Edwin Edwards and John McKeithen – A Rocky Relationship?
Thursday, July 22nd, 2021
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Edwin Edwards and John McKeithen
A Rocky Relationship?
Edwards had succeeded John McKeithen as governor, but the two them did not maintain much of a relationship during Edwards’ first term in the governor’s office. McKeithen had actively supported Edwards for an open congressional seat in 1966. But there had been little contact between the two once Edwards was sworn in as governor.
McKeithen handed over the reins of power to Edwards in 1972 at a ceremony on the steps of the State Capitol. After the formalities were over, it was time for the former Governor to head home to Columbia. McKeithen apparently expected Edwards to offer the use of the state plane to fly the McKeithen family back to Columbia. No offer was made.
I asked Edwards about this later, and he indicated all John McKeithen had to do was let it be known he wanted the plane. Apparently, there was just a misunderstanding. McKeithen expected the offer, and Edwards was too overwhelmed with taking office to notice what McKeithen considered to be a slight.
During Edwards’s first term, I think John McKeithen felt that the new governor should have called from time to time to ask for advice or invite him down to the governor’s mansion. Edwards, from my observations, was just too busy with his day-in, day-out activities as governor to think about calling John McKeithen. If McKeithen had called him, Edwards would have returned the call immediately. But for whatever reason, it was not a good relationship. There was not much contact between the two, and McKeithen was miffed at the lack of attention by Edwards.
As the 1975 statewide races approached, McKeithen hinted that he would consider running for governor again against Edwards. “I’d be glad to come back,” he told the Press Club of Baton Rouge in December of 1974. “I am not overly busy in Columbia. I have seen about all you can see in two years. I would enjoy being governor again.”
The former governor went on to say that he was checking out his support for the race. “If I sense the majority of the people of this state want me to come back and finish what I started, I will run.” If he did decide to run against Edwards, McKeithen went on to say that he would “offer my record of accomplishment against his record of no accomplishment.”
In January of 1975, Edwards asked me to come by the governor’s mansion. “You’re John McKeithen’s senator, and you have known him for a long time. I would like for you to go by and see him to help me evaluate whether or not he is going to run against me.”
If I was the best representative Edwin Edwards could send to visit with John McKeithen, then it was obvious he had not maintained any contact with the former Governor during his first term. I considered myself a friend of John McKeithen, but I was certainly no confidant. I was also one of the youngest members of the Legislature, and it seemed a little over my head for me to serve as a liaison and negotiator between these two major political figures.
I also learned over the years that you did not go “talk” to John McKeithen. You went to visit, and you primarily listened. But I still agreed to pay the former Governor a visit. I phoned John McKeithen and he graciously invited me up to Columbia several days later. We sat in front of the fireplace in his office on a cold day in January and talked for several hours. John McKeithen is a great study in oral history. You can throw out about any subject related to the state, and he always had a number of relevant stories and antidotes.
We talked of Davis Island, the home of Jefferson Davis, where Gov. McKeithen like to visit. He told several amusing stories about former Congressman Otto Passman, and he impressed me with his evaluation of numerous future political contests yet to be run throughout the state. He played coy with me when I brought up the governor’s race. But he was short on specifics, and I felt that, if he was serious about running, he would have already prepared a detailed game plan. If he had, he kept it very close to his vest and this just wasn’t John McKeithen’s style. I accepted his offer of a cup of coffee to take with me on the road in a mug decorated with his name and headed back to Baton Rouge.
The next day, I told Edwin Edwards it was my opinion that John McKeithen would not be running against him in the fall. I also suggested some telephone calls and, more importantly, an open invitation to the governor’s mansion on a few LSU football weekends. To his credit, Governor Edwards follow this advice, and renewed his friendship and support with McKeithen. There was no more talk of McKeithen running against him, and Governor Edwards went on to an easy victory for a second term.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.