Basnight answers health questions|Responds to rumors he could be unable to continue to serve

Published 9:52 am Sunday, December 13, 2009

Staff Writer

=State Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare, is confronting persistent rumors that his health is failing and that he might soon be rendered unable to serve, an assertion that he and some of his colleagues denied in a series of interviews.
“I walk, oh, gosh, about an hour a day, four days a week. That I enjoy,” Basnight told the Daily News in a recent telephone interview.
“So, that’s my exercise, plus squats, sit-ups, things that I’ve always done,” he added. “I don’t know if that’s newsworthy, but that’s what I do.”
If the senator’s exercise routine is newsworthy, as it relates to his health, it’s because he’s the longtime president pro tempore of the Senate and perhaps the most powerful person in Tarheel government.
According to the Senate Democratic caucus’ Web site, the president pro tempore “is the highest ranking senator” and “appoints all Senators to standing committees where legislation can be worked on.”
Political observers point out that Basnight’s longevity in the Senate, coupled with his party’s dominance of that body, have given the senator a position of unprecedented authority — and that’s something Democrats say they can’t afford to lose.
Rumors persist
Despite his revelation in interviews with major state newspapers that he suffers from a rare nerve affliction, Basnight continues to wrestle with questions about his health.
The disease affects his speech, which was clear but halting and a bit labored in the telephone interview.
“It is the same disease I’ve had,” he said when asked about his condition. “They don’t know what it is. It affects my coordination and my speech, and that’s what it does. … I’m the same today I was last year and two years ago, so it doesn’t change. It is what it is. I wish we had a name, and then I could tell you, but they’re unable to give it a name.”
In May, Basnight’s doctor told the Charlotte Observer the disease is not fatal and isn’t affecting the senator’s cognitive abilities, though, he noted, the ailment might become disabling beyond a decade or two.
Still, the rumors persist.
In remarks to the Down East Republican Club in Washington last month, area talk-radio host Henry Hinton responded to an audience member’s question about Basnight.
“Marc is very ill, and there are people in Raleigh today who still say he won’t run next year,” Hinton said. “He has a hard time getting up and down the stairs, has to have people on either side of him, I’m told.”
Running again?
Despite a few murmurs of disapproval from his audience, Hinton added that he likes Basnight on a personal level, and that the senator has done “a lot of good things for eastern North Carolina.”
“I think Marc’s going to run again next year,” he continued.
Hinton’s claim was echoed by Schorr Johnson, Basnight’s spokesman.
“I can tell you that he is planning on running again,” Johnson commented recently.
That statement was backed up by state Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort, who described Basnight as a friend.
“Telling me he’s still running,” Williams told the Daily News in November. “I think it would be a real loss to Beaufort County if he didn’t run again.”
Beaufort County is the largest county in Basnight’s district.
In remarks during an interview in November, Gov. Beverly Perdue said Basnight is “like a brother.”
“And do I worry about his health?” she continued. “Not as much as some because I see him and talk to him and I surmise that he makes sound decisions. And, if he were unable to run and serve, he would be very direct with the people. I have full confidence that Marc Basnight will lead North Carolina toward this bold future with me, and folks can stop worrying about his health.”
Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, also in a Daily News interview, noted that he hears public concerns about Basnight, adding, “But I know that when I’ve been around Sen. Basnight he still seems to be the visionary leader that I have always seen.”
As lieutenant governor, Dalton presides over the Senate.
“And from my observation,” he said, “while every now and then you will see some manifestation of a slight problem, … he is still very capable of providing the leadership that he has in the past. So, I think it’s a little premature to think about him not being in that position of leadership. I think he will be there for this next term, is my prognostication.”
Changes afoot
The rumors about Basnight’s health are being dusted off as the Senate loses some of its most prominent members.
Tony Rand, the now-former Democratic majority leader, is stepping down, as is David Hoyle, D-Gaston, co-chairman of the Senate’s finance committee.
The finance committee is ranked as the second-most powerful in the Senate by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.
The center has ranked Rand and Hoyle as the most-effective senators in the state, behind Basnight. The effectiveness rankings are based partly on a lawmaker’s ability to get things done legislatively.
On Thursday, The Associated Press reported that a grand jury had “found probable cause to indict” state Sen. R.C. Soles, D-Columbus, on the charge of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, raising additional questions about whether Soles could retain his seat if he chose to run again.
According to AP, the pending indictment comes in response to an August incident in which two “intruders kicked in the front door” of Soles’ home.
Various media outlets have reported that state Sen. Julia Boseman, D-New Hanover, doesn’t plan to seek re-election.
“Change will occur,” Basnight said. “It has its habits of being the natural process. We all leave at some time. That will continue to occur. I’ve had different people in the Senate among my leadership for 25 years. Nothing will change that. You will have people moving up into those positions. Very competent, well-prepared members, a big slate to choose from. I am fortunate to be able to select from some outstanding talents.”
Asked if he fears that past and present scandals involving major Democratic figures could hurt his party in next year’s elections, Basnight focused on the positives.
“I don’t run as a party,” he said. “We run individually, and we will have candidates that everyone will be proud of. Everybody. I can’t control the habits of people who choose to do wrong, Democrat or Republican.”
He acknowledged the widely held belief that Hoyle’s district will be lost to a Republican.
“That may be a place that we cannot mount a serious campaign,” Basnight said. “So, it’s possible we could lose that seat. I do not see at this time any losses beyond that. That’s not to say we won’t get the candidates we want. It is all predicated upon the candidate.”