State News

Basnight leaving NC Senate for health reasons

Posted January 4, 2011 11:12 a.m. EST
Updated January 4, 2011 5:53 p.m. EST

— The man who's been North Carolina's most powerful state senator for the past 18 years said Tuesday that he plans to resign from the chamber, rather than remaining in the Senate for one more term as he previously announced.

Outgoing Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, told reporters that he decided Monday to leave for health reasons. His resignation is effective Jan. 25.

Basnight, 63, said he was diagnosed three years ago with a degenerative nerve disease that affects his balance and speech. Looking back, he said, he probably first started showing symptoms eight years ago.

He said he doesn't think he can be an effective member of the new Democratic minority because his condition would hinder his ability to engage in floor debates.

"I (have) to be able to debate, and my disease presents a challenge that I cannot overcome," he said. "My speech is slow and retarded. The words get jumbled up and will not flow."

His decision comes two months after the Republicans won a majority in the chamber for the first time since 1898. The GOP majority means Basnight wouldn't have kept the president pro tempore's job he's held since 1993.

Basnight, who has served in the Senate for 26 years, said earlier he would retire at the end of his term in 2012. Now, Democrats in Basnight's northeastern district will choose his successor immediately.

"It's a new day – a new leadership – and I welcome that," he said. "They do not need me. I'm the past."

Current and former legislative colleagues were quick to praise Basnight for his commitment to higher education, the environment, health issues and economic development.

"They ought to name one of the universities after him or something because he meant that much to the university system," said state Revenue Secretary David Hoyle, a former senator from Gaston County.

Gov. Beverly Perdue, who served in the Senate and later presided over it as lieutenant governor, called Basnight "a man of principles, of dignity and with a truly generous spirit" and said she had never met anyone quite like him.

"He stood up for the people of this state – all people – regardless of money or titles. A Dare County oyster fisherman was as important to him, maybe more so, than the CEO of a Fortune 500 company," Perdue said in a statement.

Outgoing House Speaker Joe Hackney said Basnight made North Carolina a better place through his public service.

"Few people have contributed as significantly to this state as Sen. Basnight over the past two decades," Hackney, D-Orange, said in a statement.

Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, who succeeds Basnight as Senate president pro tem when the General Assembly reconvenes in three weeks, said that Basnight has smoothed the transition of power from the Democrats to the Republicans.

"The grace, respect and cooperation he and his staff have shown Republicans will be the standard by which all future transitions are measured," Berger said in a statement.

Basnight got engaged over the Christmas holiday to Sue Waters, a high school librarian in his hometown of Manteo, and he said Monday that he looks forward to a future out of politics.

"I'm just going home right where i started," he said.