Toss Rep. Lewis in the briar patch

Rep. David Lewis, the House Rules Committee chairman, helped a campaign donor keep a state contract.
Rep. David Lewis, the House Rules Committee chairman, helped a campaign donor keep a state contract. File photo

For state Rep. David Lewis, a Dunn Republican and top lieutenant of House Speaker Tim Moore, it was all about privatizing, don’t you know.

Even state officials and some of his fellow Republicans question whether private companies should tow, store and sell vehicles seized from repeat driving while impaired offenders, as opposed to handing the work to a state agency, the State Surplus Property Agency. The reason this is important is that money from the seize-and-sell program goes to local school districts, hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

The agency thinks it can return more money to schools. Private contractors, who make huge sums performing the work, say they can do it more efficiently.

Lewis used his power as a House leader to back them up. He tucked language into a technical corrections bill that passed in the final minutes of this year’s legislative session that would ensure that contracts for the towing and storing services would continue to be bid out to private contractors when those contracts expire next year.

Oh, and it just happens that one of those contractors is Rickie Day of Linden and his company, Martin Edwards & Associates. Oh, and it further happens that Day donated $5,000 to Lewis’ campaign earlier this year.

Lewis, chairman of the House Rules Committee, of course says his actions had nothing to do with Day’s money. He’s just a sincere believer in private contracting. Government’s not better than the private sector, he says, in a familiar Republican refrain.

But in this case, logic goes against him. Why should the state accept potentially less money from a deal with private contractors when it could handle the chores in house and keep all the money, either in salaries for state workers or in payments to the schools, as opposed to handing a huge chunk of the money to private business? How’s that good for the taxpayers?

Even some of Day’s Republican colleagues acknowledge that maybe the state ought to study the issue before charging on.

Rep. George Cleveland, an Onslow County Republican, goes further: “It doesn’t belong being contracted out. It costs the state money that should be going to education.” He was surprised by Lewis’ last-minute, low-profile maneuvering.

Lewis for his part says he’s protecting Day. “Throw me in the briar patch,” he said dismissively. “Accuse me of trying to fight for my folks. I’m OK with that.”

No one’s accusing him of serving his constituents. The question is whether “my folks” means his donors or taxpayers. Did he put a donor’s government contract ahead of taxpayer savings that would have benefited schools? Is he OK with that?