Sunday, March 23, 2014

EWE ... ON THE RUN AGAIN ... Maybe

Some have speculated that the 86 year old former governor, former convict, Edwin Washington Edwards, may not be serious about his candidacy for the Louisiana 6th district Congressional seat.

They may be right.  Clearly it is more difficult to make the opposite case.

The thinking among the naysayers, more or less, is that EWE is simply exploiting the opportunity to enjoy the reflected glory of his celebrity and discover yet more ways to pick up a few coins here at the close of his career and life.

People who believe this also seem to resent the hell out of what they see as a sinister form of revenge seeking, as well as callous abuse of a political system they must otherwise consider somehow untarnished by ambition, ego, and lack of principle. 

Good luck on that latter score.

But could it be that EWE really is serious about winning?  I believe he is.  If you are one who does not, then I'm pretty sure I won't be able to convince you.  I recognize that were it not for my years and experience observing and participating in Louisiana politics, it would likely be hard to impossible to convince me.  But if you're curious at all to hear why guys like me believe as we do, and, yes, even want to believe, stick around, because here it comes.

This recitation is strictly from memory, so doubtless there will be a jot or dash out of place somewhere, for which I hope to be indulged.  But there should be nothing of substance or significance contrary to a faithful revisit of the historical record.  Should such occur, please know I expect nor desire any leniency, even though it will have been as unintentional as a sneeze.

Like It Or Not

Edwin Washington Edwards is the only person to have served four terms as governor of Louisiana.  That simple sounding statement is unexpectedly pregnant and richly layered with reasons why friends and foes alike acknowledge that for talent, competence, and accomplishment, EWE stands apart from the crowd of governors who have served since the days of Earl Long.  In fact there are several significant parallels and interesting echoes in the careers of both.

Perhaps most favorable comments and reflections on EWE since his announcement rightly cite his progressive record on race. EWE indeed deserves great credit, but it is only fair to note that by the early 70s it was hardly any surprise for a Democratic governor to be strong on that issue.  On the other hand, Earl Long was very brave on the race issue back in the 50s, when even the likes of Hale Boggs (supported by his campaign managing wife, Lindy) was signing the vile Dixiecrat "Southern Manifesto." And my uncle, Nick Lapara, a floor leader for Long in the House, was about to lose his seat for favoring the integration of the St. Thomas housing project here in his New Orleans district.

Likewise, Earl Long and EWE were both strongly progressive populists when it came to class.  But, since EWE signed the heinously anti-labor, so-called "Right-to-Work" law in 1976, you might think it a bit curious for me to mention it. I do so, however, because I was among those in the labor movement at the time who bought EWE's argument that a veto would have been overridden, and likely would have spurred LABI to then push for a constitutional amendment to more solidly enshrine the damn thing.  It remains a simple statute, which is far easier to eventually throw out.  So, EWE actually did labor a favor by signing it.

Looking back at Earl again, it turns out that he fought for and signed the repeal of Louisiana's original "Right-to-Work" law, which had been enacted under his predecessor, Robert Kennon.  And that same uncle of mine, Nick Lapara, was the floor leader in that fight as well.  His name is inscribed on a plaque memorializing that success that to this day hangs in the Southeast Louisiana Building Trades office here in New Orleans. Maybe you're starting to see why I have nothing but the utmost respect for the public service of all three of those guys. Yet there's so much more strictly concerning EWE.

Some Of The Trivial Things EWE Has Done

* Called a constitutional convention which rewrote and updated the previous unwieldy document.

* Oversaw to completion the much criticized, troubled and over budget Louisiana Superdome project.

* Saved the New Orleans Saints for New Orleans after the Meacom era.

* Rode to the rescue of a collapsing New Orleans World's Fair. Led to riverfront renaissance.

* Negotiated the 27% 8(G) Outer Continental Shelf oil drilling money for Louisiana. Dedicated all
    interest from fund for BESE education grants by constitutional amendment. Maybe a billion now.

The Terrible Crimes Of EWE

A big part of me is tempted to leave this blank, but since you've been interested or patient enough to read this far, I wouldn't want to disappoint you. 

Well, what we have in the official record are guilty verdicts on some number of counts in the teens for racketeering, extortion, mail fraud, blah, blah, blah, etc., you know the usual train of charges that follow one from the other. So, you might say, "Well, that sure sounds like serious stuff for a governor to be into."  And you would be right if any of it involved public money or official duties in any way.  But none of it did. 

That's right, none of it happened when EWE was in office. In my mind, it is kind of hard to torture a public corruption charge out of dealings which involve not one public official.  But then you have to remember the prosecution knew that bringing this to trial before a steadfastly EWE hating redneck kangaroo court in Baton Rouge pretty much assured the outcome.

So, the best - or, I suppose the worst - you can make of this business, even if you believe some of the bullshit - and I mean bullshit, but to that later - that was entered as sworn testimony, is an elaborate con that EWE ran, after he was out of office, on two of the sleaziest operators around, to wit: Eddie DeBartolo, the biggest scumbag west of the Rockies, and some guy named Graham, a for-profit prison business asshole.  To which I say, I would stand and cheer anyone who could shakedown pricks like that.

And so, one little blurb on the bullshit that the press and the rednecks were titillated by and gulped down like beer at a baseball game. I may be wrong on the identity, but I'm pretty sure it was the former owner of the Treasure Chest Casino, believe his name is Guidry, who testified that he dropped off $100K bags of dough in a dumpster which Edwards himself would later retrieve.  Sorry, folks, I know that sounds pretty lurid and fun to envision, but I also happen to know that you couldn't get EWE to climb in a dumpster with a gun to his head.  I also seem to  recall that whichever of the witnesses it was who gave this testimony was providing it so as to evade facing the music the Feds had in store for him otherwise.  In other words, they apparently had him by the balls, so he went wherever they led.

So, What Else Can I Tell You?

I also know a thing or two about how vindictive and wrong the Feds can be in these matters.  As it happens, I quite amazingly was swept-up in the first Federal prosecution of EWE in the 80s. 

Back then, I was the top elected officer of a local labor union.  When EWE was indicted by a genuine fool named John Voltz, one of my union members wound up in the jury pool.  Unsurprisingly, I was contacted by the EWE's legal team to get my opinion about the guy. First, Risley "Pappy" Triche called, then Camille Gravel.  They both asked standard issue questions about the guy's general personality, personal beliefs, and overall capacity to be fair. I told them I had no use for the guy, would not bet he could get 2 from 1+1, and definitely would not want him on the jury.  Soon, Louisiana AFL-CIO President Victor Bussie called to go over the same questions.  He got the same answers. Eventually EWE called. Same exchange, but in the end Edwin - he would not let me address him as Governor, insisted on Edwin - told me was going to allow the guy on the jury despite my counsel because he fit favorable demographic categories, i.e., race and union membership.

Well, wouldn't you just know it, some of you may remember, this is the same nut job who wound up clowning for the cameras, making thumbs down gestures and mouthing negative comments when the sequestered jury was being loaded in the van for transport from the courtroom to the hotel in the evenings.  Ultimately, EWE walked on the charges.  I think it was the only case Voltz ever lost as U.S. Atty. 

And he was furious.

Voltz immediately embarked on a witch hunt against me and my staff in a vain attempt to show jury tampering, so as to get the egg off of his face.  He had the nut job wired and sent him to us fishing.  Finally they thought they had scored something, and the FBI showed up at my house in the middle of the night to talk.  So, being clean as a whistle, I made a pot of coffee and entertained them for a couple of hours.  We had a good conversation and I could tell that, just as I figured, they didn't seem to have a damn thing on any of my staff either.  Turns out all three of us were being visited in the middle of that same night by FBI agents.  At the conclusion of these visits, we all received a summons to testify before the Grand Jury.

Next day, as I recounted the events of the previous night to my now deceased good friend and even better lawyer, Dennis Angelico, he nearly stroked out right then.  Just could not believe I had been so stupid as to talk to the FBI agents.  Of course he was right, but it all came out okay in the end.  After meeting with us, Dennis determined that apparently they had a tape of one of us they evidently thought to be incriminating.  So, that guy took the Fifth, while I and my other assistant testified.

That's when I realized EWE had been right all along when he said that "Voltz is a pin head."  First he tried to make a big deal of the fact that I had early on talked to EWE and his legal team about the nut job.  I indicated that it was my understanding such inquiries were pretty standard during jury selection.  Further, I told him my only surprise was that he hadn't bothered to call, that I would have given him the same insights I gave EWE.  I went on to aver that had he done his job, maybe none of us would be wrangling about all this nonsense right then.  He almost screwed himself into the floor spinning and sputtering; I'm not making this up.  Finally, he attempted to insinuate that I as a big, bad white union boss was probably prejudiced against my black union member, and might have tried to lean on him.  Well, that was when school let out.  When I got finished enlightening the pin head on my personal history as a citizen, a union leader, and civil rights advocate, several of the Grand Jury members were LAUGHING AT HIM.

The whole time this so-called investigation was going on, Voltz was orchestrating a media circus by planting bullshit with his house boy pimp reporter, Richard Angelico (coincidentally my lawyer's half-brother).  For obvious reasons, we weren't talking to the media. But they were having a real go at us anyway, even to the point of scrolling a partial transcript of one of the thought to be incriminating tapes on television. 

It was tough to watch and read and hear the nauseating nonsense, but I'm glad I was paying attention.  One evening as I was reading the transcript running on the screen, I suddenly realized the actual import of the seemingly ominous chopped and skippy and snippity segments of the recording.  I immediately called Dennis at home and told him my take on it, and he instantly agreed.

Next day, Dennis contacted Voltz to tell him we were confident that we knew what was being referenced in the tape, which they apparently were unable to transcribe fully or correctly.  I'm  pretty sure Dennis indicated that we would pay to have an independent lab or expert examine the tape, in an attempt to obtain the best possible interpretation.  And that my friends essentially ended the whole mess.  Suddenly, the media circus ceased.  Voltz made some sort of lame pronouncement about hoping that maybe some more information or evidence would turn up in the future blah, blah, blah and it all went away.  No indictments.  It had all been bullshit.

But don't think for a minute that the Feds like taking a licking.  Nope.  Took them a decade and a half, but, well, you know the rest of that saga.


The epilogue has yet to be written.

One last echo of Earl Long.  Earl ended his life and career running for Congress.  He had campaigned doggedly and captured the Democratic nomination for the seat in his district.  At that time, capturing the Democratic nomination was tantamount to being elected to office.  The general election would have been a formality.  But it was not to be.  Earl Long died before the final vote.  Fate had denied him what the voters would not.  To which I will add, God speed EWE.  Be well, and good luck.

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