BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Murphy James “Mike” Foster, Louisiana’s 53rd governor, died Sunday following an illness.
Foster, who served as governor from 1996 to 2004, died at his home in Franklin, the family confirmed Sunday evening. The 90-year-old had spent the previous week in hospice care.
Foster’s wife, Alice, voiced “appreciation of the extraordinarily kind and capable care that the doctors, nurses, hospice and home health care professionals provided,” in a statement to LaPolitics.com late Sunday afternoon.
“Our family will miss him dearly,” the statement read.
Foster spent two terms as a Democratic state senator, representing rural south Louisiana. He became a Republican shortly before entering the 1995 governor’s race, at age 65. (His grandfather, Murphy J. Foster, served as Louisiana’s 31st governor from 1892 to 1900.) Foster defeated Democrat Cleo Fields, then a congressman, by nearly a two-thirds’ margin in a November runoff.
Foster, who campaigned as an avowed conservative, solidified his Republican credentials by paying off state government debt and challenging the trial lawyers whom he claimed filed frivolous lawsuits. He won re-election outright in 1999, defeating Democratic congressman Bill Jefferson to become Louisiana’s first-ever two-term Republican governor.
He won liberal support for his education initiatives. He raised salaries for K-12 educators and college professors, supported efforts to update university infrastructure, and watched over the creation of the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS), which has given billions of dollars to students to attend public universities tuition-free. He also unified vocational and associate’s degree programs into the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.
“Governor Foster recognized that there is no greater gift to our state than a bright future for its young people and that not everyone has to travel the same path to achieve a quality education,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement Sunday evening.
“A veteran, a businessman and a sportsman, Gov. Mike Foster was a true Louisianan who served his country, his state and his community with honor throughout his life,” Edwards said.
Foster, who got his Bachelor’s degree at Louisiana State University and served the Air Force in the Korean War, attended Southern University Law School while governor.
Foster appointed a 24-year-old named Bobby Jindal to lead the state’s health department. Jindal later served two terms of his own as governor, from 2007 to 2015.
“Mike Foster was a good personal friend and mentor to me, and he was a great leader who cared deeply about Louisiana,” Jindal said in a statement Sunday. “Governor Foster proved to Louisiana we could have honest, competent government. While he was a man of deep personal conviction, he cared more about people than ideology.”
U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy also issued statements on Foster’s death:
“The death of former Gov. Mike Foster could be seen as one more tragedy of 2020,” Cassidy said. “But his life and service are to be celebrated. He invested heavily in higher education, greatly expanded the community college system, and worked to make Louisiana an opportunity state. He will be missed, but his achievements endure.”
“Mike Foster worked hard to create jobs and improve education across Louisiana,” said Kennedy, who served as state treasurer from 2000 to 2017. “I had the privilege of serving in his administration and seeing firsthand why so many Louisianians admire him. Becky and I are incredibly sad about his passing, but we are so happy to have known him.”
A family spokesman says further details on arrangements will emerge in the coming days.