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DOTD secretary Shawn Wilson speaks about traffic issues at the BTR Summit for Better Transportation & Roads program Tuesday April 25, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La.

Nearly three dozen House Democrats on Wednesday accused a group of their House Republican counterparts of launching personal attacks on Louisiana's transportation chief.

The letter stems from criticism last week by 19 House Republicans, including two leaders, that state Department of Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson appeared to be threatening retaliation against House members who declined to support a hike in the state gas tax.

The GOP lawmakers, in a letter to Gov. John Bel Edwards, criticized a tweet that Wilson posted shortly after the gas tax increase died last week in the House, which they said showed "Washington-style politics" in Louisiana.

Wilson disputed the criticism, and 35 House Democrats signed a letter dated June 6 that defends the DOTD chief.

"Not only was the open letter negative but it also attacked the character and integrity of Dr. Wilson," according to the latest letter.

"It is appalling to see legislators, who have benefited from Dr. Wilson's fair and equitable management of the department, attack his character without first seeking an explanation from him," the Democrats said.

In the tweet that sparked criticism, Wilson said "2 legislators opposing the gas tax increase already made requests for road maintenance, the day the bill was pulled. No is the easy answer."

The Republicans called the tweet inappropriate and said it was "being viewed as retribution for a vote."

Wilson said his point was that, without new revenue for roads and bridges, it will be hard to assist lawmakers seeking assistance regardless of their stance on the gas tax.

The list of Democratic representatives who signed the letter includes House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger III, of New Orleans; Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Joseph Bouie, of New Orleans, and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Gene Reynolds, of Dubberly.

The letter said that, as an example of Wilson's impartiality, he announced in March plans for a $40 million interchange project at Pecue Lane in Baton Rouge, "which runs through the district of the main author of the letter challenging the character of Dr. Wilson."

The reference was to state Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge.

Edwards named Wilson to lead DOTD.

Wilson was one of the leaders of the push to raise the gas tax by 17 cents per gallon, which would raise $510 million per year.

Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, sponsor of the gas tax bill, shelved the measure on May 31 because he could not round up the 70 votes needed for House approval.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.