S1: Is it true that he is kind of private and quiet, like introverted person when he is by himself? Are you asking me or him asking him if you want to weigh in, too? That’s right.
S2: He definitely is.
S3: That’s Trina Edwards. We were talking about her husband, Edwin Edwards, the former governor of Louisiana. Trina is almost 42 and Edwin will be 93 in August. She was passing along my questions because he has a hard time hearing over the phone.
S2: Is it true that you’re a quiet, kind of introverted person when you’re not in public? When you’re home by yourself?
S4: Well, I’m a very different person when I’m not on the stage. The way I am. I’m very quiet and private and I don’t drink at all. I don’t use drugs at all. And so now. Most fun to have in life is taking care of my seven year old child. And my wife, Trina, is Edwins third wife.
S3: They’ve been married since 2011. The two of them met when she started writing him letters and federal prison. Edwards served eight years on corruption charges. He was convicted of rigging casino licenses during his final term as governor when he got out. He and Trina brought their relationship to reality TV.
S5: Their main story is the governor’s wife.
S3: Their show went off the air after eight episodes. Since then, Edwards has run for Congress and lost, and he’s had a couple of health scares, but he still has a remarkable command of Louisiana political history, much of which he shaped during his four terms as governor. To understand David Duke, you need to understand what makes Louisiana politics distinctive, the unique alliances, the entrenched corruption and the charismatic figures who’ve molded the state and their own images. And Edwin Edwards is Louisiana politics personified. Edwards first gubernatorial campaign began in 1971.
S4: First of all, I spoke French and then in 1971, there were still people, all the people in Louisiana who understood English, but they prefer to hear and speak in France. Maysam French accent It helped me with that particular group of people.
S6: I mean, he had a coalition, a distinctly Louisiana coalition. He had Cajun’s in blacks.
S3: That’s Marc Morial. He worked with Edwards as the state legislator and as the mayor of New Orleans in Louisiana.
S6: If you can put those two voting bases together in those days, it was an unbeatable coalition.
S3: Unlike most of his white Democratic peers, Edwards was an unabashed civil rights champion. He invited black Louisianans to work in government positions and helped craft a state constitution that outlawed discrimination. He also made Louisiana richer as governor, Edwards helped change how crude oil got taxed. Moving from a flat fee per barrel to a percentage of the barrel price when oil prices shot up. State revenues soared. So did Edwin Edwards. His popularity. Story is about Edwards’s gambling and womanizing didn’t hurt him with voters. My asthma of corruption and scandal that hung over his administration didn’t damage him either. There were six grand jury investigations during Edwards’s first term. But he wasn’t indicted in any of those cases. It seemed like the silver haired, silver tongued governor could talk his way out of anything. When asked about some iffy political donations, Edwards said it was illegal for them to give, but not for me to receive. Edwards led Louisiana for eight years, leaving office in March 1980. The only thing stopping him from being governor for life for term limits that Edwards himself had pushed for. So he went on a brief hiatus, sitting out the next election cycle, then returning in 1983 to reclaim his throne in the last days of that campaign. Edwards fired off his most famous one liner.
S4: The only way to lose this election is if I got caught in bed with a dead girl or alive boy. And that took on a life of its own and has been quoted many times since by other people. It’s good enough for you.
S1: Thank you, Trina. Does he regret saying that or is he happy that he said it?
S2: Guaranteed. I regret anything he’s ever done. How do you regret saying that? Are you happy you said that?
S4: No. It’s one of the things that I said that people identify with, man. But it was kind of funny.
S3: Edwards was right to believe that 1983 election was a lock, he’d win it with 62 percent of the vote. To celebrate his victory, he did something audacious, even by Edwin Edwards standards.
S7: If there’s one thing Louisiana Governor elect Edwin Edwards knows, it’s how to have a good time, even with a four million dollar campaign deficit staring him down. Edwards chartered two jumbo jets, announced he was going to Paris and invited anyone willing to contribute ten thousand dollars to come on along.
S3: More than 600 people joined Edwards on that trip to France, which was touted as the largest single political fundraiser ever thrown by an American politician. The writer Roy Blunt Jr on assignment for People magazine went along for the ride.
S8: You know, the whole deal did not smell of righteousness. That’s for sure. But as some people said, it’s hard to be proper and have a real good time.
S3: The French speaking Edwards and his crew of Louisianans, eight high class cuisine at the palace of Vici.
S8: The governor also received a warm greeting from a nun outside Notre Dame Cathedral, and she gave him what she described as a French kiss, which was actually, course, more like a nun’s kiss. But she could take a joke. And so he said, OK, sister, but just don’t let me get into the habit. And all of his supporters gathered round, cheered and beamed. And that’s the kind of thing they had come to Paris for.
S3: The party ended for Edwin Edwards as soon as those jumbo jets landed back in Louisiana.
S9: The campaign of 83 was great. It was one of the finest experiences of my life. The service in the governor’s office from 84 to 87. It was not. It was it was a very difficult experience.
S3: That said Moreland, he was Edwin Edwards, his assistant. By the mid 1980s, oil and gas revenues had plummeted and the state was facing a huge deficit. Edwards tried to fill that hole with tax increases. His constituents didn’t find that rakish or charming.
S9: You know, when you’re trying to raise taxes on people who are really struggling already, it’s a very precarious political situation to be in. So this tax package was probably the beginning of his unpopularity.
S3: In February 1985, Edwin Edwards is run of bad luck. Got a whole lot worse.
S7: The 50 count federal indictment charges Governor Edwards and six others, including his brother and a nephew with racketeering and fraud and a multimillion dollar scheme involving the effective sale of state approval for a medical facility. Construction projects.
S3: Edwards was accused basically of accepting bribes to steer state money to his friends. The trial dragged on somehow for 14 weeks. Moreland spent most of it on a pay phone outside the New Orleans courtroom.
S9: I was constantly calling the governor’s office in Baton Rouge and getting the phone messages and returning those phone calls and explaining to people under the circumstances, you know, the governor can’t talk to you right this minute.
S10: And we tried to be as diplomatic about it as he could. And, of course, most people knew where he was and what he was going through. But they’d call anyway.
S3: The case ended in a mistrial. Edwards was later retried and found not guilty. When that verdict came in, the prosecutor said, if we didn’t make him honest, I hope we made him sorry. When I asked Edwards about the case, he didn’t sound all that sorry.
S4: That was an example of a stupid prosecutor who didn’t know anything about what was happening.
S1: Did it bother him when people said he was profiting from his role as the governor?
S2: Did it bother you when people said you were profiting from your role as governor?
S4: No, because there’s no truth to it. That didn’t bother me at all. I just laughed about it.
S3: Edwards may have been laughing, but he was still in a precarious spot. In good times. Most people in Louisiana loved his misadventures. But these weren’t good times. The boom years of the 1970s were long gone. In 1987, Louisiana was ready for a change.
S11: I notice my opponents don’t make many people angry. That doesn’t surprise you, does it? Politics as usual. I don’t like Louisiana politics. I love Louisiana. I love Louisiana enough to make some people angry.
S3: Buddy Roemer was a congressman from North Louisiana. In the last four weeks of the 1987 governor’s race, he zoomed from fifth to first in the polls, buoyed by folksy TV ads and a string of newspaper endorsements. Roemer led Edwards by five percentage points after the first round of voting. Setting the stage for a runoff. But when Edwards emerged after one a.m. to greet his supporters, he made a move that nobody had anticipated.
S12: And I have determined that under the circumstances, since I did not run first, that it would be inappropriate for me to continue this election.
S11: Supporters were stunned. Some of this family cried.
S13: He’s 16. He’s been governor 12 years. He said that’s long enough. Most voters thought so, too.
S3: There would be no runoff, Romer would be the next governor of Louisiana. And Edwin Edwards. It looked to outside observers like his career was finished. But that’s not how Edwards saw it dropping out of the race. That was the first step in his comeback plan.
S10: I spoke with him that night. And he he was absolutely resolute that, oh, look, you know, I’m going to let him have it. I’m going to turn it over to him. He’s been going all over this state saying he’s going to fix this. He’s going to fix that. And he’s going to disintegrate. You mark my word.
S14: Edwards had it all mapped out. He would let Roemer run the state for a few difficult years, then reemerge to save the day. It wouldn’t be that simple. The nineteen ninety one election would be about a lot more than who got to sleep in the governor’s mansion. It would be a fight over what Louisiana was and what it should be. And Edwin Edwards and Buddy Roemer wouldn’t be the only ones in that battle. In 1991, David Duke was at the height of his powers. He’d honed his message, built a rabid fan base and come shockingly close to getting elected to the U.S. Senate. The governor’s race would be the culmination of his life’s work. This was Duke’s chance to turn his words into actions, to take control of an entire state and make it into whatever he wanted. This is Slow Burn. I’m Josh Levine. Episode five, The Road to Hell.
S3: When Edwin Edwards was three years old, the governor of Louisiana had a man kidnapped. It was 1930 and the governor was Huey Long. The guy who got snatched was about to expose rampant graft in state government. Four days after he disappeared, the victim reemerged to say, not at all credibly, that he’d staged the kidnapping himself. In a radio broadcast, the man announced that Governor Huey Long was his best friend in the world. Long was shot and killed at the state capital. Five years later. A lot of people in Louisiana will tell you that he was the best friend the state ever had. Yes, Long was a corrupt dictator. And sure, he orchestrated a kidnapping. But he also built bridges and hospitals and paid for it all with money. He’d pried free from the big oil companies. Edwin Edwards carried on Huey Long tradition of economic populism like Long, Edwards use money snatched from Big Oil to build bridges and hospitals, all that. And he finished construction of the Louisiana Superdome. David Duke, on the other hand, said he wouldn’t follow Long’s example.
S11: We need another populist, not a populist like yeary law for more government, but a populist for the state of Louisiana, for less government and more power to the people. Thank you.
S3: In reality, Duke’s brand of populism had nothing to do with shrinking government. It was built on racial resentment. Duke’s message, the journalist John McGinnis wrote, held a lot of appeal for the children and grandchildren of Huey Long’s old voters. I doubt the Duke cared one way or the other about Long’s policies, but he did respect the man’s power and fame and reference it to make a point about his own celebrity.
S15: The ladies that do the tours, the state capital not far from here, they always tell me. They say, you know, there’s two things people want to see when they come the state capitol in Baton Rouge. They want to see where Huey Long was shot and where David Duke says.
S3: Buddy Roemer offered voters a third option, a complete break from the sleaze and self dealing that had marred Louisiana politics from the long era to the present day. The Harvard educated Roemer said that Long’s legacy was something for nothing. Somebody else pays. Roemer promised a new era of responsibility, one that would earn his home state national respect. He called this the Roemer revolution.
S7: Most people in America will never come to Louisiana.
S16: Most people in America will know us only by our reputation. I’ll put Louisiana first and we’ll make them stop laughing and start listening.
S3: Roemer’s big initiative was a plan to modernize the state’s approach to taxation.
S17: One day early and with votes to spare. Tax reform finally made it through the Louisiana legislature.
S16: We’re talking a new way of approaching our old problems that are eating us alive.
S3: Romer was adamant that his fiscal reform plan was not a tax increase. He said it would just shift more of the burden to people with higher incomes. In the spring of 1989, he made that pitch to Louisiana’s voters who needed to approve the proposal in a statewide referendum. David Duke, then a newly elected state legislator, was one of the governor’s most outspoken critics.
S18: Overall, it’s a six hundred and twenty five million dollar tax increase. And this from a governor who swore to us he would not raise taxes.
S16: I’m going to ignore David Duke. I mean, I don’t care what the American Nazi Party thinks about this program.
S3: A lot of people in Louisiana did care what David Duke had to say. Duke staged a series of rallies across the state railing against Roemer and presenting himself as the champion of the working class. At one event, a Louisiana anti-tax Tea Party, he climbed aboard a riverboat and tossed some tea into the Mississippi River. You don’t raise taxes in a recession. Duke said you don’t tax your way into prosperity.
S13: The blues on the streets of New Orleans are now being sung in the governor’s mansion after voters resoundingly rejected new taxes, digging Louisiana’s already troubled economy ever deeper in debt and forcing reform minded Governor Buddy Roemer to scramble his way out of a new financial crisis.
S3: As of May 1989, the Roma revolution was pretty much dead. Later that year, Roemer’s wife Patti left him when the political consultant, Raymond Strother, visited Romer in early 1991. The governor was still in a deep funk.
S19: He said, I’m glad to see a major hill. He said, I need to write a letter to Patty. I know I’ve made some mistakes, but he said, I want her to come home. And you said, help me write this letter. You’re a good writer.
S3: Strother said that he wasn’t the man for that job. His own wife had just left him a few weeks earlier. But Strother, who’d helped Romer win in 1987, was available to work on the governor’s re-election campaign.
S20: He said, move, move into the mansion. And I did. And it was nice. You know, you have a dry cleaners downstairs and you put your shoes outside the door every night and they come to start the next day. Shand and every now when I go to my room, there’ll be a pitcher of milk and ice and some still warm cookies. How good were the cookies? The cookies were splendid. They were baked every afternoon and sometimes again just before breakfast. So I always had fresh Cokes that probably gained 10 pounds. I was already fat.
S21: So apart from the cookies, Strother has no fond memories of working on Rohmer’s re-election. The first big conflict came when a new agey rumor advisor named Danny Walker suggested that the governor wear a rubber band around his wrist.
S20: And he said, well, every time you have a bad thought, if you pop that rubber band in Krauser pain, pretty soon you won’t be having bad thoughts. I said, keep your damn rubber bands yourself.
S21: Danny Roemer actually liked the rubber band idea. The governor also embraced Robert Fulcrums book. All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten, which touted the virtues of sharing everything and playing fair.
S20: But he was into that guru sort of stuff, touchy feely. I can’t stand that kind of thing.
S21: After reading that self-help guide, the governor decided he’d been too abrasive in his State of the State address.
S3: Romer apologized to the legislature for his inflexibility and insensitivity.
S22: Let’s say good bye to me and hello. Do we? Let’s say good bye to lines in the same.
S1: For Strother, the self-help stuff was bad. But what happened next was worse.
S19: One day at the mansion, he happened upon a meeting that he wasn’t supposed to know about Marcel Mary Matalin, a whole bunch of high echelon Republicans sitting around a table would by the dining room table, buddy. And I said, oh, my God.
S23: Romer had always been conservative as a congressman. He tended to vote with Republican President Ronald Reagan and against his own Democratic Party. But Strothers says Romer had always assured him he wouldn’t move to the GOP. He broke that promise in March nineteen ninety one. Romer explained himself at a press conference outside the White House, where President George H.W. Bush had just welcomed him into the Republican fold.
S22: I would say the party is not the most important thing in American families are integrity, ideals, commitment, principles. Those are more important. And on those issues, I never change. But when it comes to political action, I will be a Republican and proudly walk in the park.
S23: Romer was the first sitting governor in modern American history to switch parties. Ideology aside, Romer thought the move was smart strategy. Edwin Edwards was going to grab votes from his left. No matter what, Romer figured that branding himself a Republican would help stave off right wing challengers who might threaten his re-election.
S22: The statewide polls showed that the top three candidates are Duke, Edwards and myself. And the last poll I was in the 40s. Edwards in the 30s. And Duke ten, eleven or twelve with some undecided. I felt good about the politics.
S23: Raymond Strother did not feel good about the politics.
S19: It was a dumb move for him and me. It was just a dumb move.
S3: Democrats in Louisiana felt burned by Romer and Republicans, including state party officials, weren’t sure they could trust him either. Billy Nungesser, the Republican chair who’d undercut the effort to censure David Duke, resented that Romer hadn’t included him in discussions about the party switch and Romer forgetting the lessons of all I ever needed to know, I learned in kindergarten cast out. Nungesser. Rather than trying to appease him. The Louisiana Republicans made their endorsement in the governor’s race at a state convention in June 1991. That endorsement wouldn’t go to Buddy Roemer or David Duke. The GOP, his choice was a pro-life congressman named Clyde Holloway, the preferred candidate of the Christian Coalition. Romer, knowing that he wouldn’t get endorsed, didn’t bother to show up at the convention. Duke and his supporters made their presence known. Here’s how the anti-drug activist Beth Rickey described the scene in 1991.
S24: It was like a Duke convention. They were just booing indiscriminately, anything and everybody, and they were just wild and they were. Then Duke was egging them on, you know, to disrupt things. They had to sing Dixie to quiet them down, quite literally. They tried. God bless America. And the Battle Hymn of the Republic. But it wasn’t until I saw it saying I wish I were in the land of cotton that the hush fell over the convention.
S3: Buddy Roemer had tried to consolidate the conservative vote. That plan had been a total failure. The splintering of the Louisiana Republican Party would be a gift to Edwin Edwards and to David Duke. No other state does elections like Louisiana. The credit for that or the blame belongs to Edwin Edwards. The first time he ran for governor, Edwards had to compete in three separate races, a close Democratic primary. A Democratic runoff and then the general election. In the days when Democrats dominated Louisiana, that last race against a Republican also ran was a pointless nuisance. It was like winning the hundred meter dash at the Olympics, then having to outspread a kid pulled from the stands to get your gold medal.
S4: And I didn’t like that idea. I said, well, look, let’s change it. Everybody flies at the same time regardless of party affiliation. And everybody votes for anybody he or she wishes, regardless of registration.
S3: Louisiana’s open primary system went into effect in 1975. Edwards cruised to re-election that year as the Republican Party didn’t even field a candidate. But in the Reagan years, the GOP surged throughout the South. By 1991, the open primary was open in a way Edwards maybe hadn’t anticipated. It was a true two party free for all. Political writer John McGinnis had a name for the showdown between David Duke, Edwin Edwards and Buddy Roemer.
S1: I call this the the race from hell. You have three very angry men, candidates for governor, and the people aren’t too happy either.
S3: In the beginning, the race from hell wasn’t exactly rollicking. One reason for that was a package of campaign finance reforms, part of Buddy Roemer’s good government agenda. The new law limited individual contributions to five thousand dollars and major statewide races, banned cash contributions of more than one hundred dollars and required that small cash donations be reported. Duke could pass the bucket with impunity during his 1990 Senate campaign because that was a federal race. But thanks to Roemer, the revolutionary Louisiana’s guidelines on cash giving were now stricter than the nation’s hamstrung by these new rules. Duke held fewer rallies as a candidate for governor than when he ran for the Senate, and Edwards’s fundraising slowed to a trickle. He’d raised 16 million dollars during the 1983 governor’s race in the 1991 primary. He brought in a little more than one million dollars. And Buddy Roemer. He preferred staying in to going out to meet his public. Romer had always been like this. Raymond Strother saw it up close during the 1987 race.
S25: He was sitting back to campaign headquarters and read novels, usually mystery novels. And he wouldn’t go out and campaign. We’d go to a restaurant to eat lunch and he would sit in the back, the restaurant in the corner with his back to the room. So nobody would seem and recognize him and come over and start talking.
S3: Romer’s charismatic misanthrope routine had worked out fine in 1987, and it seemed possible he could pull off the same trick. In 1991. Michelle Showers started volunteering for the Romeu campaign when she was still in college at Louisiana Tech, then got a job on staff right after graduation.
S26: She says that when the governor did make public appearances early on, he seemed totally energized and he literally walked into the room, you know, pushing both doors open. Good afternoon, everybody. Great to see you. You know, he was clapping and smiling and really exuberant. And it was really very exciting to be in a room with him. He was just really engaging the crowd. And I would say for the first part of the campaign, that’s the way he was. He really came into room and made it alive.
S3: The problem for Romer was that a lot of swing voters felt drawn to another candidate. At first, Strother liked the focus group results. He was hearing blue collar Democrats said they couldn’t stand a hypothetical candidate with all of David Duke’s characteristics.
S25: But then as soon as I learned it was David Duke, they’d say, well, that’s what politicians do. Ah, well, you know, KKK. Well, he was a young man and a Nazi while he was a young guy. College kids do stupid stuff. You know, whatever it was, they’d make an excuse for him.
S3: While Romer struggled to hold his coalition together, Duke was finding a new way to expand his appeal.
S15: It’s been tough for me sometimes over the last couple of years, a lot of media attacks, but was just made it better for me is that I’m a Christian. I work hard, I believe in Christ, and I’m gonna keep on fighting for you and for the future. Louisiana.
S11: Thank you very much.
S3: Duke invoked his Christianity far more in the governor’s race than in any of his previous campaigns. He used religion as both a shield and a sword. At a debate in September, Duke said that he’d repented for his past sins and that those who tried to discredit him were being unchristian.
S18: I’ve certainly been intolerant before in my life. But those who I condemn and point their fingers at me, I’d like them to look in their own lives and ask if they’d never hurt a friend or change their opinions.
S3: It wasn’t clear, based on polling how white people in Louisiana were responding to Duke’s latest attempt at image management. Susan Howell had been struggling for years to get a handle on Duke’s voters. Hall was a professor of political science at the University of New Orleans. She’d taken her first look at Duke during his run for the state house when his opponent, John Treene, hired her to do a phone survey. Howell’s poll in the primary had Duke at seven percent. She was off by 26 points and I was stunned.
S12: And then John Treene stood up on a table and he was stunned, too. And I remember him saying, the people of Metairie are not racist. And I thought, well, maybe we should rethink that.
S3: Treme fired Howell after the primary so she’d have to wait to pull another due grace. But she had a pretty good idea of what was going on with his supporters.
S12: People were reluctant to say, I’m going to vote for Duke because they were afraid of being labeled racist, even though they’re talking to it, you know, on an anonymous phone call to a pollster. It’s like people are reluctant to say how much alcohol they drank or were they ever arrested.
S3: This became a research challenge for Howell in her graduate students. How could they get David Duke silent army to break its silence?
S12: We came up with some alternate I would call sneakier indirect questions to identify someone who might be sympathetic to Duke. One of them, which actually worked pretty well in increasing the Duke support in the polls, was to ask people if they approve or disapprove of the Martin Luther King holiday.
S3: Howell conducted a survey one month before the gubernatorial primary. Respondents were asked who they were voting for and also how they felt about statements like if blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites. The raw numbers showed that 35 percent of people were voting for Buddy Roemer, 30 percent for Edwin Edwards and 12 percent for David Duke. But when how all accounted for her sneek year? Indirect questions, support for Roemer and Edwards dipped and Duke’s support doubled. Given the margin of error, the election was too close to call. That’s how things look from the outside, on the inside. There was gossip about a possible secret alliance in the governor’s race. Bummers political consultant Raymond Strother heard that speculation.
S19: The rumor that we heard was that Edwin Edwards was encouraging and perhaps funding David do.
S3: Edwards wanted revenge on Buddy Roemer after losing to him in 1987, but Edwards also knew how to play the odds. Who is smart enough? The theory went to sense that he’d have a better shot against an ex Klansman than against the incumbent governor.
S19: Nobody had any proof whatsoever. But I seldom randon anybody on either side who didn’t think that Edwards was playing funny with David Duke.
S27: I got Edwards on the phone.
S3: I asked if there was any truth to all that chatter. Did hear his supporters do anything to help to make the run up.
S1: Either giving him money or propping him up in some way.
S2: Did you or your supporters do anything to help you get into the run off with you?
S4: No, I didn’t. I didn’t do that because I didn’t think it was necessary and I would’ve maybe got caught. And so I didn’t do that. I just let it run his race. I ran mine. Romo ran in.
S3: That’s as far as I got. Chasing down that rumor. They did learn something else. The Edwards campaign, it turns out, had a totally different secret alliance.
S28: Clyde Holloway was the pro-life congressman who’d gotten the official endorsement of the Louisiana Republican Party. Instead of Duker Roemer, he was way back in the polls in a distant fourth and needed cash to air commercials. One of Edwin Edwards, his closest friends, Bob to him, Acord, knew one of Holloway’s campaign advisers to him. Accord’s says the two of them hatched a plan.
S29: He would show me results of a tracking poll, which our people confirm that every vote declined. Holloway was receiving or getting was coming directly off of the sitting governor, Buddy Roemer. And we would have people that were maxed out or have a lot of money to support. And everybody was asked what else they could do. So we get these commercials on TV or radio. I said that would help us possibly get in the second primary would do rather than a sitting governor.
S28: To him, a court is describing an electoral double bank shot. Edwards supporters send money to Holloway. Holloway takes votes from Roemer. Roemer slides out of the runoff and Duke slides in.
S29: We felt that we could be David Duke substantially and Motorola would have a different result. Bill, I don’t know, would want inaudible polling at the time.
S28: So it would have been tied to Governor Edwards. Know about this strategy here.
S29: So I informed him that this was going on and his answer was, be careful.
S28: When I asked Edwards about the alliance, he told me he didn’t know anything about it in John McGinniss’s book about the 1991 campaign. Clyde Holloway, his campaign advisor, Brian Wagner, also denied making any such deal.
S3: Wagner died in 2000 18. That said, I believe to him, acourt story to be clear, none of this would have been illegal assuming the campaign contributions got reported. But it was kind of devious, a way to help David Duke without giving him direct support. I don’t want to make this alliance seem more important than it was those Hollaway ads were just a small drop in an enormous bucket of campaign spending in the final days of the race. The owner of a hazardous waste recycling company spent a massive amount of money on anti Romeu commercials because he was angry about the governor’s environmental regulations. That ad buy was a huge deal. The Hollaway ads really weren’t. But it’s still telling that the Edwards campaign was willing to take active measures to help Duke get into the runoff.
S30: I think it is. Very typical of Edwin Edwards.
S3: That’s Quin Hillyer. He was one of Louisiana’s most prominent anti Duke Republicans. He also thinks Edwards is totally corrupt. Here’s what he had to say about the Edwards Hollaway alliance.
S30: I’m not saying it’s immoral, it’s just amoral completely without regard to the morality of trying to help David do get into the runoff and whether or not that would be good or bad for the state of Louisiana. It certainly was playing every political angle, and it was Edwin Edwards and his people at their Edwin Edwards just.
S31: This was in some ways typical Louisiana chicanery. Politics is sport with a win at all costs mentality. But Duke wasn’t a typical candidate. Maybe the Edwards camp was right that their odds were better against Duke than Roemer. But what if they were wrong? What if David Duke won?
S32: Martin, in.
S31: In January 1989, David Duke had been a bit player, a second tier candidate in a small suburban race. Now, almost three years later, he was a star and a contender. His election night party was a celebration of how far he’d come and how close he was to winning the state’s biggest prize.
S7: Oh, you got those daggers over my shirt. Do I have those daggers on my face if I didn’t have to say on October 19th, 1991.
S31: Duke’s fans gathered at the Pontchartrain Center in his home territory of Jefferson Parish. They were treated to a short performance by that blonde woman in the blue dress who sang at lots of Duke’s rallies.
S17: After Dixy came a prayer. We ask that you guide our leaders and that they might govern with compassion and love and understanding. We ask a special blessing up on this assembly. And that which is done here will be ultimately to the glory of the kingdom of God. And then David Duke himself took the stage with every minute.
S33: Ladies and gentlemen, it appears that we will be in a runoff for the governorship of Louisiana.
S3: Back in 1989, at Duke’s first victory party, he’d shouted about winning a state House seat without any big political endorsements. He’d also complained about the media and the political establishment and whined that he was always getting lied about. In 1991, he didn’t sound bitter or vengeful. This David Duke was smooth, humble, conciliatory. He’d figured out how he was supposed to sound and how to make an appeal that wasn’t entirely based on grievance.
S33: My thanks goes first. To the forest in my life, that’s giving me strength. Then help me withstand a lot and continue to stand up for you. And that’s Jesus Christ. Ladies and gentlemen, I suppose first.
S3: David Duke was in the runoff with 32 percent of the vote. Duke finished just two points behind the leader. Edwin Edwards, Buddy Roemer’s political consultant, Raymond Strother, knew his man was going to come in third. He went to bed at the governor’s mansion before the race got called.
S25: And the next morning I got up and went down to get my cookies and milk. And Buddy was down there and he said, Well, you didn’t have a good candidate, did you? I said, Must not have buddy. He said, Well, we took our best shot and he walked out on us, the last dog ever spoken to him.
S3: Buddy Roemer finished five points behind David Duke. Ultimately, he wasn’t taken down by an electoral conspiracy. He’d lost because Louisiana didn’t want a reformer.
S16: And tonight, the people spoke and they said, buddy, thanks, but she didn’t do enough. And I think that’s fair.
S3: When Michelle Shower started working on the campaign, she’d been inspired by Buddy Roemer’s energy. But now that it was over, Shower thought Roemer actually seemed relieved. She found her own feelings harder to pin down. She was thinking about leaving the state, maybe going to live with her parents in Montana. But then she got approached by some people she knew from the Louisiana Republican Party.
S26: They said, we have an offer for you before you reject it outright. Just listen to us. And they said you could go to work on David Duke’s campaign. And of course, my eyes widen like, are you crazy?
S3: Shower had never considered supporting David Duke. Much less working for him. Her family had been on government aid when she was growing up, so his rants against welfare weren’t persuasive. But Schauer really didn’t want Edwin Edwards back in charge of Louisiana. Plus, those people from the state party told her that she didn’t need to take a public facing role, that she could stay in the shadows. Schauer agreed to meet with Duke’s campaign manager, Howie Farrell. When they got together, he said that the time had come to broaden the Duke operation by bringing in people from the establishment. Shower wanted to be a campaign manager someday. And she liked the idea of learning from one. She was also unemployed.
S26: So from my perspective, I had a job and an opportunity to look at an alternate campaign and that’s how I started.
S34: During her stint as a Duke staffer, Michelle Shower would hear things that shocked her. She’d also make a lot of phone calls on behalf of David Duke, using a list she’d brought with her from the Romeu campaign. That list was the main reason the Duke campaign had hired shower. Romer supporters were now up for grabs if they voted Republican in the November runoff. Then David Duke was going to be the governor of Louisiana. The state Republican Party was still not going to support Duke publicly, but he was the last Republican standing. And when Schauer talked to her friends in the party, they said they knew how to keep Duke under control.
S35: When I would have those discussions, they would say, you know, there’s not much he can do. He’s going to have so many eyes on him if he wins. There’s so many eyes. We’re going to have people around him. He won’t be able to push forward any of these agendas from his past. He’ll have to stick to the policies. And at that time, I believed them. And at that time, I thought while I wasn’t really willing to say I was for him, I was more for sweeping and a Republican governor to try to fix things in Louisiana. That’s really where I was coming from. At that time.
S34: Next time on the final episode of our season, Four Weeks to decide the fate of Louisiana, what would David Duke do to win? And who would fight to stop him? Slow Burn is a production of Slate plus Slate’s membership program, Slate, plus members get weekly bonus episodes where we’ll dive deeper into the history we’re exploring this season. This week, you’ll hear an exclusive interview with writer and New Orleans native Clint Smith and Van Newkirk of The Atlantic. The host of the podcast Bloodlines about Hurricane Katrina. We spoke about what Louisiana was like when Katrina hit in 2005 and the parallels between what happened then and when David Duke was on the rise in the 80s and 90s. We couldn’t make slow burn without the support of Slate plus. So please consider signing up if you like the series and are able to contribute. It’s only thirty five dollars for the first year and you get a free two week trial. Go to Slate dot com slash Stober to find out more. Slow Burn is produced by me and Christopher Johnson with editorial direction by Lowe and Lou and Gabriel Roth. Madeleine Ducharme is our production assistant. Sophie Summer grad, a slow burn assistant producer. Our mix engineer is Paul Manzie. David Gross composed our theme song. The artwork for Slow Burn is by Lisa Larson Walker. John McGinniss’s book on the 1991 campaign is called Cross to Bear. Special thanks to Jordan Hirsch, Jessica Seidman and Slate’s Chow to Kitty Raiford. Laura Bennett, Allison Benedikt and Jared Holt. Thanks for listening.