May 8, 1972 was a hot spring day in Baton Rouge. Vin Bruce and the Acadians were playing for the first inauguration of Edwin W. Edwards as Governor of Louisiana.
After our first set, “Happy Fat and the RayneBo Ramblers” came on playing a familiar song, “Vieux Hobo”.
Vin said, “That’s my song, don’t I get paid?”
I replied, “No! You recorded it but I wrote it, so I’m due 3 cents if a B.M.I. scout hears it.”
“I want half,” he said, faking anger.
“O.K., I’ll write you a check, but it will put you in a higher tax bracket”.
Just then E.J. Gremillion walked up with a bottle. Vin and I had realized too late that Edwards was a tee tottler so no hard liquor was being served.
Seeing us eye the bottle, he asked, “Want a drink?”
I took a sip, Vin took a bigger sip and passed it back to E.J. empty and dry as the Sahara Desert.
“I had hoped it would last all day, but I hadn’t expected to meet you two,” he laughed.
It had to last us all day, until the first 7-11 when the day was done. All in all, it was a pleasant, if thirsty, afternoon, but with a Cajun in the Capitol, we were on a roll.
I met Edwards in 1971 when he was campaigning in Thibodaux. As Chief Deputy to Assessor Hubert Robichaux I invited him in.
As he was charming the female employees, I asked him, “Congressman, you’re solid here, but I lost three times with a South Louisiana candidate (Chep Morrison), so what are your chances?”
“Leroy,” he said, “with my coalition of Cajuns and blacks, I can’t lose.”
Those were not the words he used, and I visibly flinched as he laughed and left with all votes assured.
We would meet again.
During his 16 years in office he spoke many times to the assessors, always welcomed, especially for his humor.
Once, as president of our association, I met him with a committee opposing a bill exempting certain property. As I handed him details of potential tax losses, his aide carefully fitted him with glasses.
He read and pushed it back and his aide just as carefully removed the glasses without Edwards ever have to touch them.
“Gentlemen,” he said “Your job is assessing anything not exempted by the Legislature, so if they exempt everything except the outhouses, assess them! That’s your job and the House and Senate do theirs! Now, let’s eat!”
We left full but disappointed, however impressed at his ability to understand and act on an issue on the spot. One of his good points.
I had been assessor since 1983, when in 1991, my cousin called requesting I emcee the last rally of his last run for governor, to be held in Galliano. He had become so unpopular that a reporter wrote, “the only way Edwards can win is if his opponent is Adolph Hitler.”
Not quiet, but to save Louisiana from embarrassment we wanted Edwards to win. His opponent, David Duke was not an option. There was even a bumper sticker that read: “Vote For The Crook! It’s Important.”
I didn’t display it, but I obeyed it. I was Master of Ceremonies for his last rally of his last hurrah of his last winning election, and the end of his sixteen-year romance with the Cajun voters.
He did some good things for our area and the state, but that will always be overshadowed by his notoriety. It’s ironic that the thrill of gambling, which brought him some of his highest highs, was the catalyst that brought him his lowest low.
Edward W. Edwards had the intelligence, charisma, wit and ability that might have made him the greatest governor Louisiana ever had, but as John Greenleaf Whittier once wrote, “Of all the words of tongue or pen, the saddest are … it might have been.”
So it was with Edwards but … what might it have been? To quote Bob Dylan, “The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind!
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Posted on Tue, February 3, 2015
by Leroy Martin, Contributing Writer