Murphy James "Mike" Foster, Jr., (born July 11, 1930, in Franklin, Louisiana), is a former Republican 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 wealthy businessman, landowner, and sportsman in St. Mary Parish in the sugar-growing section of south Louisiana.
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 before he embarked on his successful gubernatorial campaign.
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 entered the 1995 campaign as a Democrat but switched parties just prior to the filing period. His embrace of the "R" label and his conservative platform, undercut Roemer, another Democrat-turned-Republican.
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.
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.
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 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, in a questionable outcome, 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.
In 2003, Foster was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.
State Senator, 21st Senatorial District, 1987
Threshold > 50%
First Ballot, October 24, 1987
|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
|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
|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|
Second Ballot, November 18, 1995
|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
|Mike Foster||Republican||805,203 (62%)||Elected|
|Bill Jefferson||Democratic||382,445 (30%)||Defeated|