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."
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.
President Barack Obama is turning to black radio listeners to plead for midterm votes, a targeted approach to drum up Democratic support at a time when many candidates don't want him around in person.
WaPo Watergate editor Ben Bradlee dies; Clintons stump for Dems; Liberians stranded and more national and international news for Wednesday, October 22, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.
Even though it had been rumored for months, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu finally pulled the trigger recently on a major campaign shakeup that moved control over to a few Big Easy insiders.
Louisiana's health department says it will seek law changes to stop billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests.
It wasn’t the historic slashes to higher ed funding or the ensuing tuition spikes that recently had LSU’s student body and faculty riled up in collective outrage.
Will $400 be enough for the re-election campaign of LPSB's Hunter Beasley to overcome two years of holding our school system hostage and hurting the education of our children all because of a personal dislike of the superintendent?
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he expects his playing status in Detroit to be decided by coach Sean Payton on Sunday, shortly before the game.
Lawmakers have sidestepped a decision on whether they accept claims from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration that the state closed last year's books with a nearly $179 million surplus.