Democratic Party members file suit against Executive Committee over ex-officio voting rights

Published 3:47 pm Thursday, April 4, 2024

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By Holly McCall

Tennessee Lookout

Four members of the Tennessee Democratic Party Executive Committee have filed suit against the organization seeking to strip non-elected committee members of their right to vote on party business — and in particular on the state primary board.

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Plaintiffs Randall and Meryl Rice, Erick Huth and John Summers made the filing in Davidson County Circuit Court on Monday, alleging there is no provision in state law that allows ex-officio members voting rights.

State law mandates both the Democratic and Republican parties have executive committees composed of one man and one woman from each of the state’s 33 Senate districts. Members are elected every four years in the August primary elections.

But, the Tennessee Democratic Party provides for one representative from the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses, the Tennessee Federation of Democratic Women, the Tennessee Democratic County Chairs Association (TDCCA), the Tennessee Young Democrats, College Democrats and High School Democrats.

According to a  legal opinion provided to the TNDP in March by the law firm of Stranch, Jennings and Garvey, state statute does not prohibit political parties from expanding their executive committee members beyond the mandated 66 members nor does it prevent any members — elected or appointed — from voting.

The suit stems from controversy that arose at the Jan. 27 meeting of the TNDP Executive Committee at which members voted to amend bylaws in order to add the high school Democrats to have a role as an ex-officio voting member.

All four plaintiffs voted against the measure.

In a memo to county party chairs, Jordan Wilkins, head of the County Chairs Association, wrote that “many of the members who have requested a legal opinion on the legality of ex-officio members never had an issue with ex-officio members before, as long as they were people that voted with them. One of the members even once held an ex-officio position themselves,” presumably referring to Randall Rice, a former chair of the TDCCA.

Gary Blackburn of Nashville represents the plaintiffs. The TNDP is represented by Nashville attorney Gerard Stranch of Branstetter Stranch and Jennings.

“This lawsuit is not intended to harm the Democratic Party. The party is strengthened by having only its  elected members vote on party matters  particularly the primary board,” said Blackburn. “I don’t see how you can be diminished by following the law.”

Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Hendrell Remus did not respond to a request for comment.