January 4, 2011

State Sen. Marc Basnight resigns for health reasons


Before Dare County became one of the richest counties in the state, before it became a top tourist destination on the East Coast, even before the blues stopped running on Outer Banks beaches, Marc Basnight was elected to the state senate.

On Tuesday, Jan. 4, the Manteo High School graduate, a Democrat who became the most powerful politician in North Carolina, surprised almost everyone by announcing that after serving 13 terms ---the last nine as the Senate leader ---he’s leaving politics on Jan. 25 because of a health issue.
Basnight, 63, also made another dramatic decision during the holiday break, said his spokesman Schorr Johnson. He became engaged to Sue Waters, an Outer Banks violinist. He began dating Waters, who is in her mid-50s, some time after his wife Sandy died in 2007.

With his speech slowed considerably by a motor neuron disease, diagnosed after his wife’s death, Basnight said at a videotaped Tuesday press conference in Raleigh that his health difficulties would not allow him to effectively do his job in the now-Republican controlled Senate.

“Not knowing how quickly this disease will move,” he told reporters, “tells me I need to go.”

Johnson said that the staff also learned of the senator’s marriage and retirement plans to quit on Tuesday.  He said that Basnight, the father of two grown daughters, provided no information about a wedding date, but he did say that he is not interested in any more government service and plans to work at his family’s Nags Head restaurant.

According to Johnson, Basnight mulled leaving the Senate for about two weeks before he told his family about his decision on Monday.  Much of his reasoning had to do with the loss of his power as Senate President Pro Tempore, which did not require him to make the forceful speeches that are necessary to be heard in less powerful seats.

“Frankly, his ability to speak clearly matters more when you’re in the minority,” Johnson said.

Although Basnight was re-elected in November, a majority of Republicans won in the state Senate and the state House, which effectively stripped Basnight of the enormous power he held as the longest-serving senate president in state history.

Basnight has been both skewered and applauded for his effectiveness in securing funding for projects, roads, bridges and attractions in Senate District 1 ---  Beaufort, Camden, Currituck, Dare, Hyde,  Pasquotank, Tyrrell and Washington counties ---but he also was a strong advocate for statewide issues like education and the environment.

“I’ve known Marc Basnight for many years, and I’ve never met another like him,” Gov. Beverly Perdue said in a prepared statement. “He is a man of principles, of dignity, and with a truly generous spirit.

“He stood up for the people of this state --- all people --- regardless of money or titles . . . His is a long-lasting legacy for our state.”

Warren Judge, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, called Basnight a “very, very forward-thinker—a great visionary.”

Judge said Basnight was inaccurately accused by some of bringing home an excess amount of bacon to his home county.  But what the senator did, he said, was even the playing field for a region that was mostly overlooked in Raleigh.

“I look at it as Dare County receiving an equal share,” the chairman said. “For many years, all of northeastern North Carolina had gone without.”

Although Basnight’s masterful political skills will be hard to replace, Dare has known for some time that “this day would come one way or another,” Judge said.

“Marc has done great things for us,” he said. “He has nurtured us. We’ve kind of grown up now. It’s kind of like Dad has turned us loose.”

No one has publicly come forward to declare they’re seeking Basnight’s seat, said Kathy McCullough-Testa, chairperson of the Dare County Democratic Party.  A district party committee, she said, will vote at a yet-to-be scheduled meeting to choose a candidate to serve the two-year term.

“I think that it’s going to be someone known outside of one county,” McCullough-Testa said.

Basnight, for his part, has not talked to anyone about filling his chair, Johnson, his spokesman, said.

“He has not given notice to anyone who is interested,” Johnson said, “and he plans to stay out of it.”



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