I lived briefly in New Orleans, parts of 1991 and 1992. While I was there, the state of Louisiana held a remarkable gubernatorial election.
I was not very politically astute at the time. In fact I wasn’t even registered to vote. Partly because I was bouncing around between the Deep South and the Bay Area. Partly because back then I didn’t see any real difference between Democrats and Republicans. I figured workers weren’t going to get anywhere if they were just picking between the two choices that the bosses gave them. My thinking on this has changed somewhat since 1991, partly because of that election.
Back then I did at least know who David Duke was. And Duke, the founder of the Louisiana Knights of the Ku Klux Klan had barely beat out fellow Republican and then sitting Governor Buddy Roemer for a slot in Louisiana’s top two primary. Louisiana politics in this period were sort of bananas. The state had (and still has) a “jungle primary,” not unlike California’s more recently enacted top-two primary, in which the top two vote getters advance to a run-off general election, even if they are from the same party.
Roemer had been Democrat when he beat incumbent Governor Edwin Edwards, also a Democrat, in 1987. But while in office, Roemer switched parties and became a Republican.
Duke had run for office several times as Democrat, including a run in 1988 in the Democratic Presidential primary. But he’d become a Republican by ‘91.
All that’s as good an illustration as any of the realignment that happened in states like Louisiana which were still switching from Dixie Democratic strongholds to deep red Republican territory, right up to the Clinton years.
The other candidate to make the 1991 run-off was none other than recently deposed former governor Edwards, who had a reputation for corruption — including indictment on mail fraud a bribery charges. Which he beat, for a while. You’ve surely heard some version of the famous Edwards quote, “the only way I can lose is if I’m caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.” He was talking about his successful 1983 race for Governor,
So in ’91, Louisiana voters had to choose between the crook, Edwards, and the Klansman, Duke. I vivdly remember walking up North Rampart Street watching a skywriter airplane spell David Duke’s name in the sky. I thought, “I’ll probably never forget seeing David Duke’s name written in the sky above New Orleans.” I also remember the bumper stickers some folks had on their cars: “Vote for the crook. It’s important.”
Funny thing, that slogan actually came from Roemer, the sitting Republican governor. He was a “good government” guy throughout his career. (He didn’t get much attention for his 2012 entry in the GOP presidential primary, where his focus was campaign finance reform.) And he urged fellow Republicans to vote for the morally compromised Democrat rather than the racist “Republican” Duke.
In the run off, Edwards and all his obvious ethical baggage beat Duke by more than 20 points. But scandals eventually caught up with Edwards, and he decided not to run again in 1995. A few years after that he was finally convicted of racketeering, money laundering and mail fraud, and ultimately did a few years in prison. And there’s no doubt in my mind that Louisiana voters made the right decision in November of ‘91.
I still regret that I didn’t get it together to vote for the crook that year. But I haven’t missed an election since. And I always think of that one when the idea of the “lesser of two evils” comes up. And obviously I’ve thought about it a few times this year.
Now as a writer who has focused a lot on political ethics and corruption and money in politics and especially public records, I find plenty of fault with Hillary Clinton. Her email setup, deliberately designed to get around public records laws, is infuriating and inexcusable. But Hillary Clinton is no Edwin Edwards, not by a long shot.
And honestly, so what if she was? We’re having a national David Duke moment here. If you really think Hillary Clinton is a crook, fine, then I say vote for the crook, it’s important.