House Democratic Leader Gary Odom is fighting back, but not against the new Republican majority he will face this coming legislative session.
Odom decided to ratchet up the hyperbole in his war of words with Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration in response to more shots fired from the executive wing.
A Nashville representative, Odom was attempting to wrest control of the House Speaker’s chair away from longtime Chairman Jimmy Naifeh. The rift in the caucus has been roundly blamed for splitting Democrats’ attention, allowing Republicans to win the House by a narrow one-seat margin.
In a statement issued to The City Paper late Friday, Odom responded to comments in this column published that same day stating sources close to the administration were saying Odom — though the elected House leader — would not be carrying administration legislation on the Hill this session.
The same column also stated the Bredesen administration is looking for moderate Republicans to work with to carry administration bills. This report came on the heels of Bredesen spokesperson Lydia Lenker saying the governor has “trust issues” with Odom and that another House Democratic leader candidate was preferable to the administration.
The guts of Odom’s letter lays out what he says he thinks are the two root causes of his falling out with the titular head of the Tennessee Democratic Party:
“There have been two recent issues which I believe have led to the Governor’s personal attacks on me,” Odom writes. “The first is the continuing saga of the illegal Highway Patrol background searches that were performed on a still unknown number of Tennessee citizens. It is my belief that this issue should be thoroughly investigated by a federal agency, which is not subject to state government political interference.
“The second issue involves the Governor’s efforts to raise taxes during the last legislative session on Tennessee family owned businesses,” Odom continues. “Earlier this year, the Governor stood before the people of Tennessee and said that he was going to lead the State through the current economic crisis without any tax increases.
“Within a few days of that very statement, the Governor’s Commissioner of the Department of Revenue requested that I pass a bill that would raise taxes on Tennessee family owned businesses.
“This tax increase, according to the Tennessee Department of Revenue, would have raised $45 million in new taxes,” Odom stated. “Others have indicated it could raise much more than the Department’s estimate. The Administration requested this tax increase be included in legislation referred to as the ‘technical corrections bill.’ The ‘technical corrections bill’ is introduced annually to address provisions in the tax laws that are vague or unclear to taxpayers. This legislation is not a vehicle to implement a new tax increase in the last days of the legislature. To have done otherwise would have circumvented the proper legislative process. That is why I opposed the Administration’s effort.”
Legislative minutia for sure, particularly since the Odom/Bredesen feud dates back to both men’s tenures in Metro government — Bredesen’s as mayor and Odom as a Council member.
Yet, Odom takes things to another level in part of the missive, flat-out calling Bredesen’s criticisms a cheap shot.
“I was offended by such a personal attack and consider it the cheapest of shots from a Governor,” Odom wrote. “I am offended because I have done nothing to justify this public assault on my integrity. I have asked that we move on, yet the administration continues to promote this negative message through media outlets weeks following my re-election.”
While admirably tough in its talk, it is difficult to see what this counter-punch gains Odom. He is still sparring with the only Democratic politician in Tennessee that has seen any statewide success in almost 15 years. Perhaps Odom is trying to hasten Bredesen into lame duck status in the minds of fellow legislators by feeling empowered enough to lob a bomb at his own party’s leader. Then again, perhaps Odom is a pol with nothing left to lose given the pending irrelevancy of the House Democratic Caucus this coming legislative session.