His honesty, his integrity and his humility won for him great admiration and respect from people in all political parties. His dignified and benevolent character is not found in today’s political arena where political opponents routinely and viciously slash each other with attack ads: so much so that many good men and women no longer care to run for office and subject themselves and their families to the abuses.
A few months before he died, Governor Treen wrote the “Foreword” for a book entitled “Edwin Edwards, Governor of Louisiana” by Leo Honeycutt. Mr. Honeycutt spent the last five years researching and writing the book that is due out in mid-December.
Treen was defeated after his term of governor by Edwin Edwards. He later ran for the U. S. House of Representatives and was defeated by David Vitter, now a U. S. Senator. Ironically David Treen, who battled Edwards on the campaign trail, later worked for three years with other top Republicans and Democrats in the state to have President Bush commute Edwards’ sentence on the grounds a ten year sentence didn’t fit the crime and was too harsh for an 80 year old man. Vitter, on the other side of the horn, fought tooth and toe nail to keep Edwards in prison.
Governor Treen’s Foreword for the book on Edwards follows:
By Governor David C. Treen
No one could be more diametrically opposed politically than Governor Edwards and me. He stood for what I considered too much government, too many taxes and too much dependency on the state. I, on the other hand as a Republican in the Ronald Reagan vein, always believed a man pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, relied little on others for help and that big government was generally a bad thing. Neither way is perfect and both ways have opportunities for people to reach their potential. It’s just fortunate that we live in a great democracy where both ideas coexist peacefully.
But while Governor Edwards and I seldom agreed on principles, I always admired his genuine love of Louisiana and his uncanny ability to get many things done to provide for people what he believed they needed. His legislating skills were unmatched by anyone before or since and that’s because, I believe, he had a sixth sense of what would sell and how to sell it so that by the time an issue came up, he knew better than anyone else how to make it work. In riding herd over 144 legislators, each with his own agenda, having that sixth sense is priceless. A governor simply does not have time to ponder each idea. I know. I burned a lot of midnight oil.
I admired Governor Edwards also for his coalition building. He always let the other side talk. But, more importantly, he listened. In the acrimonious politics of today, that’s rare unfortunately. This was the cornerstone to his success because he built lasting friendships and strong alliances. In fact, in looking back, I don’t think he ever legislated as much along party lines as on whether he personally thought someone else simply had a better idea. Like me, he didn’t have to always get the credit. That’s the mark of a great leader.
Now, truthfully, in the one great race where Governor Edwards and I met head-to-head, the Governor’s Race of 1983, he got some digs in that hurt but they were great fun – for him. “Governor Treen is so slow it takes him an hour-and-a-half to watch 60 Minutes” was a classic. I laugh at it today but Dodie, my wife, didn’t think it was funny at the time. But that’s the price you pay if you have the stamina to be in politics. When I look at what his years in the mansion cost him in time lost with his family, in all those hard years of feast and famine in Louisiana’s economy when a governor is consumed by unending problems, Governor Edwards made a major sacrifice indeed.
His wit was certainly unmatched and no one knows that better than I do. But I believe this ultimately made him a target. For whatever reason, Governor Edwards liked to poke fun and sometimes in frustration he said things people didn’t easily forget. Being in politics for 50 years, anyone is going to create enemies but Governor Edwards attracted controversy with his tongue. This is partly the reason I reconnected with him after the sentencing in his 2000 trial. I believe the federal government, and by that I mean Judge Frank Polozola and U.S. attorney Jim Letten, doubled his sentence from the prescribed five years purely out of vindictiveness. They didn’t like him. That’s not a good reason to double someone’s sentence and is, I believe, a misuse of power.
Consequently, I engaged Presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush in an effort to commute Governor Edwards’ sentence. I and others worked for three years to correct this injustice because it was the right thing to do. Even if Governor Edwards were guilty of what he was convicted, he certainly never stole a dime from taxpayers. That’s one of the few things he was never accused of. I’m not even saying he was guilty at all, because the investigation and trial were certainly dubious. So, for all these reasons, I felt his sentence was too long, let alone it just didn’t make sense to keep him locked up at his age.
This tribulation for him, however, did have a silver lining. It made him settle down, think about what his life stood for and put it on paper. Leo Honeycutt has done a masterful job collating half a century of information into a picture of both the man and the state that will be studied and talked about for years. We have a rare gift now in this unvarnished, distilled picture
that shows how we’ve evolved as a state, warts and all but with great potential.
Helping Governor Edwards also allowed old foes to reconnect and learn that forgiveness is a wonderful part of life. He and I still don’t agree on some things but we completely agree that giving our lives in service to the state was all worth it. Both of us love Louisiana. It is our home and, as we approach the twilight, we rest assured, hearing the laughter of our children and grandchildren. They may leave Louisiana but Louisiana will never leave them.
David C. Treen
State of Louisiana
July 10, 2009
Governor Treen was a good and gracious man. I am glad I knew him.
That’s my story and I am sticking to it.
Milo A. Nickel is the former President and COO of Louisiana State Newspapers.