Odom, now 72, has spent nearly three decades advancing his department's reach, which now includes a $100 million annual budget and 800 employees. All the while, he built a powerful, statewide Democratic Party network. He also has stayed in touch with his roots in the pesticide industry; his campaign finance report reads like the pest control section of the Yellow Pages. The donor list shows thousands of dollars in contributions from companies with names like "Bug Smashers" and "Roach Busters."
But Odom's Teflon persona has been tarnished during his most recent term. While a state district judge earlier this year tossed out a litany of corruption charges against him, Odom still faces a relentless prosecutor in Baton Rouge District Attorney Doug Moreau, who argues the charges were wrongfully dismissed. Moreau wants to bring Odom to trial on charges that range from money laundering to filing false public records. Additionally, in recent weeks, another judge ruled that Odom was ill-advised in seizing certain seafood imports and holding his own administrative hearing to determine the constitutionality of his actions.
In spite of it all, much like New Orleans Congressman William Jefferson, Odom has decided to run for another term. He shows nary a hint of worry. "I will not turn my back on the farmers, forest landowners and good people of this state," he says.
The mere suggestion of corruption, however, has packed the starting gate in Odom's race. He is bracing for what will no doubt be the race of his life. So far, and to no one's surprise, all his challengers are Republicans. Democrats, meanwhile, know full well how effective his Election Day network can be, at least pre-Katrina. Odom is unique among Louisiana politicians in that his base combines the rural white "Bubba" vote with the party's traditional base among urban blacks. No one else since Earl Long has been able to do that. Odom even prints his own sample ballots and circulates them statewide. At last official tally, Odom had raised more than $300,000 for his re-election and had a respectable $590,000 in the bank.
But this isn't going to be a conventional race.
State Rep. Mike Strain of Abita Springs has had his campaign up and running since the corruption charges against Odom started sticking in headlines. Strain has raised a whopping $788,000 from donors impressed with his "Army of Reform" approach, which is aimed directly at Odom. Lurking in the wings is Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Wayne Carter, another Republican, who has $682,000 in his campaign war chest and an armful of policy ideas.
With such well-heeled contenders, the GOP's dilemma may be deciding who has stronger conservative credentials. James Quinn, executive director of the Louisiana Republican Party, says the GOP won't play favorites, at least not this early in the race. "As of right now, I would be surprised to see any move for an official endorsement," he says. "We'll see who makes the runoff and go full throttle from there."
Strain already appears to have won the hearts and minds of the party faithful, if endorsements are any indication. He has the backing of U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany of Lafayette and U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Metairie, among others. Whereas Odom articulates no specific campaign strategy at this stage, Strain touts a five-tier proposal for reform. He wants to reduce farmers' transportation and fuel costs through tax credits, invest more money in new farming methods and "be a fiscal hawk when it comes to the use of tax dollars."
A veterinarian by trade, Strain also wants to develop a veterinarian task force to increase awareness of biological events (think mad cow) and take a scientific approach to livestock sanitation.
Don't expect to hear about all of these ideas in Strain's paid-media campaign, though. His overriding theme will be demonizing Odom and the commissioner's pending legal woes, a tried and true political method that has toppled many incumbents over the years. And there's no shortage of fodder against Odom.
Carter, meanwhile, may surface as a source of fresh ideas this campaign cycle. While he owns a company that sells offshore drilling equipment, Carter also has roots in north Louisiana and the timber industry. He and Strain both support the same ethics overhauls, but Carter also wants an inspector general at the administrative level to oversee the burgeoning department, which regulates florists, loggers, hog farmers, gas stations ' just to name a few.
Carter also is fond of specialty crops and believes organic farming could help Louisiana compete nationally. One of his ideas would pair Louisiana farmers with local school districts, creating a new market for agriculture professionals and providing healthy alternatives to students at a price schools will love.
Obviously, Carter will take his own swipes at Odom as well.
As for the incumbent, he already has endorsements from the state's sheriffs and assessor associations, and Democratic standbys such as the AFL-CIO and the teachers unions likely will follow suit. The Louisiana Democratic Party also is standing firm behind Odom. "Unlike the others, I am not running for re-election to essentially shut down the Department of Agriculture and Forestry or to eliminate crucial programs Louisiana citizens rely on," says Odom. "I am running for re-election because I know Louisiana agriculture and forestry."
An effort to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity was shelved Tuesday for the legislative session.
Louisiana won't lessen its penalties for marijuana possession, keeping laws on the books that allow people to be jailed up to 20 years for repeat offenses of having the drug in hand.
“This is one of the oldest divides that exists, and that divide is about the haves and the have-nots.”
It took a few weeks for the pitfalls to emerge in the governor’s $25 billion budget, but the time of judgment has finally arrived.
With pressure continuing to build for him to resign, Congressman Vance McAllister announced plans recently to remain secluded during the Easter break, but the Swartz Republican has said he’ll be back on the Hill casting votes and attending committee meetings when the congressional recess ends April 28.
A bid to limit the use of unmanned aircraft on private property in Louisiana stalled Monday in the Louisiana Senate.
A Shreveport lawmaker said Monday he's scrapping his proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana's official state book.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday, April 22, 2014:
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Attorney hopes fellow lawyers will join him in urging the D.A. to step aside and allow a competent, ethical challenger to take over the scandal-ridden office.
An official with the Louisiana Department of Education was arrested on a range of charges Friday after allegedly breaking into a home and brandishing a knife.
State Rep. Stuart Bishop says he’s concerned with the quality of Capitol Lake, but when it comes to Louisiana’s coastline, this Lafayette Republican doesn't seem to give a damn.
Democrats sweating this year's elections may be hoping that the Obama administration's latest delay to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline takes a politically fraught issue off the table for the midterms.
Louisiana lawmakers are entering the second half of their three-month regular legislative session, which must end by June 2. Where some of the major issues stand:
Local and state agents Thursday night raided The Keg, the popular college bar located in the area known as The Strip, leading to the (at least) temporary closure of the venue.
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.