Did You Know That a Klansman Almost Became Governor of Louisiana?
"For almost a year Louisiana was the laughingstock of the nation."
That was the way that our state's gubernatorial election of 1991 was described by two of our area's most astute political analysts. That was the year that a Ku Klux Klan grand wizard ran for Louisiana's highest office against a former governor who was being investigated for criminal activity.
In the fall of '91 everybody in the state knew that incumbent Governor Buddy Roemer was on the way out. And the sitting governor's lack-of-popularity was confirmed when Roemer finished third behind fellow Democrat and ex-guv Edwards and Republican Duke, a smooth talker who positioned himself as the only conservative in the race.
Edwards and Duke finished one-two in Louisiana's "jungle primary" and the pair squared off in a general election that put the state in the national spotlight...and what the nation saw wasn't very flattering.
The question of his participation in a historically violent, racist organization came up again and again, but the unflappable Duke had a standard response. His stock answer was to apologize for his past and declare himself a "born-again Christian."
Edwards, meanwhile, had his own skeletons, having been under investigation by various law enforcement organizations going back to his previous time in office. In fact, it was Edwards, taking hold of his own unsavory history, that gave rise to the campaign's most memorable slogan: "Vote for the crook. It's important."
Perhaps the turning point in the race came during an interview with a reporter from West Monroe, when Duke was unable to give a precise answer about where he went to church. In the eyes of most political experts, it was a gaffe from which the GOP candidate never recovered.
Things got down-and-dirty in the final days of the race, with Duke claiming that Edwards had mocked the crucifixion of Christ and had strayed from his marriage. Edwards responded in his own inimitable style by responding that, "The only thing we have in common is we're both wizards under the sheets."
Come election day in November, the result seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Edwards trounced the born-again wizard, getting more than 60% of the vote.
Edwards, the state's four term governor, passed away earlier this week at 93. He was also convicted of extortion and money laundering in 2002. He was released from prison in 2011.
Duke made a number of runs for political office, including the United States Senate and House of Representatives. Most recently, he was portrayed by actor Toper Grace in the Spike Lee movie, "BlacKkKlansman."