Photo:  Outgoing Orange County Democratic Party John Baker, left, presents incoming party chairman Louis Ackerman a ball cap with the words ‘Yellow Dog Democrat’ at the conclusion of Saturday’s Orange County Democratic Convention where delegates were chosen for this summer’s state convention.

Baker and Ackerman were named defendants in a wide-ranging lawsuit filed against the local party by Marcus Wilkerson, an unsuccessful candidate for party chair in the March 6 Democratic Party primary election.

 

Dave Rogers

For The Record

 

The loser in the only contested local race in the March 6 Democratic Party primary has filed a lawsuit charging his opponent for chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party with ballot tampering and the local party, itself, with misconduct dating back to 2017.

Marcus Wilkerson, a Bridge City attorney who practices law in Beaumont, seeks to have the March 6 OCDP Primary results voided in his suit filedMonday in the 163rd Judicial Court.

Besides the county party, the lawsuit names as defendants Louis Ackerman, the declared winner over Wilkerson by 54 votes (52 percent to 48); interim OCDP chair John Baker; former OCDP chair Deborah Mitchell; and OCDP secretary-treasurer Michael Cole.

Wilkerson’s suit seeks to have the court disqualify Ackerman or at least put both Wilkerson’s and Ackerman’s names on the May 22 Democratic run-off election ballot.

Wilkerson also asks the court to find the parties in violation of Texas Democratic Party rules and force them to comply, as well as pay court costs.

“It was not an easy decision to decide to sue my own party,” Wilkerson said. “I can’t tell you what the fallout of this will be; all I can tell you is what’s going on with the Democratic Party in Orange County the last few years cannot continue.”

In the suit, Wilkerson charges that candidate Ackerman, a former social worker from Orange, violated the Texas Election Code when he transported ballot boxes from west Orange County voting halls to the County Elections Administration office in Orange after the polls had closed March 6.

Ackerman admits he carried ballot boxes in his car, but says he did not tamper with the boxes, which are typically sealed with tape and locked during transport.

“It really seems like him being a sore loser,” Ackerman said of Wilkerson’s lawsuit Monday night, before he had been served.

“Part of filing that lawsuit is being able to prove some sort of election tampering, which there wasn’t.”

Ackerman explained Baker put together a plan to deliver ballot boxes from Rose City and Vidor to the elections office in Orange. At the last minute, they needed another driver. Michael (Cole) and John (Baker) asked me to fill in.

“I said, ‘Are you sure I can? Are you sure?’ They said, yeah.

“So we waited until the election judges had finished their work. The boxes were all sealed. They were all locked.”

“John was in the car ahead of me and Franchesca (Cole’s wife) was in the car behind going back to Orange. How could I have [tampered] unless I managed to open up the boxes and switch some ballots out while I was driving down I-10 to Orange?

“Even at that point, there’s no way I could’ve done that without Elections Administration realizing it.”

Wilkerson’s suit alleges the Orange County Democratic Party has operated illegally at least since Nov. 9, 2017.

That was when then-Party Chair Deborah Mitchell announced she was running for County Commissioner and was replaced as chair by Baker at what the petition calls an illegally called meeting of OCDP held at the Bridge City home of longtime Democratic power pol Flo Edgerly.

Wilkerson maintains that Baker and Cole were illegally appointed interim party chairman and party secretary, respectively.

The suit contends that Baker, Cole and Ackerman conspired against Wilkerson and County Judge candidate Donald Brown to “blow up” he OCDP in order to replace it with Progressives, a subset that came to the Democratic Party in 2016 as supporters of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Further, the petition states that two longtime local OCDP leaders, Carol Edwards and Marc Carter, were illegally removed as precinct chairmen and several members of Ackerman’s family were wrongfully put forward to be election judges.

Wilkerson says many OCDP members, at the urging of Cole, crossed over March 6 to vote in the Republican primary and supported Dean T. Crooks in his winning race for county judge over incumbent Stephen Brint Carlton.

At one point in the filing, Wilkerson mourned “the implosion of the OCDP, the corruption of which created a stench that suffocates the life of every Democrat in this county …

“Voters already fear that their voice doesn’t count and these facts demonstrate a conspiracy to ensure that belief was the case.”

For his part, Ackerman attended his first Democratic county convention Saturday at the Orange Depot. He said about 20 folks showed up.

Wilkerson wasn’t among them.

“There are lines being drawn up within the party,” Ackerman said. “On one side you have Marc Carter and on the other side, you have John Baker. This all goes back to Marc wanting to be involved more than he is.

“This [lawsuit] is a waste of time, a waste of money. They’re just making the party look bad.”