Gov. Mike Foster: The Peoples’ Governor

he absolutely hated wearing a helmet.  In fact, in typical blue collar fashion, he hated being told what to do about anything “for your own good.” Year after year, I worked with Mike to prevent mandatory helmets, and we were successful.

Our nemesis on such legislation was Rep. V. J. “Safety First” Bella, who was later State Fire Marshal. He loved the helmet law and fought us every step of the way.

His way of convincing legislators to support his helmet bill was to place a head of lettuce on the podium in the House chamber.  He would say, “Look at this!” and slam a machete through a head of lettuce, cutting it in two.  Then he would place a head of lettuce inside a football helmet and slam the machete onto the helmet, causing no damage to the lettuce.  “You see, helmets work!” he said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Foster, Rep. Steve Gunn, and I were arguing that it was an issue of liberty. People have the right to take risks in life.  We also argued that the science was largely against helmets.  Why?  Research showed that helmets provide real protection only when the motorcycle driver is traveling under 20 mph. Helmets actually cause more deaths and injuries than not wearing a helmet at speeds over 20 mph.  How so? The weight of the helmet causes the neck to whiplash, resulting in death or life altering injuries at a greater rate than the damage to the skull caused by trauma when there is no helmet. 

During one of our debates, the data on the danger of wearing a helmet was getting through to House members, and Rep. Bella was worried.  In a question to me at the mic, he said, “Mr. Jenkins, you say helmets are dangerous at speeds over 20 mph. Then why do football players wear helmets?” Mike was standing next to me near the podium. He leaned over and whispered, “Tell him football players all travel under 20 miles an hour.  So they need a helmet!”  I told V. J. that from the mic.  It got a big laugh from House members, and we passed the bill to make the wearing of motorcycle helmets voluntary.

The wearing of motorcycle helmets was voluntary most of the time Foster was governor, although the helmet law was reimposed after he left office in 2004.

One day in May 1995 during the regular legislative session, Sen. Mike Foster walked over to the House side and sat down next to me. His gubernatorial campaign was going nowhere. He said he was at 2 percent in the polls and was having trouble getting endorsements. In fact, he said he didn’t have the support of even a single member of the House or Senate. He asked if I would consider endorsing him. Without hesitation, I agreed.  “Can we have a news conference to announce it?” he asked.  I said yes, we could have it at my home on North Foster Drive.

On the day of the announcement, Mike pulled up to our home, and he was shocked. More than 100 people had come, packing the living room.  Better still, all of the major news media from Baton Rouge and New Orleans were set up in the room. I introduced Mike and he spoke.  He did a great job, and the news story went statewide.

Ironically, I ended up being the only legislator in the state who endorsed him for governor until the final days before the runoff.

After the news conference was over and everyone had left, he lingered.  “What is the name of this street?” he asked.  I said, “North Foster Drive, Foster — it’s named after your grandfather!”  “Ohhhh!” he said, “I had no idea!”

We sat down to talk about the campaign.  He said, “Woody, I have some money, but it would take everything I have to fund this campaign, I can’t do that to my family.”  I said, “Mike, I know how you can win this thing with very little money.” How? he asked.

I had been thinking about a path to victory for Mike Foster. It involved what seemed perfectly clear to me but to virtually no one else in the political world.  

The key was to get in the runoff with Congressman Cleo Fields.

The secret to victory was newspapers.

I said, “Everyone will buy TV time. It is ridiculously expensive, and the airwaves will be jammed. You can spend a fortune and still get almost no attention.  The key is newspapers.  People say newspapers are dead but that is far from true.  The reality is that in every city there are many TV stations and radio stations but only one newspaper.  It is a very efficient buy, and almost 100 percent of newspaper readers are voters.  With them, you are reaching the people you need to reach.”

Then I described a very specific series of ads.  I drew out three examples, showing the size ads and what to say.  I explained how often to run the ads, where to place them in the paper, and the repetitive format of the ads.  Then I handed him a list of newspapers to run the ads in.  He followed my advice to the T. 

When we sat down and discussed the campaign, Mike was at 2 percent in the polls.  Over the next eight weeks, the only media he bought were those newspaper ads.  Not a penny on radio or TV.  But eight weeks later, he was at 17 percent in the polls and near the top of the pack of candidates.

The polls encouraged donors and in the final weeks of the campaign, he was able to raise the money he needed to buy the TV and direct mail necessary to finish out the campaign.  On election day, he finished first among the Republican candidates and faced Cleo Fields in the runoff.  At that moment, the election was all but over.

During his time as governor, Mike Foster fulfilled his duties with honesty and integrity.  He answered his own phone and returned calls. If you dropped by his home in Franklin, he personally answered the door. He never sought personal, financial or political gain.  Rather, he was a true public servant.  A man of the people.  Pro-life.  Conservative.  He cared about the little man. He was truly the Peoples’ Governor!

he absolutely hated wearing a helmet.  In fact, in typical blue collar fashion, he hated being told what to do about anything “for your own good.” Year after year, I worked with Mike to prevent mandatory helmets, and we were successful.

Our nemesis on such legislation was Rep. V. J. “Safety First” Bella, who was later State Fire Marshal. He loved the helmet law and fought us every step of the way.

His way of convincing legislators to support his helmet bill was to place a head of lettuce on the podium in the House chamber.  He would say, “Look at this!” and slam a machete through a head of lettuce, cutting it in two.  Then he would place a head of lettuce inside a football helmet and slam the machete onto the helmet, causing no damage to the lettuce.  “You see, helmets work!” he said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Foster, Rep. Steve Gunn, and I were arguing that it was an issue of liberty. People have the right to take risks in life.  We also argued that the science was largely against helmets.  Why?  Research showed that helmets provide real protection only when the motorcycle driver is traveling under 20 mph. Helmets actually cause more deaths and injuries than not wearing a helmet at speeds over 20 mph.  How so? The weight of the helmet causes the neck to whiplash, resulting in death or life altering injuries at a greater rate than the damage to the skull caused by trauma when there is no helmet. 

During one of our debates, the data on the danger of wearing a helmet was getting through to House members, and Rep. Bella was worried.  In a question to me at the mic, he said, “Mr. Jenkins, you say helmets are dangerous at speeds over 20 mph. Then why do football players wear helmets?” Mike was standing next to me near the podium. He leaned over and whispered, “Tell him football players all travel under 20 miles an hour.  So they need a helmet!”  I told V. J. that from the mic.  It got a big laugh from House members, and we passed the bill to make the wearing of motorcycle helmets voluntary.

The wearing of motorcycle helmets was voluntary most of the time Foster was governor, although the helmet law was reimposed after he left office in 2004.

One day in May 1995 during the regular legislative session, Sen. Mike Foster walked over to the House side and sat down next to me. His gubernatorial campaign was going nowhere. He said he was at 2 percent in the polls and was having trouble getting endorsements. In fact, he said he didn’t have the support of even a single member of the House or Senate. He asked if I would consider endorsing him. Without hesitation, I agreed.  “Can we have a news conference to announce it?” he asked.  I said yes, we could have it at my home on North Foster Drive.

On the day of the announcement, Mike pulled up to our home, and he was shocked. More than 100 people had come, packing the living room.  Better still, all of the major news media from Baton Rouge and New Orleans were set up in the room. I introduced Mike and he spoke.  He did a great job, and the news story went statewide.

Ironically, I ended up being the only legislator in the state who endorsed him for governor until the final days before the runoff.

After the news conference was over and everyone had left, he lingered.  “What is the name of this street?” he asked.  I said, “North Foster Drive, Foster — it’s named after your grandfather!”  “Ohhhh!” he said, “I had no idea!”

We sat down to talk about the campaign.  He said, “Woody, I have some money, but it would take everything I have to fund this campaign, I can’t do that to my family.”  I said, “Mike, I know how you can win this thing with very little money.” How? he asked.

I had been thinking about a path to victory for Mike Foster. It involved what seemed perfectly clear to me but to virtually no one else in the political world.  

The key was to get in the runoff with Congressman Cleo Fields.

The secret to victory was newspapers.

I said, “Everyone will buy TV time. It is ridiculously expensive, and the airwaves will be jammed. You can spend a fortune and still get almost no attention.  The key is newspapers.  People say newspapers are dead but that is far from true.  The reality is that in every city there are many TV stations and radio stations but only one newspaper.  It is a very efficient buy, and almost 100 percent of newspaper readers are voters.  With them, you are reaching the people you need to reach.”

Then I described a very specific series of ads.  I drew out three examples, showing the size ads and what to say.  I explained how often to run the ads, where to place them in the paper, and the repetitive format of the ads.  Then I handed him a list of newspapers to run the ads in.  He followed my advice to the T. 

When we sat down and discussed the campaign, Mike was at 2 percent in the polls.  Over the next eight weeks, the only media he bought were those newspaper ads.  Not a penny on radio or TV.  But eight weeks later, he was at 17 percent in the polls and near the top of the pack of candidates.

The polls encouraged donors and in the final weeks of the campaign, he was able to raise the money he needed to buy the TV and direct mail necessary to finish out the campaign.  On election day, he finished first among the Republican candidates and faced Cleo Fields in the runoff.  At that moment, the election was all but over.

During his time as governor, Mike Foster fulfilled his duties with honesty and integrity.  He answered his own phone and returned calls. If you dropped by his home in Franklin, he personally answered the door. He never sought personal, financial or political gain.  Rather, he was a true public servant.  A man of the people.  Pro-life.  Conservative.  He cared about the little man. He was truly the Peoples’ Governor!

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