East losing its champion|Basnight resigns citing concerns over his health

Published 4:59 pm Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Staff Writer

The state Senate’s most effective lawmaker — Beaufort County’s senator — will resign Jan. 25, the day before the legislative session begins.
Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare, long considered the most powerful person in North Carolina government and consistently ranked most effective in the Senate, made the decision to resign early this week, according to his spokesman.
“The primary reason, he said today, is his health,” said Schorr Johnson.
Basnight suffers from a rare nerve affliction that has impaired his speech and other physical functions, but apparently has left his cognitive faculties unaffected.
It has been reported that the disease is not fatal and shouldn’t be disabling in the near term.
This diagnosis hasn’t changed, Johnson said.
The senator’s political circumstances have changed.
In November 2010, Republicans gained majorities in both the state House and Senate for the first time in more than a century. As a result, Basnight was slated to lose the leadership post he has held for approximately 18 years.
Johnson confirmed that the change in leadership, health and family considerations figured into the senator’s decision to step down.
“His ability to speak clearly is not as good as it once was, and he feels that he will not be able to provide the people of the 1st Senatorial district with the representation that they expect because as a member of the minority his ability to debate would be even more important,” Johnson commented.
Basnight’s wife, Sandy, died in 2007.
According to Johnson, Basnight got engaged over the holidays to Sue Waters, a librarian in Manteo. Johnson said no date had been set for the wedding, as far as he knew.
The engagement also carried weight as Basnight considered his resignation, he said.
Asked what Basnight would do next, Johnson replied, “He’s going to go home and work at his family restaurant (Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café on the Outer Banks). He has no plans and said that he doesn’t want any state job, any position, any commission, that his government service is over and that he needs to focus on his family’s business.”
Since he is vacating his office prematurely, Basnight’s replacement will be nominated by the Democratic Party’s executive committee in Senate District 1, confirmed Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director.
The district encompasses eight counties in the northeast, including Beaufort County.
Once the committee has nominated a replacement, Gov. Beverly Perdue shall appoint a replacement within seven days, Hopkins related.
The replacement will serve out the remainder of Basnight’s two-year term.
Asked whether Basnight would endorse a possible nominee, Johnson said, “He said he has not even thought about it, and he has no plans to get involved in that at all and that he did not speak with anyone giving anyone any advance notice of his plan related to succeeding his seat.”
Whenever rumors of Basnight’s retirement surfaced in the past few months, two names were mentioned frequently in political circles. The names were those of state Rep. Tim Spear, D-Washington, and state Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort.
Williams, who represents Beaufort County and northeast Pitt County, was defeated by Republican Bill Cook in the Nov. 2 general election. Williams has served four terms in the House.
Reached by telephone Tuesday afternoon, Williams confirmed he would be willing to replace Basnight, if selected for the job.
“I’d certainly love to do it, and I think it would certainly be an honor,” Williams stated.
He added he’d been approached by several people about this matter, but couldn’t confirm whether any of these people are in position to nominate him.
“I think it’s a big loss to North Carolina and to eastern North Carolina,” Williams said of Basnight’s departure.
In a prepared statement, Spear, a three-and-half-term House member, said nothing about his future plans.
“I am very saddened to see Sen. Basnight resign his position in the North Carolina Senate,” he said. “He is an outstanding person, leader and has always been a person of vision working to make North Carolina a better state. I wish him and his family the very best in his retirement.”
Basnight’s most recent opponent was Hood Richardson, a Republican Beaufort County commissioner from Washington.
Richardson was unsuccessful in his bid to unseat Basnight last year.
“While I’m sorry the senator’s health is such that he cannot serve, I’m not sure that the two names that are being put up are going to be able to make a difference in the district,” Richardson commented, referring to Spear and Williams.
“They have both been lackeys of the senator for so long that I don’t think they’ll be able to change policy, and we definitely need a change in policy in the 1st District,” Richardson added.
Alice Mills Sadler, chairwoman of the Beaufort County Democratic Party, said, “We’ve got an uphill climb in replacing someone of his caliber, that’s for sure. I think Basnight was a good friend to all of his constituents and all of the counties that he served.”
Sadler said she had no idea who would be interested in taking the senator’s place and was working to develop a better understanding of the nomination process.
“I’m really kind of shocked that he went through with the resignation,” she said.
Larry Britt, chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party, said, “Of course, I think it’s good news. It’s just a further casualty of the election. When Basnight lost his power, he lost his purpose for being there.”
Britt added, “Next election, I think it’s an open seat.”