The race for the 6th Congressional District has quickly become the point of focus for Louisiana’s midterm elections after former Gov. Edwin Edwards announced he would be running for the seat last week.
The 6th Congressional District includes much of the East Bank of St. Charles Parish. Congressman Bill Cassidy has represented the district since 2009, but he is challenging the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Edwards, 86, is the longest serving governor in the state’s history, having been elected four times to serve terms from 1972 to 1980, 1984 to 1988 and 1992 to 1996.
Before winning his first race for governor, Edwards served in Congress representing the 7th Congressional District in southwest Louisiana for nearly eight years from 1965 to 1972.
In 2002 Edwards was found guilty of several charges, including extortion and money laundering, related to money he took from those seeking riverboat gambling licenses in the state. After serving eight and a half years in jail, Edwards was released in 2011.
Before the 2002 conviction, Edwards was acquitted of criminal charges including bribery, obstruction of justice and mail fraud in a 1986 trial while he was in his second term as governor.
Despite his past, Edwards said he still feels he has the support of many in the community.
“I’ve always had a good relationship with the people of St. Charles. I have had, and still have, friends there,” Edwards said.
Indeed, Lori Treadaway, of Luling, said she would vote for Edwards.
“He has got my vote. All politicians are crooks anyway!” she said.
However, Treadaway seems to be in the minority amongst St. Charles Parish voters.
Early indications point to Edwards not having as many friends in St. Charles Parish as he would like.
Melissa Hihar was unequivocal about her opposition to Edwards.
“I would never vote that ex-con into office. Are people in this state really that stupid?” she said.
Ruthie Madere, of Luling, said she does not trust the former governor.
“He robbed us when he was in office, and will do it again” she said.
When asked what it would take for Edwards to get her vote, Terri Box, of Luling, said she would have had to have a lobotomy.
Hilda Hurtel said she would have to be struck by early dementia in order to vote for Edwards.
Concerning his conviction, Edwards said he feels people should realize it came from activities he was engaged in after he had left the governor’s office.
“It’s going to play a part, my age is going to play a part, but I can balance that with the fact that I am mature. I have experience and I know how to get things done,” he said. “As far the conviction is concerned I don’t have to face that, but I want to make one positive, uncontradicted statement - It had nothing to do with Edwin Edwards being governor. They didn’t charge me with bribery, they didn’t say I was using the influence of my office in favoring anybody.”
Edwards’ platform includes coastal restoration efforts that would benefit St. Charles Parish.
“I plan to be on the Public Works Committee where I will have an opportunity to use my influence to (help with coastal restoration.) Let me be honest with you, I am 86 years old. I can’t suggest it is going to happen in my lifetime, but it needs to be started. Not only that, but we need to do something about restoring the coastline,” he said.
In particular, Edwards is putting his support behind an effort to redirect freshwater from the Mississippi River to local marshes.
“I am interested in Rep. (Clay) Schexnayder’s proposal to build a canal into the Mississippi River that can provide a flow of water in the marshes and nutrients for the marsh, and also to reverse the situation when there is flooding in the area to put water back into the Mississippi. That is something I think that can be done. It has already been approved by the Corps of Engineers and I am going to do what I can do to get it financed,” he said.
The 6th Congressional District has been a Republican stronghold since the mid-70s, although Congressman Don Cazayoux was the last Democrat elected from the district in a 2008 special election.
Edwards, a Democrat, said he feels he will be able to attract swing voters as well as Republicans.
“I am married to a Republican and I am satisfied that I am going to get one Republican vote, hers, and I am hoping for a lot more. Bottom line is I think people now are educated enough and intelligent enough to look at the person that is running rather than the party in which he is registered,” he said.
Edwards is speaking of his third wife, 35-year-old Trina Grimes Scott, with whom he starred with in a short-lived reality TV series last year entitled “The Governor’s Wife” that aired on A&E. The show came to an abrupt end after a short run. Prior to the airing of the series, Scott gave birth to Edwards’ fifth child.
Shortly after his announcement, a poll of 718 registered voters completed by the Glascock Group found that Edwards eclipsed his closest competitor by nearly double with 43 percent of those who participated saying they would vote for him. The two nearest Republican candidates were state Sen. Dan Claitor, who received 20.3 percent, and businessman Paul Dietzel II with 19.22 percent. However, in scenarios that asked poll participants if they would vote for Edwards or a pair of Republican contenders in a runoff, Edwards did not receive the popular vote.
Edwards said the poll is indicative that many voters have forgiven him for his crimes.
“I didn’t know what would happen to me when I got out (of prison), but I have been amazed at how warm, cooperative and supportive people have been. I think the results of this poll reflect that in a more tangible way,” he said.
John Maginnis, publisher of LA Politics and a syndicated columnist, has been covering Edwards since 1973 and wrote the books “The Last Hayride” and “Cross to Bear” based on Edwards’ last two gubernatorial campaigns. In “Cross to Bear,” Maginnis chronicled Edwards’ race against former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon David Duke, who Edwards beat largely based on Duke’s negative, reactionary image as memorialized by the unofficial campaign slogan “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.”
Maginnis said the early support for Edwards is understandable.
“There is large body of people who feel Edwin Edwards has served his time and you should judge him on now, but where he is right now is a 86-year-old man who wants to go to Congress. Certainly there have been older men than him there,” he said. “His notoriety will probably help him quite a bit and he is the best known of all the candidates so far, but it is a long campaign ahead and we are going to get to know the other candidates.”
Given that Edwards is the most well known out of all of the candidates in the race, Maginnis expects Edwards to force the primary into a runoff.
“Without another well known Democrat getting into the race, he probably has a real good chance of making it into the runoff. I just think that his long-term prospects of winning an election are pretty low given that district. It’s almost like he’d need another David Duke,” he said.
Other candidates who are running for the seat include Republicans Claitor, Dietzel, Ethel small business owner and physical therapist Craig McCulloch, former Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority chair Garret Graves, Baton Rouge tax attorney Cassie Fielder, Baton Rouge school teacher Charles “Trey” Thomas, Baton Rouge former Navy captain and Tea Party writer Bob Bell and Baton Rouge veteran Norm Clark.
The only other Democrats in the race are LaPlace real estate broker Richard Lieberman and Baton Rouge United Way manager Quentin Anderson.
The open primary will take place on Nov. 4. If any candidate does not garner the popular vote, a runoff will be held on Dec. 6.