Bob Odom

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Bob Odom
Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry
In office
March 10, 1980 – January 14, 2008
Preceded by Gilbert L. "Gil" Dozier
Succeeded by Michael G. Strain
Personal details
Born Robert Fulton Odom, Jr.
(1935-07-20)July 20, 1935
Haynesville, Claiborne Parish, Louisiana
Died May 17, 2014(2014-05-17) (aged 78)
Zachary, East Baton Rouge Parish
Louisiana
Resting place Beulah Plains Cemetery in Zachary
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Mildred "Millie" Randolph Odom
Children Robert Odom, III

Ashley Odom Thompson White
Four grandchildren

Alma mater Southeastern Louisiana University
Occupation Farmer; consultant
Religion Southern Baptist
Military service
Service/branch United States Marine Corps

Robert Fulton Odom, Jr., known as Bob Odom (July 20, 1935 – May 17, 2014), was the longest-serving Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry in the U.S. state of Louisiana. A Democrat, he held his position from 1980 to 2008 through six gubernatorial administrations.

Later in the private sector, Odom operated a consulting company to work with farmers on a statewide and national basis. He offered input on farm legislation before the United States Congress. He and his family resided in Zachary in East Baton Rouge Parish, where he died at the age of seventy-eight.[1]

Background[edit]

The son of Robert Odom, Sr., and the former Mary Traylor, Odom was reared up on a cotton and dairy farm of some one thousand acres in Haynesville, a small town in rural Claiborne Parish near the Arkansas state line.[2] He owned a 600-acre (2.4 km2) farm in Claiborne Parish.

Odom procured a Bachelor of Science degree from Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond east of Baton Rouge. In 1960, he was first employed by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, also called the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Immigration at that time. Prior to his election as commissioner, Odom became the chief of the pesticide division, executive assistant to then Commissioner Dave L. Pearce and director of technical services.[2]

Odom served in the United States Marines and was stationed as a company commander in Okinawa, Japan. He graduated from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and was a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve.[3] He served on various boards and commissions, such as the Louisiana Cattleman's Association, East Baton Rouge Parish and Louisiana Farm Bureau, the World Trade Center of New Orleans, and Louisiana Environmental Health Association.

Odom was married to the former Mildred "Millie" Randolph (born c. 1944). They have a son, Robert "Robb" Odom, III (born c. 1968), and wife Monique of Zachary. Odom, III, was a football linebacker for McNeese State University in Lake Charles.[4] The Odoms' daughter, Ashley White (born c. 1970), formerly Ashley Thompson, resides with her husband Ned White in Monroe, Louisiana. There are four surviving grandchildren, Taylor Brooke Odom, Baylie Monet Odom, Brighton Lynn Thompson, and Nolan Randolph Thompson.[2] Odom was a member of the First Baptist Church of Zachary. In his leisure, Odom enjoyed hunting, fishing, and woodworking.[5]

Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry[edit]

Odom first ran as a reformer for Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry in 1979 and easily unseated fellow Democrat Gil Dozier. This was the same general election in which Republican gubernatorial candidate U.S. Representative David C. Treen of Louisiana's 3rd congressional district narrowly defeated the Democrat, Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Louis J. Lambert, Jr. Odom took office in 1980. Thereafter, he rarely attracted serious opposition and consolidated his hold on the agriculture department. He won re-election in 1983, 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999 and 2003. In the 1991 contest, he defeated Republican Don Johnson and fellow Democrat Jack Keahey of Columbia, thereafter a member and president of the Tensas Basin Levee District. Odom is hence one of the longest-serving elected officials in Louisiana.

Odom was considered one of Louisiana's most powerful elected officials and held major power within the Democratic Party and the state legislature. According to an Odom political ally, State Senator Francis C. Thompson of Delhi in Richland Parish, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Odom "had a machine. Everybody wanted Bob Odom's support. He had tentacles in every hamlet in Louisiana."[6]Odom's critics claimed that he ran the department as if it were his own kingdom with much cronyism.[6]

Controversies[edit]

In the past several years, however, Odom encountered much controversy in a series of personal allegations which erupted in connection with his duties as commissioner.[7]

Odom fought criminal corruption charges brought forward in August 2002, when he was indicted on twenty-one counts, including bribery, extortion]], theft, and money laundering. A state judge dismissed all remaining charges in 2007, and prosecutors sought to reinstate the case. The case never went to trial and was dismissed in 2009. The presiding judge called the case "diseased from the very start."[6]

Odom even quarreled with Governor Kathleen Blanco, who stepped down in 2008, and state Treasurer John Neely Kennedy, a Democrat-turned-Republican who was unopposed in the 2007 primary.[8]

Like Odom, Dozier had also been engulfed in scandal.[9] So was Dozier's predecessor, fellow Democrat Dave Pearce, who served from 1952 to 1956, and again from 1960 to 1976. Ironically, Odom had been a key aide to Pearce, and both were born in Claiborne Parish. Pearce, who was never indicted, ran unsuccessfully in the 1979 primary against both Dozier and Odom.[10]

Odom's use of state aircraft was repeatedly called into question. He flew to McNeese State University football games in which his son was a player. One such excursion was to Nacogdoches, Texas, when McNeese played Stephen F. Austin State University. Odom claimed that he was meeting a man in Nacogdoches in regard to farm machinery but then said that he lost the individual's telephone number and could not remember his name once he got to Nacogdoches. He also flew on a state plane on numerous occasions to the Claiborne Parish Airport near his family farm. He used a state plane to attend the funeral of a relative. Odom said that his office required that he be on duty twenty-four hours per day, and he was therefore entitled to use the aircraft. Attorney General William J. Guste said that the aircraft could not be used for "purely private purposes", but Odom claimed business reasons for each of the questionable flights.[11]

Even after leaving office, Odom's legacy remains in controversy. One of his pet projects as head of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry was the creation of a green energy industry in Louisiana. Odom used taxpayer funhds to encourage the production of ethanol from sugar cane syrup, rather than corn. During his final term Odom convinced the state legislature to provide the approval and funds to build the Lacassine sugar mill in Jefferson Davis Parish near Lake Charles, at a cost of $76.9 million. The mill was built by state workers. The facility was leased and supposed to be operated by Lake Charles, LLC with loans of $70.6 million from the state and another $6.3 million from private sources. A majority of the stock of Lake Charles, LLC is owned by Louisiana Green Fuels, a company that is in turn held by two brothers from Colombia. The plant has never produced a single drop of ethanol, and the machinery to process the sugar cane is still unassembled at the location.

On March 16, 2012, the current commissioner, Republican Michael G. Strain, announced that Lake Charles, LLC had defaulted on both loans and that he would be urging the Louisiana Agricultural Finance Authority to foreclose on the operation. A similar project to be located near Bunkie was rejected by the legislature. Criticism of these projects was one of the main campaign points in Strain's successful election bid against Odom in 2007.[12]

2007 election[edit]

Odom ran for an eighth consecutive four-year term in 2007 but lost to Michael Strain, a veterinarian, a dairy farmer, and an outgoing member of the Louisiana House of Representatives from St. Tammany Parish in the New Orleans suburbs.

In the nonpartisan blanket primary held on October 20, 2007, Odom led Strain, 505,466 (41 percent) to 494,726 (40 percent). Two other candidates, Republicans Wayne Carter, a conservative member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council from Odom's own Zachary, and Don Johnson, a farmer from Transylvania in East Carroll Parish in far northeastern Louisiana, trailed with 152,872 (13 percent) and 69,469 (6 percent), respectively. The Republican vote hence totaled 59 percent. A perennial candidate Johnson had also run against Odom in 1987, 1991, 1995, and 2003.[7][13]

Odom attributed his weaker-than-usual showing to the failure of many African American voters, who had backed him in the past by large margins, to cast ballots in the primary.

Less than a week later, Odom announced that he would not contest the general election. Therefore, Strain was declared the winner of the election and assumed office early in 2008.[8][14]

Agricultural awards[edit]

Odom has won a plethora of awards in agriculture. In 1970, United States Secretary of Agriculture Clifford M. Hardin in the Nixon administration, cited Odom for "outstanding service" to agriculture. In 1976, the Louisiana State Legislature by concurrent resolution commended Odom for his services to the department. In 1982, he was awarded the designation of "Honorary American Farmer" by the Future Farmers of America. In 1995, the year of his fourth-term reelection, Odom was named "Outstanding Agriculture Commissioner of the Year" by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents nearly six hundred biotechnology companies and academic institutions. In 1996, Odom received the "Man of the Year" award from Progressive Farmer magazine.[5]

When Odom announced his exit from the general election campaign, Ray Young, a farmer and agriculture consultant from Wisner in Franklin Parish in northeastern Louisiana, introduced him at an event by saying, "Bob Odom is the best Agriculture and Forestry commissioner Louisiana has ever had."[1]

Odom's supporters held a retirement celebration in Baton Rouge in his honor on November 29, 2007. Interested persons were urged to contribute to the "Bob Odom Retirement Fund". Odom had a campaign debt at the time of approximately $125,000.[15] Conservative radio talk show host Moon Griffon of Monroe told listeners on November 21, 2007, that Odom will receive a retirement check of some $85,000 per year from the State of Louisiana.[16]

In 2008, Odom was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[17]

Odom had multiple health issue in his least years and died on May 17, 2014.[6] Services were held at the First Baptist Church of Zachary on May 20, 2014. Interment is at Beulah Plains Cemetery in Zachary.[2]

Electoral history[edit]

Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, 1987

Threshold > 50%

First ballot, October 24, 1987

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bob Odom Democratic 993,869 (73%) Elected
Don Johnson Republican 190,502 (14%) Defeated
Others n/a 168,301 (13%) Defeated

Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, 1991

Threshold > 50%

First ballot, October 19, 1991

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bob Odom Democratic 824,167 (60%) Elected
Don Johnson Republican 199,688 (15%) Defeated
Others n/a 353,078 (25%) Defeated

Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, 1995

Threshold > 50%

First ballot, October 21, 1995

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bob Odom Democratic 980,909 (74%) Elected
Don Johnson Republican 272,349 (21%) Defeated
Buster Fresina Democratic 71,829 (5%) Defeated

Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, 1999

Threshold > 50%

First ballot, October 23, 1999

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bob Odom Democratic Unopposed Elected

Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, 2003

Threshold > 50%

First ballot, October 4, 2003

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bob Odom Democratic 822,682 (66%) Elected
Don Johnson Republican 430,856 (34%) Defeated

Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, 2007

Threshold > 50%

First ballot, October 20, 2007

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bob Odom Democratic 505,504 (41%) Runoff
Mike Strain Republican 494,760 (40%) Runoff
Wayne Carter Republican 152,893 (13%) Defeated
Don Johnson Republican 69,470 (6%) Defeated

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Gilbert L. "Gil" Dozier (D)
Commissioner of Agriculture & Forestry

Robert Fulton "Bob" Odom (D)
1980–2008

Succeeded by
Michael Gene Strain (R)