An exclusive interview with Louisiana's legendary Edwin Edwards
Four-term former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards turns ninety today. His past achievements and peccadilloes - including a prison stint - are well documented. I chose to focus on the present. Read on to find out what the nonagenarian politician is doing these days, and his take on the current political climate.
Me: Governor, what have you been up to the last few years?
Governor Edwards: When I first got out of prison, I spent a lot of time going around the state making speeches for pay and selling copies of my biography. Later on, Trina [Edwards’ third wife] and I got into the real estate business, and that’s what we’re doing now mostly. We work together, but she handles most of the residential listings and I handle most of the businesses and commercial enterprises.
Me: How’s that going?
Governor Edwards: It’s good. It’s enough to supplement my retirement income and give us a comfortable living.
Me: What do you like about being a real estate agent?
Governor Edwards: It gives me an opportunity to work with my friends and people I know, and people who are interested in buying a home or establishing a business. It’s an opportunity to deal with people and the public, and of course that’s been my strong suit all my life.
Me: You have a four-year-old son, Eli, with your wife, Trina. You also have four children from your first marriage. Is fatherhood different for you this time around?
Governor Edwards: Very much so. Unfortunately, young men such as I who were busy in a profession and earning a living don’t realize that life doesn’t last forever. Sometimes we don’t pay as much attention to our young children as we should. In part, I’m guilty of that. But my four older children, all of whom are over sixty years old, and I are very close. We’ve always had a good relationship. They all live here in Baton Rouge and we talk and see each other on a regular basis.
Me: What is something special you enjoy doing with Eli?
Governor Edwards: I guess everything. (Laughs.) We have a water slide in the backyard and he spends a lot of time on that. We also have swings and I spend a lot of time swinging him. He loves bubbles, so we have a couple of bubble machines. We sit and watch the bubbles come out. I put him in the golf cart and ride him around the golf course [where we live] at least three or four times a day, and also at least one time a day to the local grocery store for an icy Coke.
Me: What are some special activities you enjoy as a family?
Governor Edwards: We just got back from a cruise to some Caribbean islands. We also spent a week in Florida. And a friend of mine has a very fine guest ranch in Mississippi, so we spent a week there. We spend a lot of time together, but always with Eli.
Me: What do you appreciate about your life now?
Governor Edwards: Not only is Trina a loving and attentive wife, she’s been very helpful to me because I’m getting on in years. She’s more than a soulmate, she’s like a nurse and a companion to me. But also, she’s a wonderful mother. I know that if I die in the next few years, my child will be left in good hands.
Me: You’re going to be ninety years old. What’s your key to longevity?
Governor Edwards: I’m very lucky. I have very good genes. My mother lived to ninety-six, my father to seventy-six. I have two grandparents who lived to be over a hundred years old. Because of my upbringing and my own personal discipline, I never used tobacco of any kind, never drank anything. Let me repeat that, I never drank any alcohol and I never used illicit drugs. Frankly, I’ve taken care of myself. I have only one bad habit. I love hog cracklin's.
Me: Do you have an exercise regiment?
Governor Edwards: Yes. I run after Eli.
Me: You have a great sense of humor. How did you develop your wit?
Governor Edwards: Some people say I’m just half-witted. (Laughs.)
Me: What are you most proud of in terms of in terms of your political legacy?
Governor Edwards: I’m the only person who’s ever been elected governor of Louisiana four times. That’s a great achievement and makes me very proud, considering my humble beginnings. Even when I was in prison and since then, repeated polls have shown me and continue to show me as the most popular former governor, and I’m very, very honored by that.
Me: Is there anything you did as a governor that you’re particularly proud of?
Governor Edwards: In my first term in the early 1970s, I did something nobody said I could do: write and get a new constitution adopted. We were the first state in twenty-five years to do that on the first try. The constitution is still in effect and has helped us to reduce the size of government, which reduces the cost of government and makes it more effect and more responsible.
Me: Do you have any thoughts about our current political climate?
Governor Edwards: When I was in Congress, we had Republicans and Democrats, and we met in principled compromise and got things done. Now, if the Democrats are for it, the Republicans are against it, and vice versa. That’s not the way to run the government. The government is to serve the people and those who are elected need to understand that.
Me: Parting thoughts?
Govern Edwards: People ask me from time to time what I think is wrong with the country. There’s too much animosity between people of different ideologies. In part, I think it’s because when Congress and state legislatures divided the districts so that they would accommodate either parties or races, they created other districts that had just the opposite. When I was in Congress, I had a district that was 35% black and 65% white. I had to be very careful to represent the best interests of both parties. Now so many people represent only all white districts or all conservative districts, and they have little regard for the liberals and the poor and needy and other people outside of their party. On the other hand, some represent only major black districts and don’t have enough regard for the concerns of white folks. My point is, legislatures and members of Congress should represent districts that combine what is great about America – people of every stripe and religion and economic status - and give them every opportunity to make life better for themselves.