Edwin Edwards: Steve Scalise 'Doesn't Have a Racist Bone in His Body'

David Duke's old opponent absolves the Republican whip.

Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, 86, announces his run for U.S. Congress at the Belle of Baton Rouge Hotel on March 17, 2014 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The national notoriety of David Duke peaked 23 years ago, when he shocked the Louisiana Republican establishment and made it into Louisiana's gubernatorial runoff. 

"I literally defeated the Republican sitting governor of that state," Duke crowed to the Huffington Post in an interview Monday. "I had a huge amount of Republican support."

Duke went on to lose the election in a 22-point landslide to scandalized former Governor Edwin Edwards. Twenty-three years and one jail sentence later, Edwards remains politically active—he just ran and lost a bid for Congress—and contemptuous of Duke. Still, he doesn't think Representative Steve Scalise should be tarred or forced to resign because he spoke at a 2002 meeting of a Duke-run "European American" organization.

"People who are in public life, public figures, get dragged into situations that be put on by the wrong people and might look bad," said Edwards in a short phone interview. "I know Scalise, and I think he’s far too right, far too conservative, but I don’t think he’s a racist. He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. As far as I’m concerned this is a non-story."

Scalise's detractors, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, challenge the congressman's assertion that he didn't know that the group was connected to Duke. Edwards was willing to believe that.

"Frankly, I was in prison in 2002, and that organization doesn’t ring a bell with me," he said. "But I’m not going to second-guess Steve Scalise. He might have had another purpose in going. He might have wanted to change their minds. I’ve been to some very hostile meetings, and in some instances, I changed minds. I’ve been to meetings of the White Citizens Council, which I knew going in was a racists' group, but I wasn’t afraid to talk to them. Frankly, almost everything bad that could be said has been said about me, but nobody's called me a racist. And I think Congressman Scalise is nothing at all like a racist."

Edwards, who has endured more scandals than the average politician, had some simple advice for Scalise. "Tell the truth, tell it like it is," he said. "The people are gonna find out what the facts are. It might be, it probably was the case, that there was nothing necessarily sinister or embarrassing about him going to that event. His brother-in-law might have been the chairman."

In interviews, Duke's political associate Kenny Knight has taken credit for inviting Scalise to the event, and insisted that the future congressman did not know of the racist overtones.

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