Dems ponder Basnight successor

Published 5:17 pm Thursday, January 6, 2011

Staff Writer

An upcoming decision by the Beaufort County Democratic Party probably will carry considerable weight in the replacement of state Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare.
On Tuesday, Basnight announced he would retire as a state legislator effective Jan. 25.
During its regular meeting Jan. 15, the county party’s executive committee will appoint two delegates to the state Democratic Party’s Senate District 1 executive committee, said Alice Mills Sadler, local party chairwoman.
The district-level committee will select Basnight’s replacement, and Gov. Beverly Perdue will appoint the selected candidate to fill the vacancy.
Basnight’s replacement will serve out the remainder of the senator’s two-year term.
Beaufort County will have more votes than any other single county when the full Senate District 1’s executive committee meets to nominate Basnight’s successor, Sadler said.
As Senate District 1’s largest county, in terms of population, Beaufort County will be entitled to 150 votes, she said.
The two people the local party names to the district committee will represent those 150 votes, Sadler related.
Also during its Jan. 15 session, the local party will select state House and judicial district committee members, Sadler said.
“The reason we’re doing our House is that there may be a number of people who are presently seated in the House who are interested in this senatorial seat,” she explained. “In the event one of them is selected, we may have to reconvene our House executive committee to replace that person.”
Among the names being mentioned repeatedly as possible replacements for Basnight are those of state Rep. Tim Spear, D-Washington, and outgoing state Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort.
Spear has not publicly confirmed he wants the job. He couldn’t be reached for additional comment Wednesday.
Williams has confirmed that he would be willing to serve, and he revealed that his phone started ringing frequently after Basnight announced his retirement Tuesday.
“I’ve had 20 phone calls already,” Williams said Tuesday.
Two other names have surfaced as possible contenders.
One of the possible contenders is Ashley B. “Brownie” Futrell Jr., retired publisher of the Washington Daily News. Futrell confirmed he had been approached about the job on an informal basis.
“I haven’t made any plans, but I’m humbled by the fact that some folks have called,” he said.
Also in the mix could be Robert Cayton, a Democratic Beaufort County commissioner.
“I’m certainly humbled to think that anyone would consider that I would be able to represent them fairly in the North Carolina state Senate, and I will certainly do all I can for Beaufort County and eastern North Carolina,” Cayton said. “We need a strong voice. Is my voice strong enough? That’s a question the committee would have to answer. I feel like no one can replace Marc Basnight.”
Cayton predicted his party would unite behind the eventual nominee, whoever he or she might be.
“I foresee no dissension among those whose names are being shared as well as others that will come up between now and the concluding of the process,” he said.
No official contenders list has surfaced, and it was unclear whether any of the names listed above were under serious consideration or would make the committee’s final cut. Indeed, the full committee has yet to meet to discuss this issue.
Basnight will leave office after a record nine terms as president pro tempore of the Senate, according to staff in his office.
In announcing his resignation, the senator pointed to health and family concerns. Also factoring into his decision to leave Raleigh was the Republicans’ triumphs in the Nov. 2, 2010, general election, in which they gained majorities in the House and Senate.
The GOP wins ensured Basnight would lose the unprecedented power he had wielded for so long.
Though the N.C. General Assembly has no official seniority system based on length of tenure, political observers have pointed out the fact that Basnight’s longevity, experience and contacts helped drive his influence.
His successor will not enjoy the same influence, in large part because the Democrats are out of power.
The GOP’s Senate caucus has anointed Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, as its choice for president pro tem. The Senate’s official vote on this issue likely will come Jan. 26, the day the upcoming legislative session begins.