In memory of Marc Basnight

Published 11:38 am Wednesday, December 30, 2020

If you are newly arrived in eastern North Carolina, you may not recognize the name of Manteo resident Marc Basnight other than in connection to the bridge over Oregon Inlet.

But I encourage you, when you wake up tomorrow to look around our little town of Washington or wherever you live in the northeastern section of the state.

For you will surely see the imprint of Basnight wherever you look.

Basnight represented the 1st District – which at various times, included parts or all of Beaufort, Currituck, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties, among others – in the N.C. Senate in Raleigh. After a few years in the Senate, he was appointed chairman of that chamber’s powerful appropriations committee and subsequently elected president pro tempore of that chamber in 1993. He held that position until 2011, when the Democrats lost control of the Senate and he resigned his seat, in part, because of his failing health.

It is no exaggeration to say that during the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st Century, Marc Basnight was the most powerful politician in the state.

No law was passed, and no government agency or project was funded unless it had his approval. And during that time, he made sure that northeastern North Carolina received its fair share.

That’s why I encourage you to look around.

Visit the North Carolina Esturarium and its Partnership for the Sounds with sites also in Bertie and Tyrrell counties. They got their start with authorization and funding advanced by Basnight.

Walk along the Washington waterfront and its wooden walkway. The bulk of its funding came from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, authorized and funded through work by Basnight.

Attend an event at the Bob Martin Equestrian Center in Williamston. Yes, its creation and funding for was promoted by Basnight.

Drive past farms in the area. Chances are the crops in those fields have been aided by research at the Vernon James Center in Washington County. Yep, another project for which Basnight can lay claim.

Visit a local school. Basnight proposed and put in place the Small and Low Wealth School Fund which provided millions of dollars of funding for schools in northeastern North Carolina —including Beaufort County — before it was essentially dismantled after he left office.

Drive along the four-lane roads connecting many northeastern North Carolina towns, especially the numerous bypasses. Many were funded, in part, thanks to the state Department of Transportation’s Equity Formula which ensured that rural areas of the state received their fair share of road improvements.

These are just a few of his better-known accomplishments, many of which I witnessed as a reporter for the Washington Daily News and The Virginian-Pilot.

But also understand, Marc Basnight was no angel.

Like any powerful politician, he could be ruthless with his opponents and those who crossed him.

As soon as he could, he acted to strip the state’s lieutenant governor of most of that office’s appointive powers and claim them for himself, in part because of his disdain for then- Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker.

When one area judge crossed him, Marc Basnight saw to it that the Senate’s proposed budget that year eliminated that judicial district and combined it with another one (Funding for the district was ultimately restored but the message had been received). He rammed through passage of a state lottery when one Senate opponent was on his honeymoon and another Senate opponent was in the hospital. When asked about it, he said that the honeymooning senator should not have left town.

I suffered his wrath when I wrote articles for the Washington Daily News and The Virginian-Pilot that did not meet his approval. Once, he called me into his office where the entire Senate leadership was waiting to pounce on me for something I had written about salaries for his legislative staff.

And like many powerful men, he was known for a roving eye.

But I spent quite a bit of time with Marc Basnight over the years and I know that northeastern North Carolina has never had nor will ever again have a better friend.

In one interview as we were riding along N.C. Highway 12 between Hatteras and Kitty Hawk, I asked him what he would want his epitaph to be.

Without hesitation, he answered, “He did the best he could.”

He certainly did.

Just look around.