s Mansion parlor for an unusual press conference with both the Louisiana governor and the Mississippi governor. It was 1977.
Relentless reporter Norma Fields in her usual way fired questions at Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards. In a Cajun-flavored accent he audibly whispered to Mississippi Gov. Cliff Finch: “Who’s dat tough old broad?”
Finch and Fields (then Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal state correspondent) are no longer with us. But the silver-haired Edwards is.
In fact, last week at age 86, despite heavy political baggage – he spent eight years in federal prison for payoffs on casino licenses growing out of his fourth (yes, fourth) term as governor – announced for office again. This time, an open Louisiana seat in Congress.
Noteworthy was the small entourage with him for his announcement at the Baton Rouge Press Club. In it were his 35-year-old wife, Trina, and their 7-month-old son Eli, in a stroller. Edwards had been released from prison in 2011.
Finch (who died suddenly in his early 50s) by Mississippi standards was regarded as a clown in his single term as governor. However, he was no match for lover-boy, wise-cracking Edwards. In one Edwards’ gubernatorial race, he boasted he couldn’t lose “unless I’m caught in bed with a dead woman, or a live boy.”
The feds began sniffing around Edwards’ political dealings in the 1980s when his extravagant gambling habit went public. Federal agents found $400,000 in cash at his home. He claimed at a news conference he kept it on hand for high stakes gambling.
But Edwards’ race for governor in 1991 left the most incredible mark on the body politic. Under Louisiana’s no-party open primary election system, the first round of voting sent David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard, into a run-off for governor with Edwards. Bumper stickers with “Vote for the crook, it’s important,” spread like wildfire, even in Republican circles. Edwards won. But back to Cliff Finch, the original Mississippi figure whose tenure as governor had drawn Edwin Edwards to the state years earlier. As mentioned, Finch was regarded as a clown by the political norm here.
Here’s a sample: Before he left office in 1980 (one-term governor limit in those days) Finch announced he was launching a campaign for president and would test the waters out west. On the campaign trail in Tucson, a photographer snapped an image of Finch basking in a heart-shaped bathtub. The photo went viral (as the saying goes in the digital age) and Mississippi discovered a new reason to be embarrassed. Political analysts in Louisiana seem to regard Edwin Edwards’ farcical bid for a Congressional seat in the same vein. Robert Mann, an author and writer, commented “the rest of the country will laugh at us and say ‘look at those ignorant, corruption-tolerating idiots.’”
None think Democrat Edwards has any chance of winning in a Republican-heavy district. But the octogenarian, who wheeled his 7-month-old son in a stroller, could land another job: As the poster boy for Viagra.
Syndicated columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org.