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."
Black Friday shopping begins; Pope visiting Turkey; oil prices decline and more national and international news for Friday, November 28, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
By now, the story of how longtime LSU coach Dale Brown discovered Shaquille O'Neal has been told many times: Brown happened upon a massive 13-year-old at an army base in Germany, stayed in touch with him and eventually became like a second father.
Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.