Political Hall of Fame inducts 9 in Winnfield

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

Neither Bob Odom and Joe Salter nor six other members of the other Class of 2008 Political Hall of Fame are currently serving in office, although three inductees were in office when they were nominated for induction in late 2007.

Congressman Richard Baker, who represented the Sixth Congressional District of Louisiana anchored by the Baton Rouge metro area, recently resigned his seat in Congress to take a million dollar-plus annual salary job as Director of a Wall Street lobby firm.

The former Congressman and proposed star of the show did not attend the induction ceremony. A special election to fill Baker's unexpired term will be held in March of this year. Baker had been in Congress since 1984.

Bob Odom, former longtime Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry and former Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representative, Joe Salter, headlined a slate of nine inductees into the Louisiana Hall of Fame on February 2 in Winnfield. Joe Salter of Florien was termed limited. Bob Odom, after 28 years service as Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry chose not to contest a run-off election last November. Upon his retirement, Odom had worked in Agriculture & Forestry Department for 48 years. During his tenure at the A&F Department, he became known as "Bob the Builder."

"One thing that people can't say about Bob Odom and that is that 'he never did anything' while in office," Odom told the Piney Woods Journal. "I was always accused of trying to do too much to help the farmers and forestry people."

As has become tradition at the Political Hall of Fame Induction Banquet, Michael Wynne presented the "Friends of Earl Long" award. The 2008 award went to Richard Webster Leche, Jr., the son of the late Louisiana Governor, Richard Leche under whom Earl K. Long served as Lt. Governor.

Upon Governor Leche's resignation from office in 1949, Earl Long became Governor of Louisiana. Richard W. Leche, Jr. noted, "I saw Earl Long quite often when he would come over to the Old Governor's Mansion to visit my Dad."

"Earl was always very friendly to me and talked with me and most of the time brought me a presents," Leche pointed out. "He liked kids." Perhaps, the only other "kid" whom Earl knew better than Leche, Jr. was Clem Huffman's daughter, Linda.

Also, in keeping with tradition, Ted Jones, former Jimmie Davis Band Leader presented the "Friends of Jimmie Davis" award. This year the award went to Andrew J and Lillie Kent of Baton Rouge. The Kents were very close with former Governor Davis from 1989 until his death. The Kents traveled with Jimmie Davis and Ms. Anna to all their concert performances and handled the sale of tapes, publications and memorabilia.

Joe Salter, the 62nd Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives, had no burning ambition for state level politics when he first ran for Representative 20 years ago. Prior to that, Salter had served on the Board of Aldermen for the Village of Florien for more than twelve years.

Salter was also a classroom teacher, principal and assistant Superintendent of Schools in Sabine Parish during his education career. Apparently, Salter's education career is not over as he was recently appointed Legislative Liaison director for the Louisiana State Department of Education.

During this 16th year of the annual Hall of Fame event, the Jimmie Davis Band led by Ted Jones featuring Gene King serenaded the guests as they were served the meal by the Winn Parish 4-H club members under the direction of Becky Kelley and Donny Moon. Special acknowledgements were made to John Ed Laborde with Panorama Foods, Inc.

The other six members of the class of 2008 included former Louisiana Lt. Governor, Bobby Freeman, two former Louisiana State Senators, Edward "Ned" Randolph, and Donald "Don" Kelly.

Randolph served for twenty years as Mayor of Alexandria and a prior term as a Louisiana State Representative. A graduate of Princeton University, Randolph also obtained a law degree from Tulane University. During Randolph's term as Mayor, Alexandria faced a tremendous challenge with the closing of England Air Force Base.

Don Kelly, a native of Red River Parish and a longtime resident of Natchitoches, laid the ground work for getting into politics by obtaining a degree in Governmental and Political Science from Northwestern State University. He later earned a law degree from LSU in 1966. In 1975, he was elected State Senator and served until 1995.

The most traveled of the inductees was James A. Joseph. Joseph, a native of Opelousas, was Ambassador to South Africa from 1996 through 1999 during the Clinton Administration. He served as Under Secretary of the Department of Interior during the administration of President Jimmy Carter. The longtime diplomat was unable to attend the Hall of Fame ceremony due to "diplomatic matters" but was represented by his brother, a former Mayor of Opelousas.

Robert "Bobby" Freeman was a member of the LSU Varsity Boxing Team. He was inducted into the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1977 and was the recipient of the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award. An attorney with a law degree from Loyola University, Freeman was elected to the Louisiana State House of Representatives in 1968. Twelve years later, he was elected Lt. Governor and served two terms.

The only journalist inductee in the Class of 2008 was John LaPlante, Jr. He spent more than 30 years covering state government, politics and other issues for the Baton Rouge Advocate for more than 30 years. He also wrote a Sunday edition column for the Advocate titled, "Political Horizons." LaPlante also taught journalism at LSU during his spare time. LaPlante, who died a year ago was represented by Linda Lightfoot, retired Managing Editor of the Baton Rogue Advocate.

The only currently serving elected official in the Inductee Class of 2008 is East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President, Melvin "Kip" Holden. Holden was also a graduate journalist and worked in radio in Baton Rouge. In 1982, Holden was elected to Baton Rouge's Metro Council. In 1988, Holden was elected State Representative in the Baton Rouge Metro area where he served until 2001. In 2001, he was elected Louisiana State Senator where he served until being elected Mayor-President in 2005.

The annual Political Hall of Fame Induction ceremony is planned and directed by "Colonel" Carolyn R. Phillips and her Museum Staff. Other active Hall of Fame and Museum Directors are Julie Boatman, Elinor Craven, Gregory Davies, George Harrel, James Hutchison, Russell Jones, Ted Jones, Jack McGuire, June Melton, Jean Bates Murrell, William Oliver, Margeree Pearson, B. Ted Roberts, Clyde Thompson, Deano Thornton, Michael Wynne, W. "Billy" Tauzin, Jimmy Long and Alphonse Jackson.

The 2008-2008 Corporate Sponsor was AT&T, represented by Bill Oliver, SVP/PR. The 2007-2008 Endowment was by the Estate of Dewey Allen.