Saturday, August 23, 2008

Politics and Hurricane Katrina

I originally posted this post in a two part series in March 07. I thought I would dust it off and re-post it, not because I am lazy (I am), but because I spent a lot of time on the post and this is the anniversary of Katrina (August 23, 2005 was the day Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and changed so many lives). I have made some minor changes.

When I was in middle school, I can remember a lot of talk about Fidel Castro. The story that I remember most is that Fidel Castro was a minor league baseball player. I did not remember all the facts concerning the Bay of Pigs or the Cuban Missile Crisis (hence my poor Social Studies grades). And I just learned that the story is false.

That leads me to think about how other people have affected history by what they did or did not do. I want to tell you a story today, but I am not sure if I can maintain my one page blog rule.

If I asked a group of people to list the most corrupt states in the United States, one name would rise to the top. That state would be Louisiana.1. And if you could list the most corrupt people in that state over the last twenty years, one name would also be set apart from the rest: Edwin Edwards. Edwin Edwards was first governor from 1972 to 1980, and in the state of Louisiana, you cannot run for a third term in a row. You can sit out one term and then run again, but you cannot be governor three terms in a row.

Huey P. Long, "the Kingfish", was an amazing politician, the model of the corrupt politician. My favorite quote of his: "One of these days the people of Louisiana are going to get good government - and they aren't going to like it." Edwards was more corrupt than the Kingfish. Oh, and Edwards has been in jail since October 2002. I guess that is better than being shot (Huey Long was shot – some say he was shot by one of his own bodyguards when his assailant, Carl Weiss, punched him).

Back to Edwin Edwards.

In his second term, he was positioning himself to take the office back. In Louisiana, a Republican has not been elected governor since the Civil War – that happened a lot in the South. Southern Democrats run the gambit – from conservative to liberal. So the fight is in the primary – once a Democrat won the primary, beating up the Republican was not a problem.

Edwin Edwards instituted a different type of voting, "patronage voting" or something like that. Basically, everybody runs in the same primary, and the top two vote-getters run in the general election. And you might think Edwin Edwards proposed this change in the election process to benefit the fine people of Louisiana. But since we are talking about politics, let's assume he did it to benefit himself. And knowing Edwards, perhaps this benefitted his pocketbook as well. So when Edwin Edwards left office in 1980, he was delighted when David Treen (the first Republican Governor of Louisiana) was elected over a very liberal Democrat.

Edwin Edwards won re-election in 1983, a couple of years after one of Edwards closest friends was indicted after an FBI sting. There were tapes that showed close ties between members of the Edwards administration and a New Orleans mob boss. Edwards was not indicted for his involvement.

Edwards, being Edwards, in his role of governor, went to trial for shaking down $1.9 million in bribes to secure hospital licenses. He was not convicted, but because of this and several other things, he was not re-elected in 1988.

Buddy Roemer was elected, mostly because of Edwards ethically challenged character. Edwards dropped out of the 1987 race, and one columnist stated, "The only way Edwards can ever be reelected is to run against Adolph Hitler."

And as luck would have it (for Edwards, not for the people of Louisiana), an Adolph Hitler character ran in 1991.

For the 1991 election, Republicans and Democrats and every other flavor of politician ran together in the primary, and the two top vote-getters would face one another in the general election.

Incumbent Buddy Roemer and 3-time Governor Edwards were running neck and neck, with a third candidate trailing far behind. Buddy Roemer had switched parties, theorizing that he could take both the Republican vote and moderate conservatives as well.

Edwards was a crafty politician, and his staff dug up a quote about Roemer supporting Michael Dukakis over President Bush (he said, "Dan Quail made up my mind."). This did not sit well with conservatives.

When the ballots were counted in the primary, Edwards received 33.8% of the vote, the candidate who was running third in most polls received a surprising 31.7% of the vote, and incumbent Roemer received 26.5% of the vote and was eliminated from the race.

Edwards was prepared to run against his opponent, and it is reported that Edward's staff counseled Edwards to stop dating 20-year-olds. Some reports surfaced that his dates should be at least 25.

Some facts about Edward's opponent:

1. There was a 1989 photo of him shaking hands with the head of the American Nazi Party.
2. Even though Edwards was dating 20-year-olds, this man had been accused of dating at least one 17-year-old. Edwards said of his opponent that he "is not a womanizer. He is a little-girlizer."
3. He made several public anti-Semitic remarks (and said that the Holocaust was a hoax).
4. When asked about issues, he was usually caught off-guard. He, for example, could not name any of the top three employers in the state.
5. He had stated publicly that blacks were inferior to whites.

During the election, Edward's opponent renounced many of the things he had said previously.

Edwards won the election with about 61% of the vote. Buddy Roemer, when leaving office, said that Edwards "for twenty years created a hunger for integrity, was saved in the end by having a man run against him who has less integrity."

One of his first acts after moving back into the governor's mansion was to appoint Robert Harvey, to head the Orleans District levee board. Robert Harvey's qualification for this appointment: contributing $5,000 to Edwards campaign.

The headway that previous administrations had made about forcing the Army Corps of Engineers to built higher levees were forgotten. Over the next few years, the levee board was preoccupied with other priorities.

Oh, and the man who ran against Edwards – the man who was more crooked than a master crook? David Duke.

So you see, gentle reader, some could argue that David Duke, making it into the general election, is in part responsible for having levees that were not high enough to protect New Orleans. You see, Robert Harvey did not give $5,000 to the Duke campaign. And that (insert Paul Harvey pause) is the rest of the story.

1Louisiana has the reputation of being the most corrupt state, but in a recent study, here is how the most corrupt states ranked: (1) Mississippi, (2) North Dakota and (3) Louisiana. The only question I have is: North Dakota? Are you serious?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Watching the Olympics

sexy Olympic Beach Vollyball Cheergirl performance member
A member of the beach volleyball cheergirl performance group practices her routine at the Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball Ground ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympics on August 3, 2008 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)