ELM GROVE, La. -- Fifty years doing anything is a long time. So imagine five decades as a Louisiana politician.
Then you understand the life led by Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, who is running for re-election for perhaps the final time.
“My opponent, I don’t know him. I haven’t met him. I haven’t seen him,” said Campbell, “but that does not mean anything to me. We’re running like we’re three points behind.”
After 45 years in Louisiana public service, Campbell knows a thing or two about political campaigns. If he wins re-election to another six-year term on the Public Service Commission, he will be almost 80 years old when it’s over.
“I’ll be 79 years old; 50 years of service. It’s going to be a record,“ said Campbell.
Over the course of more than two decades in the Senate and 18 on the Public Service Commission, Campbell has seen and done a lot.
“I've had a wonderful life, said Campbell. “I started teaching school at Plain Dealing, Louisiana, moved to Haughton and taught high school. I got elected to the Senate. Stayed there 27 years. It’s been a great life.”
Part of it is spent tending to things on his farm; dogs to take care of and cattle to feed. As Campbell drove a four-wheeler across his ranch, he called the cattle: “Whooo!”
But it is service to others that really gets Campbell excited.
“I’ve helped people. Every day I get a call to do something for somebody. What could be more rewarding than helping people?” Campbell asked.
Examples include creating a $55 million education fund for Bossier Parish, suing big tobacco and using $1 billion from that case to fund an educational excellence fund and creating tougher academic standards for Louisiana athletes.
“I’ve been able to do some things other people haven’t ben able to do,” Campbell said, “and I’m very proud of my record helping people.”
In August, Campbell was put to the test by Hurricane Laura.
“We never thought this could happen to us,” said Campbell. “We were prepared, but they never thought this far north we could have those kinds of winds.”
“I’m glad to be here working with Swepco,” Foster said as he addressed emergency workers during the hurricane’s aftermath. “Getting them to do everything they can do. I’ve also met with Center Point Energy, Atmos Gas. We’ve worked with Cleco. We‘ve worked with Entergy. “We’re calling them all — let’s get together and lets do everything we can to get out of this dilemma.”
After the storm, Campbell’s campaign is forging ahead. His television commercials started Oct. 1.
“That’s the only way I’ve ever run, just run hard and see everybody I can see,” said Campbell.
Re-election would allow Campbell to shepherd in a new era in Louisiana.
“I’ve been on the forefront of bringing in wind energy for Louisiana, and solar energy in Louisiana—on the Public Service Commission. That is going to be our future,” said Campbell.
“Louisiana is an oil and gas state,” Campbell continued. “I understand that. There is still going to be room for oil and gas, but there is always room for innovation.”
Even for a veteran politician.
Still, Campbell has a bone to pick with Louisiana’s oil and gas companies and politicians and said they have cost our state a million acres of coastland.
“Sickening is what I would call it,” said Campbell said. “It is downright sickening to see politicians with tap dancing shoes on that won’t ask the oil companies to pay their fair share, that have torn up our coast.”
“We have squandered our natural resources. Our politicians haven’t stood up for the people,” said Campbell. “They represented the special interests, not the people’s interests. That is a mortal sin.”
Campbell’s opponent in the Nov. 3 election is Shane Smiley, currently serving his fourth term on the Ouachita Parish Police Jury. On 10 occasions he has served as president and wants to apply his experience to the Public Service Commission.
“I want to be a voice,” said Smiley, “a more conservative voice for the people, the 900,000 people the Public Service Commission represents in the Fifth District.”
“Broadband internet, even though the PSC doesn’t oversee broadband internet, I believe they are going to play a vital role in bringing broadband to rural northeast Louisiana,” Smiley said.
“Another idea I have, I think sewer and water companies need to have their rates looked at annually,” Smiley said. “Thirdly, we have cable companies that have zero oversite. I would like to see them fall under the umbrella of the Public Service Commission.”
By trade, Smiley is a nurse anesthetist and a small business owner. He believes the PSC race will be tough — and close.