If Ezola Foster is elected vice president of these United States, ladies and gentlemen, there won't be any more free lunch in America! At least not in the public schools. The government won't be wasting money feeding poor kids. They're not hungry, anyway.

"This idea that you come to school hungry--come on! It's crazy!" Foster says. "It's just so they can bring in all these lunch programs, breakfast programs--next, it's going to be dinner! . . . That's not the job of the schools--to feed the children. Let them pay for it or let them bring their own."

Ezola Foster is the black female John Birch Society member who won the vice presidential nomination of the Reform Party--or at least the faction of the party that nominated Pat Buchanan for president. Yesterday the Federal Election Commission decided that Buchanan and Foster will receive $12.6 million in federal campaign funds.

She's sitting in a conference room in the Buchanan-Foster headquarters in Vienna, wearing a white dress, gold earrings, red nail polish and thick black glasses. She was a schoolteacher in Los Angeles for 33 years, and now, at 62, she still retains a schoolmarmish speaking style, ar-tic-u-lat-ing me-tic-u-lous-ly.

She's a neat, petite woman who smiles broadly and laughs easily, especially when she's launching another verbal assault on the liberal elite or the New World Order. Foster loves a good fight. Back in L.A., she led crusades against pornography and AIDS education and illegal immigration. In 1995, she organized a testimonial dinner for Laurence Powell, one of the cops convicted of beating Rodney King. And when the city canceled the dinner--it was scheduled to take place in a police department building--she filed a lawsuit demanding $155 million. She didn't get the money, but she did get lots of publicity.

She enjoys publicity, and she loves tweaking the black establishment. She says the civil rights movement has become "a revenge-and-reparations movement." She calls Jesse Jackson and other black leaders "Leninist race-baiters." Last January, she spoke at a "Repudiate Jesse Jackson" rally, where she defended the Confederate flag and announced that God brought African slaves to America "so that their descendants would know freedom."

But the topic that really gets her going is education. The "government schools" have become "socialist training camps," she says. And a free lunch is just part of the problem.

"Now, they've gone from feeding them to medicating them--the idea that a school can determine that a child is hyperactive!" she says, building up a good head of rhetorical steam. "By the way, that hyperactive stuff has never been validated by scientific research as a valid medical disease. It was made up in an American Psychiatric Association meeting. I don't remember what year. As a result, they now have them on drugs. You have millions of children on Ritalin, and that's ridiculous!"

She smiles, then takes a breath and keeps on going. "These mental health programs are another thing that needs to be booted out of our schools! Every time there's a tragedy, they have to send for grief counselors. How totally ridiculous!"

On Her 'Mental Disorder'

Funny she should mention mental health. Her own mental health--or possible lack thereof--recently made news across the country.

On Aug. 24, the Los Angeles Times reported that Foster received workers' compensation payments for an unspecified "mental disorder" after leaving her job as a typing teacher in 1996. It was the perfect gotcha story: Either Foster had a mental disorder or she was ripping off the workers' comp system. In other words, she's crazy or she's crooked.

"I'm perfectly sane," she told Times reporter Doug Smith. But a few minutes later, she got mad and hung up on him.

The story went out on the news wires. It was printed all over the country. It made her look . . . well, nutty. But there's a story behind the story.

In 1994, Foster was a prominent supporter of Proposition 187, a ballot initiative designed to deny government benefits, including education, to illegal immigrants. This made her extremely unpopular in the school where she taught--Bell High School, whose student body is more than 90 percent Hispanic.

In 1996, she appeared on PBS's "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour," arguing that the cost of educating illegal immigrants caused American kids to be shortchanged. When she returned to school, she was attacked in an open letter written by several of her faculty colleagues, who denounced the "contempt she shows for the Bell community."

Two days later, when she appeared at an off-campus rally against illegal immigration, a mob led by a Maoist sect called the Progressive Labor Party attacked the rally, throwing punches and hurling frozen cans of soda.

"They came there to get Ezola," recalls Glenn Spencer, president of Voice of Citizens Together, which sponsored the rally.

Foster was not hurt, but several of her supporters were left bloodied. After that, she never returned to Bell. She says she feared for her life and the school administration offered her no protection.

"It would have been suicidal for me to go back," she says.

Officials at Bell and at the Los Angeles Unified School District decline to comment on the incident.

At the time, Foster sued the school district, seeking damages for "serious physical ailments, emotional distress, fear, anxiety, depression and loss of self-esteem." A judge dismissed the suit without trial.

She also filed for workers' compensation, claiming a "mental disorder." The school district disputed her claim, but a judge ruled in her favor and she collected benefits until 1998, when she retired from the school system.

The exact nature of her "mental disorder" is blacked out in the public records of the case, and Foster's attorney is fighting to keep those records secret. But Foster says her mental problem was simple--"stress."

"I had a lot of stress at the time," she says. "Any normal person would, under those circumstances. And I followed my doctor's and my lawyer's advice. It's as simple as that. And that's really all I have to say about this."

On Issues

Foster grew up poor in a little Louisiana town during the 1940s and '50s, but she says segregation wasn't really so bad.

Sure, the law said black people had to sit at the back of the bus, but sometimes, she says, the less racist white drivers would let her sit wherever she wanted.

And blacks could attend the local movie theater only one day a month, but that wasn't so bad either, she explains, because "it was so exciting to have the theater all to ourselves."

And black folks were forced to sit in the back of her Catholic church and couldn't receive Communion until the whites were finished, but she didn't mind because, she says, "after the Mass we saw the whites and blacks hugging and talking."

"It's a gross distortion to say we were all ill-treated," she wrote in her 1995 book, "What's Right for All Americans." "We were not sacrificial lambs."

Maybe the segregated South wasn't so bad, but Foster left it immediately after graduating from Texas Southern University, formerly known as Texas State College for Negroes. She moved to Los Angeles in 1960 and took a job in a law office. She married and had a son, but the marriage was annulled, she says, when she learned that her husband was a convicted felon. She does not recall what the felony was.

"Oh, gee, what was it?" she says. "I don't remember. But it was pretty bad."

In 1977, she married her current husband, truck driver Chuck Foster.

By then, she was a veteran teacher. She taught typing and business courses and, occasionally, English--first at Jordan High School in Watts, then at Bell. In both places, she earned a reputation for combativeness.

"I was a thorn in the side of the administration wherever I went," she says.

Not only did she battle administrators over various policies, but she also fought other teachers. In the early '80s, she filed a grievance with the teachers union, charging a faculty colleague with spreading rumors about her.

The case was a morass of charges and countercharges, recalls Don Baer, the union official who handled the grievance. "What could be substantiated is that Ezola had some difficulties with interpersonal relationships," Baer recalls. "Nobody wanted her teaching in their buildings. . . . She was totally unmanageable. The trouble she got into is because she causes a great deal of trouble."

Hearing that quote, Foster laughs. "I don't know what he's talking about," she says.

Meanwhile, Foster had become a prominent conservative activist in Los Angeles, and in 1984 she ran as a Republican for the state assembly in an overwhelmingly black and Democratic district. Not surprisingly, she was trounced.

During that campaign, Foster courted a gay Republican organization called the Log Cabin Club, recalls Frank Ricchiazzi, one of its founders. "She was reaching out to the gay community," he says. "She said all the right things. She asked for our endorsement, and we endorsed her."

Foster disputes that story. She says she attended a Log Cabin event but only because "I did not know what the Log Cabin Club was." She didn't ask for their endorsement, she says, "and I would never accept it."

Either way, Foster soon emerged as one of the city's most outspoken opponents of gay rights. She formed a group called Black Americans for Family Values and lobbied against AIDS education in schools, which she regarded as promoting homosexuality. And when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors debated a proposal to distribute condoms and bleach to intravenous drug users, Foster told the supervisors: "We'll know before this is over who's standing for family values and who's standing with the perverts."

In 1987, she was arrested leading a charge of "Christian women from south-central" who invaded the state Republican convention to protest party recognition of the Log Cabin Club.

"She had these leaflets about how gays were taking over the Republican Party." Ricchiazzi recalls. "I thought, 'Is this woman for real?' "

"I will admit our signs were quite blunt," Foster says, laughing. "Things like: 'The Democrats Are the Party of the Perverts, the Republicans Should Be the Party of the Family.' "

In 1992 and 1996, Foster supported Pat Buchanan's unsuccessful campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination, and when Buchanan quit the Republican Party last fall to run for the Reform nomination, Foster went with him.

"We believe in the same issues," she says.

In August, when Foster accepted Buchanan's offer to be his vice presidential running mate, she resigned her job as a traveling speaker for the John Birch Society, a post she'd held since 1996. Founded in 1958, the Birch Society became famous in the 1960s for its crusade against the fluoridation of water and for its elaborate conspiracy theories, which include the notion that President Eisenhower and his brother Milton were agents of the international Communist cabal.

Foster loves the Birchers. "I think they're the most wonderful group of people I've ever met!" she gushes. "Chuck and I have been very proud to be members of this very fine group of people."

Buchanan remains delighted with his choice of a running mate. "I'm proud of her," he says. "She is a very strong, principled conservative who has lived in the real world and has iron convictions and great courage. She and I disagree on some things, but that doesn't mean I'm always right."

He differs with her on free lunches for poor schoolchildren, he says. And he rejects the Birch Society's view of Eisenhower. "My own view is that he was an excellent president, second only to Ronald Reagan since World War II."

But none of that affects his view of Foster. "We're not in complete agreement on every issue--but we're close," he says. "And frankly, I like her."

On Immigrants

"I went around Virginia early this morning and looked at all the job sites," Chuck Foster says. "There wasn't one black man there."

"Look at the restaurants--the nice restaurants and hotels," Ezola says. "You don't see them."

The problem, they say, is immigrants. They're taking jobs that should go to native-born black people.

"And still," Chuck says, "Jesse Jackson will protest so Hispanic workers can get jobs instead of brothers, who are in jail getting beat up by the illegals."

That's one of Ezola Foster's pet issues--black prison inmates being beaten by Hispanics. Every Super Bowl Sunday, she claims, the Mexicans in California prisons beat up the black inmates. And yet Jackson and others remain silent.

"They don't say a word," she says, "not one word."

The Fosters have moved into a hotel in Northern Virginia to be closer to the Reform Party's campaign headquarters. With Buchanan recuperating from gallbladder surgery, Foster has been campaigning largely through radio and TV appearances.

Now she and her husband are sitting in an office at Fox TV on Capitol Hill. She has just finished an interview, and they're waiting for a limo. Chuck, now 58 and retired from truck driving, starts talking about John Rocker, the Atlanta Braves pitcher who got into trouble for making anti-immigrant and anti-gay remarks.

"That man was telling the truth!" he says. "I experienced the same things John Rocker experienced--right here in Virginia. We've been staying in a hotel all week, and they have yet to get an order right."

Ezola laughs out loud.

"In the hotel, I went to get some copies made," Chuck continues. "And this lady from India says"--he tries an Indian accent--" 'Oh, the copy machine is in there, and it costs 15 cents a copy.' And I said, 'Wait! You gonna charge me 15 cents a copy, and you're gonna tell me to make 'em?' And she said, 'Well, where I come from . . . ' And I said, 'This is America! If you're gonna charge me, you gotta do it!' " He throws his hands up in mock frustration. "They come over here with their habits from their countries."

Illegal immigration is bad enough in California, Ezola says, but it's even worse in Arizona.

"The illegals come over [the border] into the ranches," she says. "They kill their cattle. They rape their children. The children can't play in the yard anymore."

"You seen 'em come through the sewers?" Chuck says. "Have you seen that?"

The sewers?

"They comin' over in the sewage," he says. "They can't treat their sewage down there [in Mexico], so they send it up to us to treat. And they come up with the sewage. They put all their clothes in these big bags, and they float on 'em. It's flotation. And these same people are using the airlines. They get on the planes, and they stink. You can tell they haven't had a bath--phew! They get on the airplane. They travel four and five in a pack. They travel in big groups."

Chuck Foster goes on and on about the horrors of Mexicans on airplanes while his wife, the Reform Party candidate for vice president of the United States, listens, smiling sweetly.