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Murphy J. Foster, Jr.


In office
January 8, 1996 – January 12, 2004
Lieutenant Kathleen Babineaux Blanco
Preceded by Edwin Edwards
Succeeded by Kathleen Babineaux Blanco

Member of the Louisiana Senate
from the 21st district
In office
1988–1996
Preceded by Anthony Guarisco, Jr.
Succeeded by John Siracusa

Born July 11, 1930 (1930-07-11) (age 79)
Franklin, Louisiana
Political party Democratic (1987-1995)
Republican (1995-present)
Spouse(s) Alice C. Foster
Religion Episcopalian

Murphy James "Mike" Foster, Jr. (born July 11, 1930) was the 53rd Governor of Louisiana, having served from January 1996 until January 2004. Foster's father was Murphy J. Foster, Jr., but Mike Foster uses "Jr." even though he is technically Murphy J. Foster, III. Foster is a businessman, landowner, and sportsman in St. Mary Parish in the sugar-growing section of south Louisiana.

Contents

Early life and career

Mike Foster was born in Franklin, Louisiana, the son of Murphy J. Foster, a Franklin-area sugar planter and owner of oil and gas lands, and Olive (Roberts) Foster, from a prominent Shreveport family. Mike Foster attended public high school in Franklin, graduated from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in 1952 with a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry, and Southern University Law Center with a Juris Doctorate in 2004. He became an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America in 1946 and is a recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award.[1] He was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity (Zeta Zeta chapter) and The Friars. He joined the Air Force and served in the Korean War. His paternal grandfather, Murphy J. Foster Sr., had served as governor of Louisiana from 1892 to 1900 and thereafter as United States senator from 1900 to 1913. By the time Mike Foster entered politics, he had become a wealthy sugar planter and owner of a construction firm. He lived at Oaklawn Manor, an antebellum plantation mansion in Franklin.

Foster entered politics at the age of 57. In 1987, then-Democrat Foster unseated liberal Democratic state Senator Anthony Guarisco, Jr., of Morgan City by a large margin. Guarisco had been a vocal legislative supporter of the defunct Equal Rights Amendment. Foster served two terms in the state Senate.

Election as governor, 1995

Foster entered the 1995 gubernatorial race as a minor candidate whom most local political observers discounted. Then in September 1995, Foster announced he would qualify for the race as a Republican. The Republicans had not coalesced on a candidate, and Foster's announcement that he was switching parties vaulted him from single digits in the polls to serious contention. Foster rode a wave of popular dissatisfaction with the more unsavory aspects of the casino gambling that had been legalized by outgoing governor Edwin Edwards. Foster came out strongly against gambling and pledged to run Louisiana "like a business." His conservative platform included attacks on welfare abuse, gun control, affirmative action and racial quotas, and political corruption.

Foster edged out two more well-known candidates for a seat in the runoff with then-Congressman Cleo Fields, a prominent black Democratic politician. Future U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu ran third, missing the general election berth by less than 10,000 votes. Former governor Buddy Roemer, seeking a gubernatorial comeback, came in fourth place. Foster's embrace of the Republican label and his conservative platform undercut Roemer, another Democrat-turned-Republican.

Reminiscent of his grandfather's inauguration virtually a century earlier, Mike Foster's inauguration ceremony occurred at the Old State Capitol. Always a man of few words, Foster remarked briefly about the historicity of the occasion and made cordial statements about incumbent governor Edwin Edwards, who was there.

Foster defeated black Democratic candidates in both of his campaigns for governor—Cleo Fields in 1995 and Congressman William Jefferson in 1999. He defeated Jefferson in a landslide, avoiding a runoff with 64% of the vote.

Foster as governor

Foster was widely seen as having favored business to a greater degree than had previous governors. He retained the secretary of economic development, former legislator Kevin P. Reilly, Sr., of Baton Rouge, the former CEO of Lamar Advertising Company of Baton Rouge. He ended state affirmative action and set-aside programs, which earned him the support of the business community but prompted protests from civil rights groups. Foster also targeted tort reform and ended the practice by which trial lawyers could seek punitive damages from businesses. Foster had close relations with the statewide pro-business lobby group Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) for most of his tenure, though there were short-lived tensions in 2000 over Foster’s attempt to raise business taxes in an effort to secure funding for higher education. By the end of his second term, Foster was receiving criticism for his reluctance to take business trips in order to attract businesses and jobs to Louisiana, and for enrolling in part-time law school classes while still in office.

He re-organized the state’s community college system by creating the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, and expanded the Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) so students were eligible based on merit rather than simply income. Foster instituted mandatory standardized testing for grade advancement, in a move described by his administration as an effort to make public schools more accountable. He also made increasing teacher salaries a major priority, at one point promising to stop cashing his paychecks until teachers’ salaries reached the Southern average. Andy Kopplin served as Governor Foster's chief of staff.

Foster called Sandra Thompson, a highly-regarded state administrator from the 1970s, back to state government. She was again asked to head the Atchafalaya Basin Project, an important position in the preservation of the environment. The project encompasses a million acres (4,000 km²) of swampland.

The two Speakers of the House under Foster's administration were Democrat (later Republican) Hunt Downer of Terrebonne Parish and Charles W. DeWitt, Jr., a Democrat from Rapides Parish. In Louisiana, the governor practically handpicks the Speaker despite the separation of powers. Foster also relied heavily on Republican State Representative Chuck McMains of Baton Rouge as a legislative floor leader for the administration. He named Republican Representative Garey Forster of New Orleans as his state labor secretary.

While serving as Governor of Louisiana, Foster was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans historical society. Known for going to bed early, Foster still managed to adjust to evening classes he took while Governor at the Southern University Law Center.

An avid motorcycling enthusiast, Foster introduced an initiative while governor to remove a legal mandate that required motorcyclists to wear helmets when they ride on the highways. This initiative was later overturned by his successor, Democratic Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco.

Despite having run on an anti-gambling platform, in office Foster became a quiet supporter of the gambling industry. His advocacy of a bailout bill for the Harrah’s casino in New Orleans helped ensure the passage of the measure. Prior to leaving office, Foster quarreled with fellow Republican Representative David Vitter over expanded gambling on Indian reservations. The dispute did not prevent Vitter from winning the other U.S. Senate seat vacated by Democrat John Breaux in 2004.

Foster was the Louisiana campaign chairman for George W. Bush in 2000.

Foster and David Duke

In his 1995 campaign, Foster paid more than $150,000 for former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke's mailing list of supporters. After failing to report the purchase as a campaign expenditure, Foster became the first Louisiana governor to admit and pay a fine for a violation of the state's ethics code. Foster insists he did not need to report the expenditure because he paid Duke with his personal funds and did not utilize the list in his campaign. Duke had also endorsed Foster in the 1995 campaign. (La. Campaign Finance Opinion No. 99-360)

Foster initially seemed to favor Duke's run for the Senate seat being vacated in 1996 by J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., but under pressure from the Republican Party, he did not officially endorse Duke. Instead, the Republican consensus choice for the Senate was veteran state Representative Louis Elwood "Woody" Jenkins of Baton Rouge. Jenkins was narrowly defeated by Johnston's choice, Mary Landrieu. Foster also endorsed Patrick J. Buchanan for the 1996 Republican nomination, the only governor to support Buchanan. However, he refused to vote in the Louisiana presidential primary held on March 12, 1996. Thereafter, he switched his support to pending nominee Robert J. Dole.

Foster and Dan Richey

In 1997, Foster named former state Senator Daniel Wesley "Dan" Richey, to head the new Governor's Program on Abstinence. The appointment became controversial in 2002, when the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state on grounds that Richey had permitted religious instruction to be used in the program in violation of federal law. Foster and Richey went to court to defend the program and pledged that violations cited by the ACLU had been remedied. The program is underwritten by the national welfare-reform law of 1996.

After governorship

In retirement, Foster lives with his wife Alice C. Foster (born 1940) on the family estate near Franklin, the seat of St. Mary Parish. Mrs. Foster is active in the Sunshine Foundation in Baton Rouge, which seeks to enhance self-esteem among Louisiana public school youngsters.[2]

In 2003, Foster was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[3]

Electoral history

State Senator, 21st Senatorial District, 1987

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, October 24, 1987

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Mike Foster Democratic 24,183 (64%) Elected
Anthony Guarisco, Jr. Democratic 13,599 (36%) Defeated

State Senator, 21st Senatorial District, 1991

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, October 19, 1991

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Mike Foster Democratic 30,836 (85%) Elected
Eddie Albares Independent 5,232 (15%) Defeated

Governor of Louisiana, 1995

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, October 21, 1995

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Mike Foster Republican 385,267 (26%) Runoff
Cleo Fields Democratic 280,921 (19%) Runoff
Mary Landrieu Democratic 271,938 (18%) Defeated
Buddy Roemer Republican 263,330 (18%) Defeated
Others n.a. 274,440 (19%) Defeated

Second Ballot, November 18, 1995

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Mike Foster Republican 984,499 (64%) Elected
Cleo Fields Democratic 565,861 (36%) Defeated

Governor of Louisiana, 1999

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, October 23, 1999

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Mike Foster Republican 805,203 (62%) Elected
Bill Jefferson Democratic 382,445 (30%) Defeated
Others n.a. 107,557 (8%) Defeated

Sources

  • State of Louisiana - Biography
  • DuBos, Clancy. “Foster on Fire.” Gambit Weekly. October 3, 1995.
  • Kurtz, David. “Mike’s Millions: He may be a working man, but Mike Foster certainly doesn’t have to.” New Orleans Magazine, May 1996.
  • Reeves, Miriam. The Governors of Louisiana. Gretna: Pelican Publishing, 1998.
  • Warner, Chris. “Mike Foster’s Legacy: What Will it Be?” State Business Louisiana. Winter 2002.
  • Governor Murphy J. "Mike" Foster, Jr.
Political offices
Preceded by
Anthony Guarisco, Jr. (D)
State Senator, 21st Senatorial District

Murphy James "Mike" Foster, Jr. (D) switched (R)
1988–1996

Succeeded by
John Siracusa (D)
Preceded by
Edwin Washington Edwards (D)
Governor of Louisiana

Murphy James "Mike" Foster, Jr. (R)
1996–2004

Succeeded by
Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D)

References








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