2TheAdvocate.com - Campbell Has Tenacious, Straight-Spoken Approach
By WILL SENTELL
Advocate Editor's note: First in a series of profiles of the major candidates for governor.
Friend and foe alike say Foster Campbell has a blunt manner and a bulldog mentality.
"He don't back up," said R.D. Elston, an 86-year-old farmer who has known Campbell for nearly three decades.
"When he believes it, he believes it. He puts it on the table."
Nowhere is that more evident than in Campbell's quest of nearly 30 years for a $5.5 billion tax on oil and natural gas.
Similar plans never gained traction during the Democrat's 26 years in the state Senate. Gov. Kathleen Blanco and industry leaders predict it would wreck one of the state's key industries.
But Campbell has made his pet proposal and the tax cuts he says would go with it the centerpiece of his bid for governor in the Oct. 20 primary.
"Once he gets a hold of something, he doesn't let go," said Sen. Robert Adley, a Benton Democrat who attended second grade with Campbell at Bossier Elementary School. "Sometimes that works well and sometimes that doesn't. But that is his nature."
Campbell, a 60-year-old Democrat, is a member of the Public Service Commission, which oversees utility rates statewide.
He lives in a log-cabin looking home on a 675-acre farm in Elm Grove, a Bossier Parish town of about 1,000. Elm Grove appears with little warning on La. 71 between McDade and Taylortown.
But the candidate is as blunt-spoken as any big-city politician.
"He will tell you exactly what he thinks," said George Rogers, who grew up with Campbell.
Republican gubernatorial rival Bobby Jindal "wouldn't know a bale of hay from sugar cane," Campbell told listeners in Napoleonville during a recent campaign swing.
State Sen. Walter Boasso, another campaign rival and a recent convert to the Democratic Party after years as a Republican, "is a political opportunist," Campbell said.
"I'm a Democrat and I didn't just switch," Campbell snapped during a campaign trip to Raceland earlier this month.
Asked why lawmakers have never approved his oil plan, Campbell replied, "The politicians are too cozy with the oil industry. That's wrong."
Earlier this year he said fellow PSC Commissioner Dale Sittig of Eunice was "squealing like a pig stuck under a gate" in a dispute with Campbell over the PSC's independence.
He has criticized Entergy Corp. so many times that he cited those clashes when his colleagues on the PSC declined to name him their chairman even though he was next in line under a traditional rotation.
"I've been their biggest nemesis," he said of Entergy.
In 2005 Campbell bluntly told railroad leaders they were responsible for some of the deaths at rail crossings moments after Blanco asked him and others to refrain from finger pointing.
It is all part of a single-minded approach that marks the candidate.
"If he gets something in his mind that's the way it is," said Johanne Loftin, a next-door neighbor in Elm Grove since 1985. "He is very determined."
Polls have repeatedly put him in single digits in his bid for governor against Jindal, Boasso, New Orleans businessman Jeff Georges and less well-funded opponents.
But Campbell has never been one to shirk a challenge, friends said.
"He is very determined, always was," said Mark Montgomery of Bossier City, who grew up with the candidate and has remained such a good friend that he figures one will be among the other's pallbearers at the end.
Montgomery, a real estate agent and appraiser, remembers his friend as someone who grew up in Bossier City loving to hunt and ride horses.
He said Campbell once convinced him to skip football practice at Bossier High School to go squirrel hunting.
Montgomery got caught and had to run laps. Campbell got a big laugh.
Both were high-school officers in the 4-H club, which is geared to students with an interest in agriculture, and the "Hi-Y" club, a group with goals including "clean speech and clean living."
After high school Campbell earned a degree in business administration from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.
Friends said he showed little sign at the time that he would make state politics a big part of his career.
"He was interested in politics, but not like the student government-type stuff," said Meyer Irby of Hammond.
After graduating from Northwestern, Campbell spent a few years teaching math at Haughton and Plain Dealing schools.
He started showing up on the state political radar when he won a north Louisiana Senate seat in 1976.
Former state Sen. Edwards Barham of Oak Ridge remembers when Campbell was a new senator.
"He and I did not agree on every issue, but he is a straight shooter," Barham said. "You don't have any trouble understanding where he is."
Barham's brother, Sen. Robert Barham, an Oak Ridge Republican, later sat near Campbell in the back of the Senate chamber.
"He is the real, dyed-in-the-wool traditional Democrat," Robert Barham said of his former colleague.
He also noted Campbell's reputation as one of the last of the Legislature's genuine orators.
"He is a stump speaker," Robert Barham said. "He is entertaining. When he went to the microphone, everyone wanted to know what Foster wanted to say. And he was always well-prepared for debates. When he came to the microphone to debate you with regard to specifics, he had his specifics."
Campbell watchers say much of that populist rhetoric, then and now, has the ring of Huey and Earl Long.
"All it takes is a politician and the people working together," he told a group in Houma earlier this month.
Exxon makes $12,500 per second and can afford to help fatten Louisiana's tax coffers for coastal repairs, Campbell said the same day.
"Do you think it would hurt them to fix the coast?" he asked during a campaign stop.
Campbell's oil tax
No issue is more linked to Campbell's time in the Senate than his push for an oil processing tax.
The Louisiana Constitution says the only tax the state can levy on oil and natural gas is one on the natural resources as they are taken from the ground. That is called a severance tax.
Campbell's plan would let voters remove that restriction. The change would pave the way for the Legislature to enact a new tax on the value of oil and gas that travels through Louisiana from foreign countries and federal offshore waters.
The candidate says his proposal would:
* Raise $5.5 billion per year, and maybe more.
* Allow abolition of the state individual, corporate and severance taxes at a savings of $3.7 billion per year.
* Allocate the remaining $1.8 billion per year for better roads, coastal improvements, health, education and the state's rainy day fund.
"I have the only plan," he said. "Nobody else talks about a plan."
Campbell tried variations of the same plan countless times during his years in the Senate. Most were killed in committee. A few made it to the full Senate before dying.
Larry Wall, spokesman for the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, said Campbell's plan would drive up gasoline costs by $1.25 per gallon and endanger the jobs of 10,000 refinery employees.
"We just think it is a very bad idea," Wall said.
Passing Campbell's plan would require the support of two-thirds of the House and Senate and a majority of voters statewide a tall political order.
Yet Campbell keeps pushing the issue.
"He is determined, doggedly determined," said John Campbell, a city court judge in Minden and a third cousin of the candidate.
"You can look back through his career at a number of things that he doesn't give up on if he thinks he is right."Path to PSC
In 1988 Campbell lost to Republican Jim McCrery by 1,300 votes in the race to fill the unexpired congressional term of Buddy Roemer, who had been elected governor. Campbell also lost an eye that year when his car dropped off a barricaded, unfinished section of Interstate 49 in Natchitoches Parish.
In 1990 he lost a bid for the same post, the 4th congressional district seat, to McCrery again.
Campbell joined the PSC in 2003 after defeating incumbent Don Owen, a longtime Shreveport television news personality.
Campbell won the race after a bitter campaign that inflicted political scars.
"I will give you a very short quote," Owen said when asked recently about Campbell. "I will not share with you my thoughts of Foster Campbell."
Campbell, while often outvoted, has been highly visible on the PSC.
He was a proponent of the push for Entergy to equalize rates between Louisiana and Arkansas, which triggered controversy for months. He also wanted to hold PSC meetings across the state, not just in Baton Rouge, which he called a convenience "for the boys wearing alligator shoes and $500 suits."
Campbell gets much of the credit for new rules that require utility companies to waive fees to help battered women flee their violent partners.
"That was his idea," said PSC member Jimmy Field of Baton Rouge.
Field described Campbell as one who gets to the point.
"When he tells you something, you can rely on it," he said.
Don't count him out'
Campbell lists his occupation as insurance agent. He is president of Campbell Insurance Agency and Premier Insurance Agency, both in Bossier City. They sell property and casualty policies.
Campbell and his wife, Paula Wright Campbell, divorced about a decade ago after a 26-year marriage. She declined comment for this story.
Johanne Loftin and her husband, Kenneth, have been Campbell's neighbors since 1985, two years after he built his home in Elm Grove.
Some of Campbell's six children three boys and three girls used to go to sleepovers at the Loftin house.
"I would definitely say extended family," she said.
Some say Campbell carries a humorless, single-minded approach to his causes. But Loftin said Campbell has quietly gone to the aid of those in need for years.
"And I don't think that always comes out," she said.
Loftin also dismissed Campbell's underdog status in his race for governor.
"Don't count him out," she said. "I don't count him out of this race."
Zollie Perritt of Minden, a retired appliance store operator, said he has known Campbell since his first run for the Senate in 1976.
"He was one of the hardest-working guys I have ever seen," Perritt said.
Perritt said he once told Campbell he disagreed with a bill the legislator filed in the Senate.
About a week later, Campbell called his name while Perritt was strolling around the Minden fair.
"He was chasing me down," he said. "He said he reviewed the bill, agreed with what I said, and he was pulling it."
Campbell has no second thoughts on his bid for an oil processing tax.
"It just makes so much sense," he said.
Foster Lonnie Campbell, D-Elm Grove
# AGE: 60
# EDUCATION: Business administration degree from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches
# MILITARY: None
# PRIVATE CAREER: President, Campbell Insurance Agency and Premier Insurance Agency; owner, Campbell Farm.
# PUBLIC SERVICE: State senator, 1976-2002; Public Service Commission member, 2003-present.
# FAMILY: Divorced. Six children, ranging in age from 16 to 31.
# MAJOR AFFILIATIONS: Ducks Unlimited; Quail Unlimited; National Rifle Association; Louisiana Cattlemen's Association; board of directors, Louisiana School for Math and Science.
# RELIGION: Baptist
# HERO: Harry S. Truman
# PETS: Lots of dogs
# HOBBIES: Quail hunting
# CAR YOU DRIVE THE MOST: F-250 crew cab pickup
# WORST HABIT: Politics
# LAST THING YOU FAILED AT: Putting a water pump on a car.
# WEBSITE: www.fostercampbell.com
# BOOK: All Harry S. Truman biographies
# MOVIE: "Lonesome Dove"
# TV SHOW: ABC news program "Nightline."
# SPORT: Bird hunting
# VACATION SPOT: West Texas
# FOOTBALL TEAM: New Orleans Saints
# CAMPAIGN CONTACTS: www.fostercampbell.com
Source: Campbell campaign