Delegates play to packed house

Published 7:23 pm Sunday, January 16, 2011

Staff Writer

More than 100 people showed up to watch the executive committee of the Beaufort County Democratic Party elect two delegates to a district-level body Saturday morning, even though most of the people in the audience weren’t eligible to vote — and some are Republicans.
If the meeting was anticlimactic, public interest in the proceedings wasn’t, and suspense continues to build around a process leading to the replacement for retiring state Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare.
It appeared a number of observers on hand Saturday at the Beaufort County Courthouse turned out to demonstrate their conviction that outgoing state Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort, should be chosen to succeed Basnight.
On Nov. 2, 2010, Williams lost his re-election to Republican Bill Cook. Now, the pro-Williams contingent says Williams should be sent back to Raleigh, this time as a senator.
Some of Saturday’s spectators wore neon-green stickers with Williams’ name printed on them, and a handful carried signs reading “Teachers Supporting Arthur.”
Carol Jones, a fourth-grade teacher at Bath Elementary School, was among the attendees carrying Williams signs.
“I’m supporting Arthur Williams,” said Jones. “He’s been a big supporter of education in our area and we are here to support him and hope he gets the nomination to replace Marc Basnight.”
Citing a health issue and a political disadvantage in Raleigh, Basnight will resign his Senate seat effective Jan. 25.
The veteran lawmaker’s replacement will be named by a Democratic committee comprised of delegates from seven of the eight counties in state Senate District 1.
Of the eight counties in the district, only Tyrrell County isn’t “organized,” meaning it doesn’t have a mechanism by which it can send representatives to the regional meeting, indicated Chris Hardee, a district chairman who will preside over that get-together.
Delegates from the seven other counties — Hyde, Dare, Camden, Currituck, Beaufort, Pasquotank and Washington — will send two delegates apiece to the session.
Once these delegates have named Basnight’s replacement, that name will be forwarded to Gov. Beverly Perdue, who will be duty bound to appoint the anointed person to the office vacated by Basnight.
The retiring senator has declined to endorse any of the contenders, his spokesman said recently.
Of all the counties in Senate District 1, Beaufort County is the largest in terms of year-round population and, as such, gets 150 votes at the district meeting. This means Beaufort County’s two delegates — John Murphy and the Rev. David Moore, both appointed Saturday — will represent these weighted votes at the regional meeting.
With Tyrrell County out of the running, a total of 515 votes could be cast at the meeting, suggested Hardee.
The District 1 executive committee is scheduled to gather at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 21 at Tyrrell Hall in Columbia, according to a news release from Hardee. The meeting is open to the public, he said.
“The agenda will be to discuss and fill the remaining vacancy of (Basnight’s) term as directed by NC General Statute and the NC Democratic Party Plan or Organization,” the release reads.
Moore and Murphy have gone on record as supporting Williams.
Though he has no legal obligation to do so, Murphy has said he wants Williams in place, but will endorse the candidate desired by the majority of the local executive committee which, political observers have said, is squarely behind Williams.
Hardee advised that body couldn’t instruct the two delegates to vote “one way or another.”
“We cannot compel you to vote for anybody,” county party Chairwoman Alice Mills Sadler told Moore and Murphy. “The executive committee is not going to get into that. Those are your votes. You have 150 votes to cast any way you want.”
In turn, Murphy stated, “Looking around the room, I think it’s pretty obvious where the sentiment is.”
Sadler added, “Then you already know what you probably need to do.”
Asked for his response to Saturday’s developments, Williams pronounced himself “excited.”
“I’ve got a lot of support in the county and I think it’s really important that we all stay united through this process,” he commented. “It’s a long process. It’s worse than running for re-election. I’ve just got a lot of support, and I appreciate all the people coming to, filling up the courtroom this morning on my behalf. I think that makes a statement.”
He asserted it’s important that Beaufort County maintains unity in the disposition of its 150 votes.
“We don’t need to split because then we’re subject to losing this thing, and if we lose this it’s going to be like taxation without representation,” Williams concluded. “We just really need to stay together.”
Besides Williams, several other candidates have expressed interest in taking over Basnight’s job.
Last week, Paul Tine, a Dare County resident and owner of two insurance businesses, made his intentions known.
“After speaking with my family and people throughout the district, I have decided to contend for the appointment to the Senate,” Tine said in a news release. “At 39 my relative youth, energy, and business experience give me the tools to fight for northeastern North Carolina.”
The release notes Tine has served on a legislative subcommittee formed to study offshore energy production.
Another candidate with confirmed interest is Virginia Tillett, a three-term Dare County commissioner and former member of the Dare County Board of Education. Tillett has been campaigning by reaching out to party members in various counties in the district.
In an interview, Tillett said she is “constantly in Raleigh” and has served on the board of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, a lobbying and support group for the state’s 100 counties.
Janet Russ, chairwoman of the Hyde County Democratic Party, said she had been contacted by Tillett and Stan White, a former Dare County commissioner and current member of N.C. Board of Transportation, and that White also is offering himself as a candidate.
A call to White wasn’t returned last week.
Russ said she is one of Hyde County’s two delegates to the district meeting.
“I don’t know who all the candidates are going to be,” she said. “I haven’t really made up my mind just as yet. I’m sure it’ll be very decisive once you see who you’ve got to choose from. It’ll be hard for anybody to replace Marc Basnight.”
At least one other possible nominee has come to light in area media reports, but those reports couldn’t be verified immediately.
Murphy said he had seen the names of five potential nominees.
Referring to the district meeting, Hardee said, “I anticipate multiple ballots.”
Nodding to the packed courtroom, he added, “The process is fairly simple, but you can tell by the interest in this room, nothing’s ever that simple.”
Of the Beaufort County names that have been brought forward, Williams’ appears to be the viable one on the basis of Saturday’s demonstration.
“We’ve got a candidate,” said Moore.