BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – The death of popular former Gov. Mike Foster and the reminiscing that has followed provided the latest reminder of how much Louisiana Capitol politics have transformed over nearly two decades and been reshaped by partisanship.
Foster died Oct. 4 at his home in coastal St. Mary Parish from age-related illnesses. He was 90 years old. He was buried Wednesday.
Though he switched from Democrat to Republican to run for the governor’s office, Foster wasn’t driven by a party ideology in his management of state affairs. He didn’t hire staff and Cabinet leaders based on their political affiliation. And he didn’t align himself with lawmakers based on the R or D behind their names.
Instead, his eight-year administration from 1996 until 2004 had a big tent feel. He rejected ideologues.
No greater example of Foster’s bipartisan approach could have been offered than when Baton Rouge Democratic state Sen. Cleo Fields – the man Foster defeated in the 1995 election to win the governor’s job – spoke of his one-time opponent on the Senate floor last week.
“We were very, very good friends,” Fields told senators, most of whom weren’t in the Louisiana Legislature during Foster’s tenure.
Fields previously served in the Senate with Foster, who had been a Democratic state senator for eight years before running for governor. Fields described the two-term governor as “just an honorable man” and “a bridge builder.”
“When I saw Mike, I didn’t see a Republican governor. I just saw a governor,” Fields said. He declined to call Foster the state’s last bipartisan governor, but said: “I can only tell you he was a governor who worked both sides of the aisle. To him there was not an aisle.”
Foster led Louisiana in a quieter period by the state’s political standards.