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Former La. Governor Edwin Edwards has died at 93

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 7:48 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 12, 2021 at 9:02 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Edwin Edwards, the longest-serving governor in Louisiana history, has passed away at the age of 93.

The former governor died peacefully Monday morning at his home in Gonzales, La. with family and friends by his bedside. Louisiana’s only four-term governor died of respiratory problems that had plagued him in recent years, doctors said. Edwards was less than a month short of his 94th birthday.

On Monday, July 5, Edwards had placed himself in hospice care following a trip the day before by ambulance to nearby Our Lady of the Lake St. Elizabeth Hospital with complaints of pain in his right lung. Physicians took X-rays and a CAT scan of both lungs but said the tests revealed nothing.

Current Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued the following statement about the former governor’s passing.

“Few people have made such an indelible mark on our state as Governor Edwin Edwards. At just 17, he joined the Navy during World War II, beginning a lifetime of service to his state and country. He represented Louisiana’s 7th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives and served as the state’s only four-term governor, leading Louisiana through pivotal years of growth including launching efforts to create the state’s current constitution. Gov. Edwards was a fervent supporter of civil rights and ensured that his administration was as diverse as Louisiana, a commitment I have also made as governor. Edwin was a larger than life figure known for his wit and charm, but he will be equally remembered for being a compassionate leader who cared for the plight of all Louisianans. Our state has lost a giant, and we will miss him dearly. Donna and I send our deepest condolences to his wife, Trina, family and all who were blessed to call him a friend and ask everyone to join us in praying for God to comfort them during this difficult time.”

Known for his charm, quick wit, and clever one-liners, Edwards was one of the state’s most popular governors in its history.

A Democrat and father of five, he served four terms as governor including 1972 to 1980, 1984 to 1988, and 1992 to 1996.

Born near Marksville, La., a young Edwards first thought he would eventually become a pastor. He joined the United States Navy in 1944, when he was just 17-years-old. Edwards later became a lawyer before settling down for his true love of politics.

He entered politics in 1954 and became a councilman for the City of Crowley, La. He remained councilman until his election into the Louisiana State Senate in 1964. It would be decades before Edwards would lose an election.

After serving in the state Senate for less than two years, Edwards was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Louisiana’s 7th Congressional District, a position which he held from 1965 to 1972.

When he entered the race for Louisiana governor, Edwards defeated 17 candidates in the Democratic primary. In the general election in 1972, Edwards defeated Republican Dave Treen to win the office.

During his first term as governor, Edwards quickly accomplished many things and became an extremely popular governor. He had tremendous support from southern Louisiana and cruised to a second term. He appointed more women and people of color to work with him than any other governor had previously.

His tenure as governor in the 1970s ended with a huge boom to the state’s oil and gas industry. He greatly expanded the state’s oil revenues by basing severance taxes on a percentage of the price of each barrel rather than the former flat rate. Edwards knew the constitution would keep him from running for a third consecutive term. He had to sit out from politics briefly, but made a promise he would be back.

In 1983, he started his comeback and went after then governor, Dave Treen. During a heated debate, Treen thought he had Edwards on the ropes, and asked him how he could talk out of both sides of his mouth. Edwards quickly shot back, “So people like you, with only half a brain, can understand me.” It was in this race that Edwards also famously said Dave Treen was “so slow that it took him an hour and half to watch 60 Minutes.” In fact, Edwards was so confident he could beat a wounded Treen that he famously joked with reporters, “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.”

In his third term, things started to turn south for Edwards as oil prices took a nose dive. The high levels of spending on social programs that had kept Edwards so popular were now starting to choke him.

U.S. Attorney John Volz began investigating Edwards, ultimately indicting him on racketeering charges. Volz alleged Edwards was getting kickbacks on lucrative hospital projects in the state. The first trial ended with a hung jury.

Volz would try to go at Edwards again, but Edwards beat him and won with an acquittal.

However, the trials took a toll on Edwards and his reputation. Republican Buddy Roemer fought in the 1987 gubernatorial election and won a runoff with Edwards. Sensing his first ever defeat, Edwards pulled out of the race on the night of the runoff election.

Roemer inherited a state with a wide range of problems and struggled as governor.

In 1991, Edwards was primed to make a second comeback. However, many of his friends encouraged him not to run for governor again, believing he had no chance at winning. The sitting governor, Roemer, did not even make the runoff. Instead, the race would be between Edwin Edwards and former Klu Klux Klan grand wizard, David Duke.

The race between Edwards and a white supremacist gained national attention. Even Republican President George Bush said he would pick Edwards. Edwards would beat Duke and become the only person in Louisiana’s history to ever be elected to four gubernatorial terms. As the 90s kicked off, Edwards became the first governor to issue an order protecting gay individuals from discrimination in a state contract.

In 1998, Edwards was indicted on federal charges. San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo admitted paying Edwards a $400,000 bribe for the governor’s helping in getting him a Louisiana riverboat gaming license.

Edwards was found guilty of several charges including extortion, racketeering and money laundering. He served eight years in federal prison. Years after his release from prison, in 2014, Edwards made another attempt at public office by running for Congress. However, he lost the race to Republican Garret Graves.

Edwards was married three times. He and his wife, Elaine, were married for 40 years. He married his last wife, Trina, after his release from prison and they remained together until his death. Trina gave birth to a son in 2013.

Edwin Edwards dealt with a host of medical issues in his final years but remained upbeat. In July 2021, he announced he would start hospice care at home. “I’ve made no bones that I have considered myself on borrowed time for 20 years and we each know that all this fun has to end at some point,” he said.

Flags will be flown at half-staff throughout the day of Edwin Edwards’ interment, Gov. Edwards said.

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