NATCHITOCHES, La., September 17, 2014 — Senator Mary Landrieu returned $33,727.02 to the federal government on Friday, money she used for political travel that her campaign charged to the government as work related.
Landrieu attributed the incorrectly charged flights to “sloppy book keeping,” referring to the charges as “mistakes.”
Mistakes happen, as when the man tripped, and fell out of his clothes and into a prostitute, much to his chagrin. And Louisiana is an unusually mistake-prone state.
Landrieu’s Senate seat is being contested by, among others, Rep. Bill Cassidy, whose congressional seat is being contested in turn by four-time Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards.
Edwards, 86, is known as the Cajun Prince, the Silver Fox, the Lizard, and the Silver Zipper (he seems unable to keep his closed). He wanted to challenge Governor Bobby Jindal for the statehouse, but he was also known as prisoner 03128-095. After spending eight-and-a-half years in a federal prison for extortion, racketeering, mail fraud and money laundering, he will be ineligible for statewide office until 2027.
The man is vigorous – he’s married to a woman over 50 years his junior, and has a new young son – but that’s rather long for him to wait. He is willing to settle for a seat in the United States House of Representatives, a chamber not unaccustomed to men as colorful as Edwards.
Edwards currently leads his race in Louisiana’s Sixth Congressional District, though he’s unlikely to get 50 percent of the vote and will be forced into a runoff. In a runoff, his chances of victory are widely dismissed. It would be foolish to write-off the Silver Zipper too quickly, though. He was widely dismissed after his 1987 loss in the gubernatorial race to Buddy Roemer, and the Shreveport Journal observed that the only way he’d ever win again would be to run against Adolf Hitler.
Accordingly, in 1991 he ran for a third term in the Governor’s Mansion against neo-Nazi and KKK grand wizard David Duke. Governor Roemer also ran, but at that point he was even less popular than Hitler. Political bumper stickers appeared around the state encouraging voters to “Vote fore the Crook. It’s Important.” Edwards swept to victory over Duke, with Roemer a distant third, and on to his place in history and Oakdale’s Federal Corrections Institution.
Edwards isn’t the only Louisiana politician recently imprisoned. In that regard, the state could give Illinois a run for its money (and probably steal it). Representative William J. Jefferson was sentenced in 2009 to 13 years in a federal prison on 11 counts of corruption. In 2005, FBI agents raided his Washington home, where they found $90,000 in Jefferson’s freezer, wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed into containers of frozen food.
The FBI also raided Jefferson’s congressional office, creating an unlikely alliance between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Speaker Dennis Hastert, who demanded that seized documents be returned. Congressional leaders insisted that a raid on congressional offices was a violation of the Constitution, but 86 percent of Americans sided with the FBI, and Thomas Hogan, a federal judge ruled that members of Congress are “generally bound to the operation of the criminal laws as are ordinary persons,” and that Members of Congress are not “super-citizens, immune from criminal responsibility.”
Hogan was eventually overruled by an appellate court, and the Supreme Court declined to review the case, effectively turning every congressional office into a little Louisiana, a taxpayer supported sanctuary for crime.
Corruption, malfeasance, and mistakes aren’t as big a deal in Louisiana as they might be in more buttoned-up states. Louisiana leads the nation in public corruption convictions: nine per 100,000 population. In the last ten years, 403 public officials from Louisiana have been convicted. Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin joins Edwards and Jefferson among the 403, sent to federal prison this year on bribery charges.
Seventy percent of contracts to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina – worth about $7.4 billion – were awarded without bids. Recent years have seen the head of the Louisiana Film Commission, the Senate Ethics Committee chairman, three insurance commissioners, the Orleans Parish School Board president, and New Orleans city council president convicted on corruption charges. Investigators have found that 140 city agencies are not included on any city audit.
Louisiana is culturally the northernmost part of the Caribbean, a mainland toehold of those tropical islands, not just a southern state. New Orleans has more in common with Port au Prince than with Boston. Former Lieutenant Governor Bill Dodd writes that corruption in Louisiana is “a way of life, inherited, and made quasi-respectable and legal by the French freebooters who founded, operated, and left us as the governmental blueprint that is still Louisiana’s constitutional and civil law.”
Governor Earl Long said that Louisianans “don’t want good government, they want good entertainment.” Louisiana politicians have taken that to heart. Edwards observed during the gubernatorial race in 1983, “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.” He also once claimed that it was important that he win because if his opponent won, “there won’t be anything left to steal.”
Edwards has never been anything less than entertaining, and if the cards fall just right, he’ll take his show to Washington. By Louisiana standards, Landrieu is relatively honest and uninteresting. If she loses her race in November, it won’t be because she’s corrupt, but because she has little local color. She’s become a creature of Washington, called by D.C.’s mayor the senator from the District, until they can get their own.
Louisianans forgive corruption, and will even keep on voting for it unless federal prosecutors put our corrupt politicians away. What we’re less likely to forgive is a Senator who forgets who she is and who we are. If only she had gone for more money, and done it brazenly, she might have secured a spot in Louisiana voters’ affections.