BEAUFORT — County Commissioner Greg Lewis now has another title to add to the list: chairman of the County Republican Party.
The party’s executive committee selected the commissioner, who represents the Morehead City area of District 3, to replace Pam Hanson as the chairman of the party Tuesday during its March meeting.
“I think we have a very good year ahead of us,” said Commissioner Lewis to the audience in the district courtroom. “We have a plethora of candidates I know are going to win.”
Vada Palma, a councilman from Atlantic Beach, nominated Commissioner Lewis. With no other nominees, the committee did not need to vote to instate the commissioner to the position.
Commissioner Lewis is taking over the remaining term of Mrs. Hanson, who has served for the past year. Office terms in the party are typically two years; however, Mrs. Hanson is running for the county clerk of court seat this year against Craig Lewis, the Democrat,
Bob Pruett, first vice chairman of the county party, explained that when a party official becomes a candidate, they must request to stay on in the position. Mrs. Hanson decided against doing that.
“I declined to be reinstated,” she said. “I have so much going on with my campaign.”
While Commissioner Lewis is running for re-election this year for his seat on the county board, he doesn’t face an opponent. As a result, he said he could help other candidates with their races.
The commissioner said he was asked to serve out the remainder of Mrs. Hanson’s term and gladly accepted.
The decision raised some question as to whether an elected official could serve in the local party’s top position.
However, Mr. Pruett said its bylaws allow for such a situation. Elected officials who go beyond the county, such as the state House and Senate representatives, are not allowed to serve in local party offices.
Still, Ken Humphries, the chairman of the County Democratic Party, was perturbed by the decision. While he said Commissioner Lewis was a fine public servant, the situation raises concerns with issues of propriety and judgment.
A county commissioner, he said, is expected to represent all people in a district, while the head of a political party has the specific agenda of forwarding that party’s ideals.
“This country is already divided politically down the middle now without courting further charges of possible conflicts of interest,” Mr. Humphries said.
“How does a county commissioner remain above questions of conflict of interest when at the very same time he is directing and fulfilling the political objectives of the Republican Party?” he asked.
Commissioner Lewis said he did not believe there was any conflict with holding both positions, and said the practice was common in both parties throughout the state.
Frayda Bluestein, the professor of public law and government with the N.C. School of Government, in Chapel Hill, said that from a legal standpoint, there was little conflict.
The only time the two groups officially interact is when an unexpired term opens up on the board of commissioners, due to a resignation. At such a time, the party of the official who resigned would select a replacement and recommend that person be instated to the board of commissioners.
Still, Ms. Bluestein said it was a minor issue as the chairman of the party is only one of several people who would get to cast a vote for the replacement.
After being selected Tuesday night, the commissioner gave a brief rallying speech to those in attendance. He said he was optimistic about the party’s prospects in the upcoming elections and said he would do what he could to help them.
“The times are right that we as Republicans need to step up for our future,” he said.
“This is a red county and this is going to stay a red county