Democrats’ spat ends in suit

A squabble between members of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee for East Baton Rouge Parish exploded on social media and now is before a state district judge.

Committee member Donald Hodge Jr. said Wednesday that he filed a lawsuit in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge because the committee refused to follow the law and now wants to censure him for his support of “marriage equality.”

The issue stems from an argument over whether local Democratic candidates should be required to back same-sex marriage.

Hodge said he wanted the local party to ensure that candidates it backs support “marriage equality,” which is part of the national party’s platform. Opponents countered that the local party couldn’t make that a condition for endorsement because Louisiana does not legally recognize gay marriage.

“They can bully me all they want,” Hodge said. “I’m never quitting. I don’t know what their goal is other than to make themselves more and more irrelevant.”

The committee’s chairwoman, Dawn Collins, predicted that a judge will toss Hodge’s request for injunctive relief.

“It’s unfortunate that he wants to play these kind of games,” she said.

Meanwhile, another committee member, Charlotte McDaniel McGehee, said Hodge belittled her law practice on Facebook and encouraged his friends to harass her after she told him a resolution he offered was unconstitutional.

“It had nothing to do with marriage equality,” she said. “I thought Donald’s resolution itself was unconstitutional. Donald then used social media to call me spineless.”

In his petition for preliminary and permanent injunction, Hodge alleges:

Committee member Tawanda Green failed to timely take the oath of office.

The committee violated the open meetings law.

The committee violated state law by buying push cards for endorsed candidates.

The committee tried to censure him for supporting marriage equality and for questioning the legality of issues.

On Nov. 15, several committee members submitted a petition to censure and condemn Hodge for disrupting meetings, embarrassing the committee on social networks, threatening legal action and releasing unauthorized information.

In an undated petition provided by Hodge, McGehee accused Hodge of making libelous statements about her by suggesting that she did not support the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Hodge said Wednesday that the only basis for censure in the committee’s rules is endorsing a Republican for office.

“It’s hard to even understand what it is they’re trying to accomplish,” Hodge said.

In Facebook postings, Hodge complained about McGehee’s censure resolution and said she fancies herself a civil rights attorney and encouraged friends to message her or call her at her office. He provided her office number.

Hodge said his posts stemmed from frustration. McGehee said she subsequently received a condemning, anonymous phone message that upset her and caused her to consider calling the police.

She said Hodge wanted the committee to turn away any candidate who refused to support same-sex marriage. She said she responded that his resolution was unconstitutional because Louisiana defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Hodge said he just wants the committee to follow the national party’s platform.

“The members, they get frustrated with me because during the meeting, I’ll raise a point of order ... They just don’t like to hear it,” he said.

McGehee said Hodge is making his frustration personal by attacking her legal credentials.

“I have no issue with gender equality ... I am working for persons who have been discriminated against,” McGehee said. “I’ve dedicated money and my time and my practice to helping people.”