M.J. "MIKE" FOSTER JR. was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. As a young man, he attained the rank of Eagle Scout. He graduated from Louisiana State University with a chemistry degree. He was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force in Korea from 1952 until 1955, when he returned home to work as a sugar cane farmer. He remained in private life until 1987, when he was elected to the first of two terms in the Louisiana Senate. Foster was sworn in as Louisiana's 49th governor on January 8, 1996. On October 23, 1999, he was reelected to a second term, winning 62 percent of the vote. Honest government, sound financial management, and investments in education were hallmarks of Foster's service. Under Foster, Louisiana led the nation in debt reduction. Between 1999 and 2001, the state's net tax-supported debt was reduced more than 55 percent. Much of the state's tobacco settlement funds were put in trust for the future for health care and at-risk youth. Louisiana voters responded to Foster's reforms by taking them an important step further. In 2002, they voted to eliminate the state sales tax on all food and most utilities, cutting taxes for 80 percent of Louisiana citizens, and, most importantly, stabilizing the revenue base. Foster's hobbies include riding motorcycles, flying helicopters, and he is qualified to pilot many different types of boats.