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2-term Louisiana governor Mike Foster dies at 90

NEW ORLEANS — Former Louisiana Gov. Murphy J. “Mike” Foster Jr., a folksy millionaire businessman who pushed major changes in education policy and lawsuit rules through an increasingly conservative state Legislature in the 1990s, died Sunday. He was 90.

Marsanne Goolsby, who was Foster’s press secretary when he was governor, said that Foster died Sunday at his home in Franklin, surrounded by relatives.

“Our family and I are saddened to announce that after 90 remarkable years my dear husband has passed. Our family will miss him dearly.” his wife, Alice Foster, said in a statement.

Foster had entered hospice care recently, with Goolsby saying he had a variety of age-related illnesses. Family members will announce funeral details later.

Foster was a political late-bloomer, first elected to the state Senate from south Louisiana’s St. Mary Parish as a Democrat at age 57 in 1987.

Eight years later he switched to the Republican Party before launching a longshot bid to succeed retiring Gov. Edwin Edwards, a Democrat who had dominated state politics for most of three decades.

Their styles could not have been more different. Edwards, silver haired, silver tongued and always nattily attired had been elected governor four times despite a penchant for scandal that eventually led to his imprisonment on federal corruption charges.

The bald and burly Foster was Edwards’ equal in neither style nor oratory. Still, he proved more adept at politics than many would have thought. Perhaps it was in his blood: His grandfather, Murphy James Foster, had been governor in the late 19th century. But Foster said he launched his political career not because he wanted to be a politician but because he was angry: The incumbent state senator at the time wouldn’t return his phone calls.

He challenged the incumbent and won handily.

Among his causes: overhauling a workers compensation system that many said was a drag on business recruitment and changing rules governing lawsuits that conservative lobbyists complained were weighted too heavily against businesses.

“If you know how to run a business and you have the knack to hire the right people, you can run the nation, much less the state,” he said in an interview shortly after his first gubernatorial victory.

Foster and 15 others were on that 1995 ballot to succeed Edwards. Former Gov. Buddy Roemer, a Republican, was an early favourite and there were other heavyweights including then-state Treasurer Mary Landrieu (later a U.S. senator) and then-Congressman Cleo Fields, both Democrats.

Kevin McGill, The Associated Press

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