Raleigh, N.C. — Senate Republicans and Democrats found a brief moment of unity Tuesday in praising former Sen. Martin Nesbitt, who died in March.
Nesbitt, 67, who died a week after being diagnosed with stomach cancer, was remembered as a man who was devoted to "the little guy" – be it schoolchildren, the needy or a small-business owner – and to those who lived in and around his home of Asheville.
"Martin knew government could help people, that it wasn't always in the way, that it doesn't always impede progress," said Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, who succeeded Nesbitt as leader of the Senate Democrats.
"Martin had a way of understanding people, had a way of working with people so that, even if you had a different world view, you'd feel your time with him was well spent," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said.
Nesbitt came to the state House in 1979 to finish the term of his mother, Rep. Mary Nesbitt, after she died. He moved to the Senate in 2004.
"He absolutely loved legislating," said Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake. "No matter what his role was, Martin put his heart and soul into doing what he thought he needed to do."
Several senators spoke about Nesbitt's love for stock car racing and for talking about his family and life in the mountains.
"Martin could summarize what people said and put it in language mountain folks could understand," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson.
Apodaca said that he and Nesbitt could go toe-to-toe in the Senate on a bill but then speak as friends afterward.
Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, who was appointed to finish Nesbitt's term, said she would sometimes disagree with him when he was her senator.
"But I never doubted that he had best interests of the people and his mountains at heart," Van Duyn said.
"He certainly wasn't a Republican, but he wasn't really a Democrat either," said Sen. Austin Allran, R-Catawba, who joined the House the same time Nesbitt and Blue did. "He was a populist. He had his own way."