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Locals: Basnight To Leave Big Void

In our fight against the Mid-Currituck Bridge, this comment by Currituck County Commissioner says it all… “Vance Aydlett, the Republican chairman of Currituck’s Board of Commissioners, said Basnight’s resignation may affect plans for a mid-county bridge in Currituck. Basnight has been a key proponent of the proposed bridge from Currituck’s mainland to the Outer Banks. This summer the General Assembly under Basnight’s leadership allocated gap funds to subsidize construction of the $800 million toll road and bridge. With Basnight’s resignation, the future of the bridge may be in jeopardy as opposition continues to mount, Aydlett said.”

By Cindy BeamonBy Reggie PonderBy William F. West And Kristin Pitts
The Daily Advance
Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Officials greeted the news of Sen. Marc Basnight’s resignation from the state Senate Tuesday with a mixture of concern for the future of projects the senator backed and appreciation for the powerful lawmaker’s support of communities in the state’s northeastern corner.

Pasquotank Board of Commissioners Chairman Lloyd Griffin, who also served previously on Elizabeth City’s City Council, said he had met with Basnight many times over the years on issues of concern to the city and county.

“He always had an open door policy and was open to ideas that came from our area,” Griffin said. “Marc was a strong supporter of promoting and creating the highways, the Internet highway and the gas pipeline for our region, which all of us in the counties he serves benefited from. Marc supported our education system and Elizabeth City State (University) with the development of the pharmacy school and the aviation sciences program.”

Griffin said Basnight will be missed.

“Marc’s leadership and his promotion of northeastern North Carolina will be sorely missed by the communities which he represented, and for us to have that leadership again in the state legislature will take years to develop.” Griffin said. “We as eastern North Carolinians should thank Marc for the time he served in Raleigh as well as for the projects and the support of our communities while he served us in Raleigh.”

Elizabeth City Mayor Roger McLean said Basnight has been a friend to the city and neighboring communities.

“Marc is truly going to be missed,” McLean said. “He has meant so much to the citizens of Elizabeth City.”

McLean, a former vice chancellor for business and finance at ECSU, said Basnight had been a strong supporter of the university.

Every new building or program at Elizabeth City State University in recent decades “Marc has had a hand in it — without a doubt,” McLean said. “Without him a lot of progress that you see out there today would not have been made.”

While most area officials praised Basnight’s Senate service, Hood Richardson, a Republican county commissioner from Beaufort County who challenged Basnight for the Senate seat in the November election, questioned the timing of his former opponent’s resignation.

Richardson said it’s frustrating to see Basnight resign almost immediately after winning the election.

“Someone who didn’t run gets to serve in the seat,” Richardson said, referring to the process by which a committee of Democratic Party leaders from the 1st Senatorial District will recommend someone for Gov. Beverly Perdue to appoint to the seat. “That’s frustrating,” Richardson said.

Richardson said he has been in politics a long time and knows that this is the way the succession process works. Still, appointing someone to the vacancy — rather than electing him or her — strikes him as unfair, he said.

Given “the fact that (Basnight) ran for office, probably knew that he was not going to serve” and is resigning at the beginning of the term, “I think whoever the Democratic Party picks should have to run against me again,” Richardson said.

Richardson believes he would have won the election if voters had known Basnight was not going to serve his full two-year term.

City Councilwoman Anita Hummer said “it has been a huge help to our part of the state” to have Basnight working closely in the General Assembly with state Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank.

“This is a huge loss for northeastern North Carolina,” Hummer said of Basnight’s resignation. “He has helped so many of our municipalities and county governments. But just as important, he has really helped individual citizens with their problems. You could call his office and count on his help.”

Pasquotank Commissioner Bill Trueblood agreed that Basnight had a major impact in Raleigh for the region.

“Marc was a very influential member of the legislature and he represented northeastern North Carolina very well for many years,” Trueblood said.

Pasquotank County Sheriff Randy Cartwright said Basnight was one of the best friends North Carolina law enforcement could have had in the legislature.

“He’s always been a good person and very accessible, which was nice,” Cartwright said. “He would always respond” or have his staff respond to questions and concerns.

Cartwright was one of numerous officials to point out Basnight’s ability to treat everyone, no matter who they were, the same.

“I mean, you walk in his restaurant or you see him on the street, he’s going to call you by name and speak to you,” Cartwright said. “And he knows who you are and what you represent.”

District Attorney Frank Parrish said he believes Basnight “has been a very solid and sensible friend to law enforcement and prosecutors.”

“And he will certainly be missed from my perspective,” Parrish said. “I thought he had the gift — I believe rare in elected officials — of being an excellent listener.”

Parrish, who was elected district attorney in 1994 — a year after Basnight took over as president pro tempore of the Senate — said Basnight’s efforts helped improve the judicial system in the region. Basnight helped add more judges to the 1st Judicial District, which has helped speed up the movement of cases through the court system.

Zee Lamb, a former Pasquotank commissioner who is now county manager in Bertie County, said Basnight’s resignation will “create a void” of advocacy for the northeast in Raleigh.

“It’s a sad day for North Carolina and particularly northeastern North Carolina,” he said. “You can’t replace Marc Basnight. He brought so much to the northeast during the last 30 years.”

Lamb said he’s concerned that the “political shift” in Raleigh — Republicans from larger regions of the state are slated to take control of the General Assembly later this month — will mean less influence for more rural areas like northeastern North Carolina.

“I just hope that Sen. Basnight is able to concentrate on his health and continue to advocate for the northeast in other ways,” Lamb said.

Democrats weren’t the only ones concerned about Basnight’s leaving the Senate.

Vance Aydlett, the Republican chairman of Currituck’s Board of Commissioners, said Basnight’s resignation may affect plans for a mid-county bridge in Currituck. Basnight has been a key proponent of the proposed bridge from Currituck’s mainland to the Outer Banks. This summer the General Assembly under Basnight’s leadership allocated gap funds to subsidize construction of the $800 million toll road and bridge. With Basnight’s resignation, the future of the bridge may be in jeopardy as opposition continues to mount, Aydlett said.

The bridge was just one of several local projects influenced by Basnight, area leaders say.

Currituck Commissioner Owen Etheridge, also a Republican, praised Basnight for using his influence to benefit the county as well as the entire state.

“Sen. Basnight has always been a true friend to Currituck County,” Etheridge said. “He’s always gone to bat for us and helped us when we asked him to.”

Etheridge said Basnight and Owens were instrumental in helping the county secure ownership of the Currituck Regional Airport from the state.

Camden Commissioner Michael McLain said Basnight was instrumental in supporting Camden’s Eco-Industrial Park in the northern end of the county and in improving transportation in Northeastern North Carolina.

Sandy Duckwall, chairwoman of Camden’s Board of Commissioners, agreed that Basnight helped the county.

“He has been a friend to Camden over the years,” she said.

Both Duckwall and McLain said the region will need to find a replacement who can work across party lines.

“With the economy the way it is I think voters want bi-partisan cooperation now,” Duckwall said. “We have to work together.”

Area school officials also lamented Basnight’s resignation, saying he had been a major advocate for education.

Camden County Superintendent Melvin Hawkins said Basnight had been a champion for northeastern North Carolina.

“Sen. Basnight has been instrumental in helping the schools — especially the smaller districts and lower-wealth districts that are represented in this area,” Camden County Schools Superintendent Melvin Hawkins said.

Perquimans County Schools Superintendent Dwayne Stallings said that Small School and Low Wealth funding helped to level the playing field for rural students.

“His focus was to ensure that rural and small school systems and their students were provided many of the resources found in larger, metropolitan school districts,” Stallings said. “The initiation of Small Schools and Low Wealth funding for these rural school systems was directly influenced by his commitment to provide opportunities for all students, no matter where they resided.”

Currituck County Schools Superintendent Meghan Doyle likened Basnight’s resignation to the loss of a great advocate.

“His voice I think was often louder than maybe our population warranted, but that always made sure that we got a fair end of the stick, and I’m worried about losing our fair share,” Doyle said.

Currituck County Board of Education Chairman Bill Dobney said that he has appreciated not only Basnight’s advocacy for schools, but also his honesty and approachability.

“He would tell you like it is, and if he could help you in any way shape or form, he would do it,” Dobney said.

ECSU Chancellor Willie Gilchrist called Basnight a champion for the people of North Carolina.

“I consider him a gentleman, a scholar and a great humanitarian,” Gilchrist said. “His presence in the General Assembly will be missed; however, his intellectual capital for northeast North Carolina will always be of great value to the citizens of this state.”

Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools Superintendent Linwood Williams also spoke highly of Basnight.

“Sen. Basnight has served our area well,” Williams said. “He has been a very strong supporter of education and his efforts have been very positive for all levels of public education in northeastern North Carolina. It is certainly my hope that his successor will also place emphasis on supporting public education.”

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