In a first for a Louisiana governor, taxpayer dollars will help turn Mike Foster’s old high school in Franklin into an archives commemorating his two terms leading the state.
Foster, who helped launch Gov. Bobby Jindal’s political career, said Tuesday he is flattered that a project is being centered on himself, his brother, his grandfather and other politicians with ties to Franklin.
The town claims four governors, a lieutenant governor, a Louisiana Supreme Court justice and a few U.S. senators.
Foster and his grandfather served as governor nearly a century apart.
However, Foster said he knows there will be critics of the project.
“I get the distinct impression that there’s going to be money raised locally for this. You can always play devil’s advocate when you do anything with state funds, as I well know,” said Foster, who was governor from 1996 to 2004.
Jindal’s announcement Tuesday is for one of the projects he favored for capital outlay funding. The state’s construction budgets for this fiscal year was overcommitted coming out of the legislative session, and the governor recommended delaying or stripping money from ongoing projects and others such as public college maintenance.
For the archives in Franklin, roughly $1.8 million in state construction funding will be coupled with $75,000 from a St. Mary Parish government fund to renovate the Crowell School’s third floor.
The school’s first two floors already house the city hall.
The third floor will showcase the town’s political sons.
The idea of a gubernatorial archives is a novelty in Louisiana, although presidents get libraries in their hometowns upon leaving the White House.
Meg Casper, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said Louisiana has one of the weakest laws on preserving gubernatorial records.
Tulane and LSU stored Huey P. Long’s papers. Former Govs. Kathleen Blanco and Dave Treen gave boxes upon boxes of documents to the Secretary of State’s Office, which operates a state archives. Former Gov. Edwin Edwards said he did not hold onto records from his four terms as governor.
“Those papers incidental to my office were turned over to state archives. I did not keep personal documents,” Edwards said from the East Coast, where he was promoting his reality television program.
Foster said he has all kinds of mementos, including pictures with political significance that are not particularly interesting to his family as keepsakes.
Franklin’s political sons include:
- Henry Johnson, who served as governor from 1824 to 1828.
- Joshua Baker, who was governor in 1868. Baker lived with his parents on property that later became Oaklawn Manor, a plantation home now owned by Foster.
- Murphy Foster, Foster’s grandfather and Louisiana’s governor from 1892 to 1900.
- Jared Sanders, a newspaper publisher who served as governor from 1908 to 1912.
State Sen. Bret Allain, R-Jeanerette, said he pushed to include the project in the state construction budget because he did not want the Foster family’s historical papers, awards and paintings to be buried among a university’s collections.
He said it is a worthy project considering the state has spent far more on far less.
“Foster’s administration is going to be looked on very kindly by history,” Allain said. “How he governed needs to be preserved.”
Jindal said Foster worked to create today’s community and technical college system, expanded the TOPS program that uses public dollars to send children to college and lowered Louisiana’s debt by $1.6 billion.
Foster said the project came as a surprise to him.
“I never liked to be the center of attention, but I think it can be used for a lot of political history,” he said.