Odom Still Optimistic

Rep. Gary Odom says he doesn’t expect members of the House Democratic Caucus to hold him responsible for the party’s devastating losses in the midterm elections.

“I think the caucus members know what I did at the election. They know what happened,” said Odom, who is seeking re-election Wednesday to another term as his party’s floor leader.

He’s facing a challenge from Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, who chaired the powerful Finance, Ways and Means committee last session, and Memphis Rep. John DeBerry Jr., who leads the Black Caucus.

Last month, Democrats lost almost a third of their representation in the House, surrendering a 64-34-1 majority to the Tennessee GOP.

But as far as the campaign, how he would have comported himself or conducted the party’s political affairs over the past year, there’s not much Odom says he would have done differently.

“I racked my brain to come up with some notion, some idea. We failed at getting a good message out, but I think we had a good message, and we tried to get it out. I just don’t think anybody was listening,” he said.

National politics drove this election, Odom said. He added that he and other members were featured in campaign ads tying them to President Obama and then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The new breakdown in the House cripples the caucus’ ability to check Republican-backed initiatives on the floor. But despite his party’s waning influence as an agenda-setting force in Tennessee politics, Odom says Democrats will still energetically attempt to shape, influence and nudge policy at every opportunity.

“This is a time where yes, we suffered a lot of losses as far as our Democratic caucus. We lost 14 seats, but that doesn’t change the agenda,” he said.

Education, job growth and providing additional aid for flood victims top Odom’s list of issues on which Democrats can make their voices heard.

“We’re going to work on things that are good for Tennessee. If it’s a Republican idea, if it’s a Democratic idea, it shouldn’t matter,” he said.

And while he’s never been known to pass up opportunities to lock horns with Republicans on the House floor, Odom says he hasn’t ever made it a practice to go out of his way to pick partisan fights.

“I always want to be cooperative, but sometimes there are just fundamental differences that need to be demonstrated, that need to be explained,” he said.

Odom, a two-time caucus leader, expressed confidence going into Wednesday’s party leadership election: “I’m as optimistic as I am in entering any election. I have a record and just like any incumbent has a record, you are going to be judged on that.”