As the clock ticks down on George W. Bush’s presidency, so does the last glimmer of hope former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards has of walking out of prison before the end of his ten year sentence for racketeering.
Edwards is scheduled for release on July 6, 2011, the same year Governor Bobby Jindal is up for re-election.
Though a fellow Democrat will be entering the Oval Office on January 20th, Edwards is unlikely to receive mercy from an image obsessed Barack Obama, whose transition has been marred with the arrest of the Democratic governor of Illinois for attempting to sell the president-elect’s US Senate seat.
Furthermore, it is doubtful President Obama will receive any request for clemency from Louisiana’s leading Democrat, as US Senator Mary Landrieu is by no means a fan of Edwards.
Landrieu’s 1995 gubernatorial bid, which in the early days of the race seemed unstoppable, crashed largely due to then-Congressman Cleo Fields’ candidacy, which siphoned away just enough black votes that Landrieu needed to make the runoff. Fields was close with Edwards, as is evident by FBI film that showed him stuffing into his pockets about $20,000 in cash from the former governor. It has been argued that Fields, aware he could not be elected, made the race at Edwards’s behest explicitly to sabotage Landrieu.
It should be noted that Landrieu’s name is conspicuously absent from the list of “who’s who” of Democrats that have stated their support for Edwards’ early release, which includes former US Senators John Breaux and J. Bennett Johnston.
Those arguing for his early release have cited Edwards’s advanced age (he turned 81 in August) and that his political days are behind him.
Opponents to his commutation include Republican US Senator David Vitter, who was a vocal critic of Edwards while serving in the state legislature, and US Attorney Jim Letten, who helped convict Edwards and stands by the fairness of the sentence handed down against the former governor.
A number of Republicans have also championed Edwards’s cause, with none being more prominent or ironic than Dave Treen, the state’s first GOP governor since Reconstruction and who lost his office to Edwards in 1983. Treen had also lost a gubernatorial election to Edwards in 1972.
If rejection at the polls was not enough of an indignity, Edwards’ caustic rhetoric against Treen’s personal mannerisms made the experience a near-total humiliation.
Many Louisianans are familiar with Edwards’ quip that the notoriously deliberative Treen was so slow that it took him a half hour to watch 60 Minutes, a wisecrack that still haunts the Republican.
Edwards also mocked the incumbent’s diminishing hopes of re-election by claiming the only way he could lose was by being caught in bed with either a live boy or a dead girl. Edwards backed up his taunts by rolling up a landslide victory over Treen.
Despite Treen’s status as grandfather of the Louisiana Republican Party (and for that matter Edwards’s status as “dead beat dad” of the party for pushing through the open primary that led to a swell of Republican registrations), the former governor’s pleadings to the Republican White House were likely undermined by Treen’s endorsement of Democrat Mary Landrieu’s re-election bid for US Senator against a fellow Republican, State Treasurer John N. Kennedy, that had been aggressively recruited by the national GOP and whose candidacy was personally supported by President Bush.
Though George H.W. Bush has also signed his name to the Edwards commutation effort, the former president’s support has not resulted in his son taking action on the request.
Some time ago I asked someone fairly high up the White House food chain about the odds of Edwards being sent home early. The reply was in the negative. The source claimed that since the former governor has refused to admit his guilt, the president was not inclined to budge, since some people would infer that a commutation would mean that Edwards was wrongly imprisoned.
Edwards, who is penning his memoirs while biding his time behind bars, is probably aware that an admission of wrongdoing is a sine qua non for any hope of clemency, though he continues to maintain his innocence. At least in the matter he was sent to jail for.
Instead of petitioning President Bush, Edwards’s allies might do better to mail the former governor good health tips if they ever want to see him on the other side of a prison fence since Bush, who has shown an ultra-sensitivity about his legacy and is mindful how his predecessor’s mishandling of pardons tainted his record, seems to content to make his final mark as president by being parsimonious about pardons and commutations.