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."
The Lafayette superintendent insists the budget is illegal and vows to fight on.
"I am not a scientist," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said numerous times, a response that other members of his party have parroted.
Republicans are running strong races against endangered Democratic incumbents in states such as North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska. Republicans are also looking to replace retiring Democrats in Iowa and West Virginia with a GOP lawmaker.
Republican congressman Vance McAllister is trying to make up to Louisiana voters for getting too close to a married former employee.
You may not like all of “it,” but U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, unlike many of her colleagues, isn't sitting around twiddling her thumbs in Congress.
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro says he "can't wait" to play against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The heat keeps rising for Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal as a new slate of corruption allegations surfaced this week.
If opposing defenses sell out to stop the Packers' passing game, they risk being gashed by powerful running back Eddie Lacy, a New Orleans-area native.
At the horn the officiating crew trotted to the tunnel and left security personnel to clean up after them.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Sign "ninjas" cleaning up clutter; NYC doctor positive for Ebola; Ferguson grand jury decision nears; and more national and international news for Friday, October 24, 2014.
We can safely assume incumbent Chief K.P. Gibson isn’t too worried about this challenger.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control. The most competitive races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain too close to call.
The Baton Rouge Republican has repeatedly battled a perception within his own party that he perhaps wasn't the best choice to carry the GOP banner.
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.