No tipping: The day we inherited a Louisiana governor’s table

It may not have been an original quote, but it goes into history in Edwin Edwards’ obituary, so we’ll give him credit for creating it.

The only way he’d lose the 1983 gubernatorial election in Louisiana, Edwards said, if he were caught “in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.”

He also said of his opponent that year that he was “so slow, it takes him an hour and a half to watch ’60 Minutes.’”

Craven, dishonest, pandering, incompetent politicians disgust me. There are no shortage of them who appear on the ballot in my area code.

That said, there’s this intrigue that comes with some of the charming rogues of political history. The ones who know they’re crooked, you know they’re crooked, they know you know they’re crooked – but they also get some things done.

I suspect I’d be disgusted by Edwin Edwards had I grown up in Louisiana. He was blatantly crooked, grew filthy rich from corporations and donors who courted him and ultimately wound up doing time. From the outside, he was some caricature of the old Southern politician shaking hands with his right and picking your pocket with his left. One of those intriguing political science stories that delight you — as long as you’re not one of his constituents.

The dichotomy of his career was best summed up by The Advocate in its obituary this past week:

“Former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, who embodied Louisiana’s populist era in the late 20th century — championing the poor and ushering Black people and women into state government but also facing repeated accusations of corruption before finally being sent to prison for taking bribes — died Monday at his home in Gonzales.”

He shared that home with his 42-year-old third wife and a son he fathered in 2013 at age 85.

“I’m 90 years old and I woke up Friday and took my son to preschool,” Edwards told a crowd gathered to celebrate his birthday – at $250 per guest – years after his release from an 8 ½-year prison term.

None of which, you’ve been saying, has anything to do with sports. But, as my friend Mark Wiedmer from the Chattanooga Times Free Press just recalled a couple of weeks ago, there was an intersection of sports and politics, with Edwin Edwards as the centerpiece.

On the eve of the 1988 SEC Basketball Tournament in Baton Rouge, Wiedmer, myself and several other sportswriters headed to lunch near our hotel. A Bennigan’s, I seem to recall, maybe an Applebee’s. One of that breed.

With our large group, we had to wait a few minutes for a table. The table we were awaiting, we noticed, was occupied by some men in suits, a few Louisiana state troopers and the unmistakable sight of Gov. Edwin Edwards. (As I look back at the dates, I see it was actually the penultimate day of Edwards’ third term, having lost the recent election.)

When we were finally seated at the vacated table, I couldn’t resist asking the server.

“How much of a tip did the Governor leave?”

She just about did a spit-take.

“They didn’t even pay the bill, much less leave a tip,” she said. Then, holding up a driver’s license, “One of the troopers left this behind for security and said they’d be back.”

Three-term governor, and he does a dine-and-dash. With state troopers, no less.

Laissez bon temps rouler, indeed.

The terrific obit in The Advocate, written by Tyler Bridges, noted that “the question for history is whether he employed those formidable (political) skills to benefit the public or his pocketbook.”

For at least one March day in 1988, I know the answer.

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