In Louisiana, politics is practiced very differently from any other state in the country. First of all, there is the legacy of corruption from the days of Huey P. Long that still haunts the state. The last three Insurance Commissioners went to jail, as did the former Elections Commissioner and the infamous former Governor of the State, Edwin Edwards. In fact, in 1991, his last election, Edwards was elected over former KKK leader David Duke in the run-off. With a choice like that, citizens all over Louisiana pasted "Vote for the Crook, itís important" bumper stickers on their cars.
This type of dreadful choice was produced by the open primary system, otherwise known as the "jungle primary." In Louisiana, there are no party primaries and candidates from all parties run in the primary election, with the top two making the general election. This creates a political system that does not prioritize party affiliation. For example, in the Louisiana Legislature, party labels are almost meaningless. From this environment came Democratic State Senator Mike Foster, candidate for Governor in 1995. After spending the vast majority of his adult life as a Democrat, Foster switched his affiliation to the Republican Party on the day he qualified for Governor. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to anyone that as Governor Mike Foster continues to act more like a Democrat. Last week, many Republicans acted outraged over his non-endorsement of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Suzanne Haik Terrell in her race against incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu; however, Republicans should realize that his latest action is part of a longstanding Foster pattern.
Foster is not a conservative who believes in smaller government. The state budget has grown by over $6 billion during Foster's two terms in office. His Chief of Staff Andy Kopplin is a lifelong Democrat who was a strong supporter of former President Bill Clinton and worked hard for the Clinton-Gore team in Louisiana in 1992. While in office, Foster has continued to champion tax increases, like plans named after State Representative Vic Stelly: Stelly I and Stelly II. Last Tuesday, Stelly II passed, helped by Foster who advocated it during his weekly radio program and helped State Representative Vic Stelly raise money for statewide advertising. Governor Foster has called State Representatives who have voted against his tax increase proposals, like Republican Senate candidate Tony Perkins, "tooth fairies."
Foster has also been a friend of gambling during his tenure, working to help Harrah's Casino in New Orleans and the riverboat casinos expand during his tenure. Several months ago, he supported the expansion of gambling into an Indian reservation in Vinton, Louisiana, and became enraged that Congressman David Vitter successfully opposed that development.
Politically, the Governor has acted like a strange Republican. He has hosted Democratic legislators at the Governorís mansion for a fundraiser. In 1996, he only supported Republican U.S. Senate candidate Woody Jenkins half-heartedly. After Democrat Mary Landrieu beat Jenkins, Foster helped the new Senator raise money early in her term. In 1998, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jim Donelon did not receive the support of Foster in his race against incumbent Democrat John Breaux.
During his first term, Foster started feuding with then Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Mike Francis. Quite often, Francis would criticize Foster for his big government philosophy or his lack of support for Republican candidates. The Governor tired of fighting with Francis and in 2000 launched a campaign to take control of the Louisiana Republican Party. This "Republican Renewal" campaign involved placing Foster candidates in most of the 213 State Central Committee districts in Louisiana. Foster gave money, time and his endorsement to this takeover effort and won overwhelmingly across Louisiana. Yet, after he took control of the Louisiana Republican Party, he did almost nothing to expand the party. The Governor did not work to switch the registration of Democrats to Republicans statewide. He did not try to convince Democratic state legislators to change their registration to the Republican Party. He did not recruit Republican candidates to run for Congress and other high profile offices. On the contrary, Foster has spoken highly of Democrats in office such as U.S. Senator John Breaux and Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Blanco.
This year, Foster even tried to jump into the U.S. Senate race and thereby undercut the campaigns of the three existing Republican candidates. When he opted out of the race, Foster endorsed Republican Congressman John Cooksey, but did almost nothing to help Cooksey get elected. After Terrell made the run-off against Landrieu, Foster encouraged Cooksey not to endorse or campaign for Terrell. Foster continues to be angry that the National Republican Senatorial Committee endorsed and funded Terrell without his knowledge and blessing.
Next year, some observers believe that Foster will support Republican State Representative Hunt Downer for the Governor's job. Others believe that Foster really wants to stay in the position for another term, which is why he talked about overturning term limits and recently his wife Alice Foster spoke of running for Governor on a ticket with her husband running for Lieutenant Governor.
In every other state in the country, a Governor is expected to support the U.S. Senate candidate of his or her own political party, but, of course, this is Louisiana. Due to demographics and history, it is very tough for a Republican to win statewide. No Republican has been elected to the United States Senate since Reconstruction. Unfortunately for Republicans in Louisiana without the strong support of their Republican Governor, their Republican U.S. Senate candidate may very well lose her bid to make history and defeat an incumbent Democrat. History is on the side of the Democrats in Louisiana, and, in reality, by not endorsing Suzie Terrell in the Senate race, so is Governor Mike Foster.