BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Former Louisiana Governor Murphy James “Mike” Foster Jr. has died at the age of 90.
“Our family and I are saddened to announce that after 90 remarkable years, my dear husband has passed,” said Former First Lady Alice Foster, days after he entered hospice care at his home in Franklin, La. “Our family will miss him dearly.”
The family also wishes to extend their gratitude for the many prayers and well wishes they’ve received and are requesting privacy at this time. Further details regarding arrangements will be provided in the coming days.
Private services were held at Oaklawn Manor followed by a public military graveside service at Franklin Cemetery Wednesday, Oct. 7.
“The LSU Community is saddened at the passing of Gov. Mike Foster, whose strong support of our university allowed LSU to make many crucial improvements to our campus, and whose development of the TOPS program has helped millions of Louisiana students get a college education,” said LSU President Tom Galligan. “His legacy will not be forgotten, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Alice, and the rest of his family.”
“Governor Foster was an honorable statesman who served Louisiana with distinction,” said EBR Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome. “His dedication to the state and Baton Rouge will be sorely missed. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Alice and his loved ones.”
“It is with great sadness that I express my condolences to Mrs. Alice, Murphy, and Ramelle. Governor Foster was a wonderful family man, dedicated public servant, and loyal friend. Mike valiantly served our Nation in the Air Force and honorably led our State as a Senator and as the Governor. While Governor Foster may be remembered by most as a conservative manager who steered Louisiana into a prosperous period, I will always cherish Mike as a trusted confidant whose guidance was invaluable. His honorable legacy will live forever; and I hope the citizens of Louisiana will join Sharon and me in prayer for the entire Foster family," said Attorney General Jeff Landry.
Foster was a political newcomer of sorts before he served as Louisiana’s 53rd governor from January of 1996 to January of 2004.
A Korean War veteran from Franklin, La., Foster was a successful businessman in the state’s sugar and construction industries before he decided to enter the world of politics as a Democrat at the age of 57. Foster unseated democratic State Senator Anthony Guarisco Jr. of Morgan City in 1987. He served two terms representing the state’s 21st Senatorial District, which includes portions of Iberia, St. Mary, and Terrebonne parishes.
In 1995, Foster decided to move to the other side of the aisle and ran for governor as a Republican late in the race. He took advantage of disdain for outgoing Governor Edwin Edwards and landed favor with Louisiana’s pro-business community. Foster edged out two more well-known candidates, then Rep. Cleo Fields and future U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, in the 1995 election.
Foster was inaugurated as governor of Louisiana Jan. 8, 1996 at the Old State Capitol in downtown Baton Rouge, almost a century after his grandfather was inaugurated for his second term. His grandfather, Murphy James Foster Sr., served as governor of Louisiana from 1892 to 1900 and as a U.S. senator for Louisiana from 1900 to 1913.
During Foster’s reelection campaign in 1999, one of his opponents accused him of ducking gubernatorial debates and appealed to his love of duck hunting by sending a person dressed up in a duck costume to the governor’s mansion.
Foster, an avid duck hunter, grabbed his duck call and called the “duck” into the mansion for some cookies and coffee.
He became the first two-term governor in Louisiana’s modern history when he defeated Democrat, Rep. William Jefferson, outright, avoiding a runoff election in 1999.
Louisiana’s business leaders loved Foster, but didn’t like the fact he didn’t take many trips outside of Louisiana to attract new business to the state.
“He was an older governor. In fact, when he won at 65, he was more than double the age of his opponent Cleo Fields, who was 32, and [Foster] governed as such. He viewed this as something that could be done without him being hands-on and traveling to every parish and going to every fair. But he also went to law school and he actually graduated from Southern law school while he was governor and he did have a pretty substantial day job. But he managed to go to Southern and for anybody who has done that, that’s a tough curriculum,” says WAFB political analyst, Jim Engster.
During his tenure as governor, Foster ended affirmative action in Louisiana, worked on tort reform, expanded the Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS), and streamlined the state’s community college system by creating the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. He also made standardized testing mandatory for grade advancement in Louisiana’s public schools and championed pay raises for teachers. He once promised to stop cashing his paycheck as governor until the state’s teachers were paid the southern average.
Engster credits Foster with transforming downtown Baton Rouge.
“Downtown Baton Rouge was a ghost town before Mike Foster became governor. And the vision of his commissioner of his administration Mark Drennan made this city a happening place with all these new buildings. They came during the Foster years and it was Foster who believed in that,” Engster said.
Foster also believed in the state’s young talent.
“He left an immense legacy that resonates until this day and perhaps one of the biggest things he did is that he hired a 24-year-old unknown person to be the head of his department of health and that was Bobby Jindal. And he became governor himself for eight years and he did so largely with the support of Governor Foster,” Engster said.
He also appointed Terry Landry as the superintendent of Louisiana State Police in 2000. Landry would later be elected as a state representative of Louisiana’s House District 96 in 2011.
While Foster did not like to travel during his governorship, he was an avid motorcycle enthusiast and removed a legal mandate that required motorcyclists to wear helmets. It was later overturned by his successor, Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco.
In his second term, Foster, who graduated from LSU in 1952, enrolled in classes at the Southern University Law Center and graduated with a juris doctorate in 2004. Foster retired from politics following his second term as governor and lived with his wife, Alice Foster, on his family’s estate in St. Mary Parish.
In his early life, Foster earned the rank of Eagle Scout in 1946.
“People loved him and forgave him for things that were kind of outside of the box, but he was an outside of the box kind of guy. There is no doubt about it that Louisiana will never have another like him,” Engster said.
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