Basnight won’t seek leader post
By Reggie Ponder And William F. West
The Daily Advance
Thursday, November 4, 2010

Longtime Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight said this week that he will not seek a top Senate leadership post when the Republican-dominated Legislature reconvenes next year.

Basnight’s office also insisted Wednesday that it’s not true that the 13-term legislator plans to retire from the Senate before the new term he won on Tuesday expires in 2012.

Although Basnight, D-Dare, withstood a challenge from Beaufort Republican Hood Richardson to win a 14th term, Republicans statewide picked up 11 seats in the Senate Tuesday, flipping what had been a 30-20 Democratic majority prior to the election into a 31-19 majority for the GOP.

Because of the change in power, Basnight, who first took the gavel as president pro-tempore of the Senate in 1993, is expected to lose that post to a Republican when both the House and Senate reconvene in Raleigh in January.

Basnight spokesman Schorr Johnson said Wednesday that Basnight was pleased to be re-elected and plans to continue representing the people of the 1st District for the next two years.

“That is all he plans on doing for the next two years,” Johnson said. “He has no interest in being in any leadership position.”

Not only will Basnight not be a candidate for president pro-tem, he also will not seek the minority leader post or any other leadership position in the chamber, Johnson said.

But Basnight does plan to serve his full term, Johnson said.

“Sen. Basnight is looking forward to serving the full term and representing the people of the 1st District as those people elected him to do,” he said. “Any rumors or people talking to the contrary are just that — people talking.”

With Republicans also set to take control of the state House — the next session will have at least 66 Republicans, if not more — state Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, acknowledged this week that he, too, won’t have the clout he has now. Owens currently serves as chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, ranking him just behind the House Speaker in terms of influence.

“That’s to be expected,” Owens said.

Even so, Owens said he hopes his reputation for bipartisanship and his pro-business efforts will enable him to play some kind of significant role crafting legislation in the GOP-dominated House.

“That remains to be seen,” he said. “I would like to think that, but that’s their decision and I’ll live with whatever they decide. I hope they’ll be as fair to me as I was to them.”

During the campaign, Owens often mentioned that his first action as rules chairman was to ensure that Republican House members who had been shortchanged on office space were assigned decent offices to work in.

Owens also noted that he had to work with a Republican-dominated legislature his first four years after he was elected in 1994.

“They treated me fine then, and I have confidence they will treat me fine now,” he said.

The 1st N.C. Senate District includes Basnight’s home county of Dare as well as Currituck, Camden, Pasquotank, Beaufort, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties. Owens’ 1st House District includes Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck and Tyrrell counties.

John Hood, who is president of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think-tank in Raleigh, said Tuesday that both Basnight and Owens “are going to be in a much weaker position in the coming session.”

Hood is also one of those who have publicly speculated about Basnight’s future. Hood said it will be difficult for Basnight to go from being the most powerful man in state government to a backbencher in the Senate. Therefore, he believes Basnight won’t complete his upcoming two-year term.

Hood noted Basnight has a degenerative disorder affecting the senator’s mobility and ability to speak. Basnight mentioned the disorder during a candidates forum in Elizabeth City recently, noting it affects his speech and movement but not his thinking.

Hood said it was his understanding that Basnight, an Outer Banks restaurateur, was already being encouraged not to seek re-election.

“I understood there were a number of people in his family and circle of friends who wanted him to retire from politics anyway,” Hood said. “But, this (change in power) will, I think, expedite that retirement.”

Hood also believes that the coming redistricting in the state will shift political power toward the cities. Consequently, Basnight and Owens — and the northeastern region they represent — would have lost clout in Raleigh anyway.

“So, even a Democratic legislature would still, over time, have become increasingly urban and suburban, just because of the population flows,” Hood said.

Meantime, Republican strength is in the cities.

Hood pointed out that Basnight’s anticipated replacement as Senate president, current minority leader Phil Berger, is from Rockingham County, and that the yet-to-be named House Republican leader could be from the Raleigh-Durham or Charlotte areas.