As of the coming start of the Mississippi Legislative session next week, Robert Foster (R-Hernando) will no longer be a state representative. Instead, Foster is moving back into his role of owner/operator of the popular Cedar Hill Farm agri-tourist attraction.
Foster served one term in the state legislature but in 2019 chose not to seek re-election. Foster opted instead to make a run for governor, which pitted him against former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller and the eventual winner, Gov.-elect Tate Reeves.
Foster reflected on his time in politics, both as a legislator and as a candidate for governor, during a recent luncheon meeting of Republicans at the Hernando Golf and Racquet Club.
“I’m going to miss the process and really miss the people that I became so close with from all over the state in Jackson,” Foster said about his four years in Jackson and his failed campaign for governor. “I’ve made so many tremendous contacts across this state in the last nine months.”
In 2015, Foster was unopposed in his election to the House District 28 seat. He defeated Les Green by a 58-42 percent margin in the Republican primary.
Republican Jerry Darnell is the new House member from the district after an 85-15 percent victory in the November general election over Democrat Matt Williams.
Foster said it was a sharp learning curve for him when he started his term in January 2016 and he told Darnell and other freshman lawmakers to expect the same thing as they start their work.
“You’re going to have a very eye-opening experience when you get down there,” said Foster. “It’s not what you think. It’s a crazy circus down there but it is important work and you have to take it seriously.”
Among the successes of his four years in the House, Foster said he pointed to tax reform legislation he helped to get passed. But Foster, who pushed for more tax changes in his run for governor, said more needed to be done.
“We’ve got a terrible tax policy for a very conservative state,” Foster explained. “Right across the line up here (in Tennessee), there’s no income tax and everybody’s paying their fair share. That’s the type of system that a conservative government ought to set in place in Mississippi and I hope we can move toward that goal.”
Despite finishing third in the Republican primary, Foster’s 17.8 percent finish helped force a runoff between Reeves and Waller for the party nomination. He carried just DeSoto and Tate counties, but still saw positives in his campaign.
“The campaign overall was a huge success in my mind,” said Foster. “With only about $200,000, we had a very strong showing, I believe, in the message that I got out there.”
With little money to back him, Foster said he knew the odds of getting elected were against him.
“I knew what I was running against,” said Foster. “It was absolutely amazing to see how much money somebody would spend and the things that were said. I had $4,000 of my own seed money and that was it. We ended up raising some $200,000 and got our message across the whole state.”
Some will remember Foster’s run for governor for a moment when national attention centered on his refusal to allow Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell’s request to shadow him for a day on the campaign trail. Foster refused to have Campbell travel with him alone because of her gender, amid concerns about the appearance of a woman traveling alone with him for 15 consecutive hours.
The episode resulted in the hashtag #MyTruckMyRules becoming popular on social media, along with both vocal support and opposition to Foster’s position.
The incident galvanized his stance on his moral values, despite how others may perceive that stance. One particular interview especially caught him off guard.
“It taught me the importance of keeping vows and being strong, even when you’re being pounded by political press and national media, even your own Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly,” Foster said. “I was completely blindsided by that interview. They set me up. I believed I was going into a friendly interview and they came at me harder than the way CNN came at me and really threw me for a loop. I was still able to stand me ground there, too.”
Foster also said he received support from young couples who saw him stand up for his beliefs.
Another issue Foster hopes the state can move forward on involves the dismantling of state Certificate of Need laws. While such laws have been repealed at the federal level, Mississippi continues to “protect corporate healthcare monopolies at the expense of its citizens,” his campaign website stated.
State Rep. Dana Criswell (R-Olive Branch) said at the Hernando meeting he plans to be the legislator who will take up the issue next session.
As far as his own political future is concerned, Foster said he has no plans to run for another office at this time. That doesn’t mean he has completely discounted another attempt.
“Right at this moment, I’m focused on my business and I’m catching up on a lot of stuff I’ve been putting off the last four years at my farm,” Foster said. “I’m not saying that I won’t ever run for anything else again. It’s all about timing and it’s going to have to be something my family is 100 percent on board with. We haven’t we’d never do it again, but we’ve never said that we will.”
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.