Nov 26 9:00 PM

Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, 86, to run again

Edwin Edwards looks at his newborn son with Soledad O'Brien.
America Tonight

Tune in for Soledad O'Brien's profile of Edwin Edwards at 9 p.m. and midnight ET.

Update March 18, 2014: On Monday, former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards officially announced his plans for a comeback -- not as governor, as he suggested before, but as the representative for the state's 6th Congressional Distict. Edwards, who last served in the House in the 1960s, declared at the Press Club of Baton Rouge: "I acknowledge there are good reasons I should not run. But there are better reasons why I should." Adding: "Once and for all I'm positive I can run and I'm confident I can win."

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In a state known for colorful characters, Edwards may be one of the boldest.

Edwards, now 86, looks at least a decade younger than his age, and tells me that he has big plans. Retirement is not among them. Edwards is hoping to run, again, for governor. All that stops him is a statute barring convicted felons from doing so until 15 years after the end of their prison term. 

Edwin Edwards and Elvis
Gov. Edwin Edwards meeting with Elvis Presley.
Courtesy of Leo Honeycutt

Convicted of racketeering and mail fraud in how he awarded riverboat casino contracts, Edwards has only been out of federal prison for two years. When I ask him about the statute banning ex-cons from running for office, he tells me: "I've got people working on that." 

Edwards is legendary for his sharp tongue, slick wardrobe and womanizing. He says with some pride that his third wife, Trina, who's 50 years his junior and the mother of their 3-month-old baby, caused a stir among the prisoners every time she came to visit him in prison.

Trina, who has two older boys, hangs in the background while we do the interview. She is nursing baby Eli, or trying to catch a little sleep after a rough night up with the baby.  

The last few months have been grueling: a difficult pregnancy, birth and the couple's recent foray into reality TV. "The Governor's Wife," which aired on A&E, was her idea, Edwards says. The season was hastily concluded just a few weeks after its October debut, and the network has announced no plans for another. 

These days, Edwards lives in a large home near a golf course outside the state capital, Baton Rouge, with his new family. But when I suggest taking a break from politics, he says playing golf is not in his plans for retirement.

“How 'bout resting on the couch?" I ask. 

"That's for old people," he retorts. 

Edwin Edwards and Bob Hope
Gov. Edwin Edwards talks with Bob Hope.
Courtesy of Leo Honeycutt

Edwards is a natural politician, charming with a slow drawl and great sense of humor. The only politician in the state to ever work in all three branches of government and serve four gubernatorial terms, Edwin was a reformer, a civil rights advocate and, thanks to an oil boom in Louisiana, a big spender with a knack for balancing the budget. 

But his critics say Edwards turned the state into a joke.

"He made us a laughingstock. And that's a shame," says Clancy DuBos, editor of the New Orleans alternative weekly the Gambit and a longtime political reporter. "Believe me, what he got convicted for was probably just the tip of the iceberg of the things that he did. That's just what they caught him on." 

But Edwards' popularity persists. A 2011 poll found that 30 percent of likely voters considered him the state’s best governor in 40 years – second only to the current governor, Bobby Jindal.  

As we zip around his neighborhood in a golf cart, Edwards waves and honks the horn at everyone, and they wave back. The son of a sharecropper and midwife never seems to forget where he came from.

"Everyone should have the life I lived," he said.

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