Published: Sunday, February 27, 1994
Edition: THIRD
Section: METRO
Page: B7
Column: James Gill
Byline: By James Gill


Ethics-board investigations of Gov. Edwards and his family will evidently be a non-stop sideshow until age or the voters force him to move his poker game out of the mansion.

Son Stephen Edwards has now been booked for a return engagement by ethics promoters in Baton Rouge following revelations that he has a deal to provide legal and, ahem, "government relations" advice to a New Jersey gambling company that recently won a license to operate a paddlewheeler out of the Julia Street Wharf.

Yes, this is the same Jersey company that recently landed a riverboat gambling license and is now fixing to hand the family of prominent gubernatorial sidekick, Gus Mijalis, a cool $26 million for its share of the action.

The last time the board took an interest in Stephen Edwards, he was a director of a company providing T-shirts, caps and other vital supplies to the gambling boats that operate under the aegis of a board appointed by his father. The governor's other three children were also looking to make a buck from the boats, but all four quit when the ethics board started to raise questions.

They agreed not to provide services to companies regulated by State Police, who oversee the riverboat casinos and their hirelings. But that is what, to the layman anyway, Stephen Edwards would appear to be doing right now in representing the riverboat interests.

His attorney doesn't see it that way and advances a convoluted explanation of why the agreement Stephen Edwards signed does not apply to legal services.

He put down three but the fourth just slipped his mind. As luck would have it, it was the Jersey crowd that he forgot.

The ethics show, if form is any guide, will now proceed with a considerable amount of posturing and quibbling. In the end, Stephen Edwards will either be vindicated and go happily on his way or be found in violation and go happily on his way. The ethics board seldom musters the courage to administer even a slap on the wrist.

To the public, it surely does not much matter whether Edwards is found in technical violation or not. If the law does not prohibit the kind of deal he has with the riverboat company, it is blindingly obvious that it should.

In any case, neither the governor nor his children should need a statute to tell them that profiteering out of companies under control of the executive branch is a pretty grubby exercise.

The governor, having so assiduously promoted gambling over the least 10 years or so, has always pooh-poohed suggestions that it would raise corruption in Louisiana to a new level.

Now that his friends and children turn up getting rich on the industry, even in its formative stages, he can hardly be surprised if the public, throughout Louisiana and beyond, shakes its collective head and concludes that the real point of the exercise is to enrich the political establishment and its loved ones.

Let us by all means assume that Stephen Edwards is a hot-shot attorney. We have a bunch of those in the state and there is surely not a single soul out there who believes that he was hired by four gambling companies solely because he knows the relevant statutes inside out.

It is often said that Gov. Edwards just doesn't get it, doesn't understand ethical issues or the importance not only of propriety but the appearance of propriety.

This is surely a slander on the governor. His problem is not that he doesn't understand ethics, for he is too bright for that to be true. He understands ethics well enough; he just doesn't seem to approve. And he doesn't seem to care what people think either.

James Gill is a staff writer.

Illustration: Gov. Edward, family members: He understands ethics


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