A rare showing of current and former North Carolina lawmakers from both sides of the aisle gathered at the General Assembly this week to commemorate one of the state’s true political giants, the late Sen. Marc Basnight. When Sen. Basnight, the former long-time head of the N.C. Senate, passed away last December at 73 after a years-long battle with ALS, North Carolina lost a leader whose influence on an entire era of policymaking – the decades before and after the turn of the 21st century – was second to none.
Born in Manteo, on Roanoke Island, in the years following World War II, Marc Basnight cultivated an early and enduring love for the North Carolina coast and the salt-of-the-earth people who call it home. Later, he gained prominence as a Democratic legislator representing constituents of his beloved Outer Banks in the N.C. Senate from 1984 to 2011. He ultimately rose to lead the Senate as President pro tempore in 1993 and served in that capacity until 2011, when Republicans wrested control of the legislature from Democrats.
With eighteen years of service as Senate pro-tem, being elected to the position nine times, Sen. Basnight holds honors as the longest-serving leader of a legislative body in state history. Those in attendance at this week’s memorial session included many leaders, like North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein, who served alongside the senator in the General Assembly and have since gone on to higher office.
Sen. Basnight’s tenure as Senate leader brought numerous milestones for the state, including the passage of a state educational lottery, while his personal accomplishments ranged from strengthening support for cancer research to securing key transportation investments at the coast that reduced travel times and created safer conditions for those commuting to and from the Outer Banks. As a small business owner – a restaurateur, Sen. Basnight owned the Lone Cedar Café between Manteo and Nags Head – he held a deep appreciation for the importance of private-sector job creation in expanding opportunity for hardworking North Carolinians.
In many ways, Sen. Basnight embodied a bygone era of North Carolina politics, when the partisan divide was not so difficult to cross and compromise came a little easier, thanks in large part to leaders like him. The senator’s rare ability to work effectively across the aisle was evidenced in the votes of support he received from several Republican Senate colleagues during his last election to the position of pro-tem in 2009 and in the words of those gathering to honor his legacy this week.
“We don’t often get an opportunity to come together like this,” said Republican Sen. Phil Berger, who worked alongside Sen. Basnight for more than a decade and succeeded him as Senate pro-tem. “But, see, that’s one of the things Marc always had an ability to do – and that is bring people together.”
“He had salt water in his veins,” said Democratic Senate leader Dan Blue, who also worked with Sen. Basnight in the Senate. “And few people I’ve met in my lifetime had a deeper and more abiding love of the North Carolina coast than Marc Basnight.”
But perhaps Sen. Don Davis – who along with Sen. Berger and Sen. Blue is one of just three current senators to have served alongside Sen. Basnight in the legislature – said it best: “His life was about people – the people of North Carolina.”
The NC Chamber joins these leaders in honoring the life and service of Sen. Marc Basnight. In these challenging times, may his legacy remind us all how much we can achieve together when we put policy over politics to serve the people of this great state.