POPLARBLUFF, Mo. -- After nearly 12 years of statewide public service, Sen. Bill Foster, R-Poplar Bluff, isn't ready to retire, but he is ready for a new opportunity. Foster has announced that he will not seek another term in the Senate in 2004.
Foster said he's stepping aside to make way for a candidate he said he would like to see succeed him and keep the continuity of the Bootheel Team -- known colloquially as the Bootheel Mafia.
"All things being equal I probably would have gone ahead and run for the last term," Foster said. "I don't think I would have had an opponent. I don't see one on the horizon right now, Republican or Democrat. Throughout the last session Rob Mayer (R-Dexter) came to me and said he was interested in running for office when I get out."
Although through term limits Foster can run for another four-year term, he decided to step aside to let Mayer run for Senate instead.
"One of the things we all have to put first is the people, not ourselves," he said.
So even though if he did win another term, and although it's possible Mayer might be just as interested and just as attractive a candidate then as he is now, Foster said he decided to groom Mayer as his successor.
"We don't know what the future will be," Foster said. "I decided we had a good candidate in Rob Mayer. I tried to take a look at what1s important for the people who live in the Bootheel, Republican and Democrat. I feel that Rob Mayer will represent everybody, all 170,000 people in the district. I think he will be a great leader. It's just a good time."
Feeling the heat
Foster, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, took a political hit earlier this year after criticizing the House and Senate leaders for some foot-dragging regarding the formation of the interim committee to study education funding. After publicly hoping to be named chairman of that committee, he was left off it completely. He said he also took some criticism more recently after publicly supporting Democrat Gov. Bob Holden's proposal for closing four tax loopholes to create money for education.
Holden's proposal did not even make it out of committee and to the legislature during the recent special session.
Foster said neither of those instances played into his decision.
"Sometimes we lose support when we make a stand or support an issue," he said "but normally we pick up three times that many. I know not too long ago I got a lot of calls that I was supporting Bob Holden, but the fact is I was supporting the issue -- should all businesses in Poplar Bluff be taxed fairly."
Foster, 56, was born on a farm and after attending the Milwaukee School of Engineering and the David Rankin Technical School, was an industrial engineer for about 15 years.
He served on the Poplar Bluff City Council and was mayor in 1979-80. He owned Brown Window Company in Poplar Bluff, before entering public service when he was first elected in a special election to the 156th House District. He served seven and a half years in the House, and was elected to the Senate in 2000. While he served in the House, he actively supported the proposal that eventually became law limiting legislators' terms.
He said he is optimistic about what lies ahead.
"I have a pretty well rounded background," Foster said. "I'm looking forward to the rest of my life."
"I'm not ready to retire; I'm not a retirement kind of person. I'll work until I die. I like to do things. I like to get out and make things happen. I don't regret one second I have served, an I never will."
Foster lists among his best achievements getting an additional $12 million recently in a tight financial state economic situation for senior citizens health care.
"A lot of seniors were making tough decisions between food and prescription drugs," he said. "We have a moral obligation to our seniors who have worked all their lives and paid taxes and now need a little help.
"I worked hard for education which I hope to continue to do the next year and a half. I have a wonderful rapport with the MSTA and a wonderful rapport with the MNEA. I don1t know anyone who has had a rapport with both at the same time."
Foster and his Bootheel Team worked to get the St. John's project concluded, a project the federal government approved in 1954, but the state could never sign off on until the Bootheel Team went to work on it. The St. John's
project closes the holes in the levee around the St. John's Bayou and will save acres of farmland by preventing the Mississippi River from flooding crops.
"Good things like that happened on my watch," he said, "and good things will happen in the future. It was good to be a little part of it."