Lafayette native Clint Odom is the highest ranking African-American staff member in the U.S. Senate, but he’s serving a newly elected senator from another state.
As of this week, Odom becomes legislative director for U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, who was elected in November to succeed Barbara Boxer. Odom, who most recently was Democratic general counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, is the only black legislative director in the Senate.
“I’m thrilled that Clint has decided to join our team, and I look forward to our work together,” Harris, who this week became the first black woman California has sent to the Senate and the first Indian American to ever serve in the body, said when announcing the appointment. “He will be an invaluable asset to me and the people of California as we fight for the ideals of this nation.”
Odom tells The IND his Lafayette roots helped him succeed in Washington. “Growing up in Lafayette, you learn how to get along in order to get things done,” says Odom, who spent much of his early life in the McComb-Veazey neighborhood. “I am grateful for what I learned in Lafayette, but there are things I wanted to do that I could not do there.”
“I grew up three blocks from Kenneth Boudreaux,” Odom says, having started his education at Alice Boucher Elementary before his parents moved him to Cathedral Carmel. He graduated from St. Thomas More.
Odom graduated from LSU in 1989 with a political science degree, then earned his juris doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1993. He clerked for a year for U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate in the Southern District of Mississippi before moving to private practice for two years.
“I wanted to do something that didn’t exist at the time. I wanted to be a space lawyer — to put together the deals and the contracts with NASA that would enable companies to literally do business in space,” he recalls.
“But, growing up in Lafayette gave me the skills to navigate that process,” Odom says. “I’m convinced that you could put a kid from Lafayette in the middle of the desert and come back later to find him kicked back having a beer with money in his pocket.”
Odom has navigated Washington with aplomb since arriving in 1994 at an entry-level position with a D.C. law firm. Within two years, he had begun the first of two stints at the Federal Communications Commission, having initially worked as a staff attorney before becoming legal adviser to then-FCC Chairman William Kennard. From the FCC, Odom went to work for Verizon, serving as a vice president for the telecommunications company’s New Jersey operations. He was there for seven years.
Odom did private consulting work for a year before taking the first of several jobs with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida in 2009. He worked as legislative counsel until 2012 when he was promoted to deputy legislative director. A year later, Odom returned to the FCC to serve as policy director for Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. He stayed there for just over a year before returning to the Senate, where Nelson recruited him to serve as minority counsel on the Commerce Committee.
Odom was the 2016 recipient of the Extraordinary Service Award given by the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council earlier this year. He currently serves as a member of the LSU National Diversity Advisory Board, and is a former member of the LSU University College Advisory Board.
Odom now lives in Virginia. He began his new job Jan. 3, when Harris — who most recently was California’s attorney general — officially became a member of the 115th Congress.
Odom’s appointment has implications beyond a local success story, according to his friend and former congressional staff peer Donald Cravins Jr., senior vice president for policy for the National Urban League.
“Clint’s appointment is a big deal,” Cravins says. “Few Americans have an opportunity to serve at that level of government. So for him to reach that level, it’s a major accomplishment for him and the people of Acadiana.”
“His appointment is also significant because it makes Clint the highest ranking African-American staffer working for a Democratic U.S. senator,” Cravins continues, noting the need for more diversity on legislative staff appointments. “Clint’s appointment is a step in the right direction.”
Cravins says his parents and Odom’s parents have long been friends but that the families really got to know each other when Cravins joined Sen. Mary Landrieu’s Washington staff in 2009.