By Shelly Brown
Christian Action League
December 30, 2020
North Carolina’s longest-serving legislative leader, Marc Basnight, died Monday from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He was 73.
“Anyone who knows anything about North Carolina politics knows the name Marc Basnight,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “I watched Basnight work his political magic for ten years until he resigned. He was a master at it.”
The Manteo native became chair of the Dare County Tourism Bureau in 1974 and was named to the state transportation board three years later. In 1984, he was elected to the state Senate and served as Senate President Pro Tempore from 1993 until 2010. Although he was raised in what was one of the most isolated parts of the state, the Outer Banker was gifted with the ability to connect with people.
According to his family, when Basnight wasn’t tending to his Senate duties, he could often be found working at his family’s restaurant, the Lone Cedar Café on the Nags Head Causeway.
“Sen. Basnight loved people. I used to hear that he’d stop along the way from the Outer Banks to Raleigh just to speak to strangers and hear what they had to say. He loved people, and they loved him back,” wrote Sen. President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) upon hearing of Basnight’s death.
The colorful lawmaker — known for both his charm and temper, used his connections and issue-by-issue gut instincts to build a powerful political machine, eventually wielding more power through the Democratic caucus than the governor. He helped Mike Easley get elected to the state’s top seat and ensured that Erskine Bowles became UNC president.
Although Basnight never attended college, he pushed through a $3.1 billion higher education bond issue – the largest in U.S. history at the time. And after his wife died of cancer in 2007, the lawmaker championed the construction of the UNC Cancer Hospital and the Biomedical Research Imaging Center in Chapel Hill.
“The Christian Action League remembers affectionately his leadership to ban video poker and sweepstakes gaming. If it hadn’t been for him, a ban would have never passed,” Creech said. “But we were also deeply saddened by his support for a statewide lottery.”
Creech said Basnight pulled out all the stops to push lawmakers to vote for the lottery. And when the 2005 session ended without enough votes to pass it, he called senators back to Raleigh, knowing two Republican lottery opponents would be absent. The controversial move created a tie, which Democratic Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue then broke with her yes vote.
“Since the lottery passed in this state, resistance to gambling has diminished, problem gambling is up, and other forms of gambling such as casinos are growing in number,” Creech said.
He said Basnight was also instrumental in thwarting efforts to defend the biblical definition of marriage.
“Every year that legislation was put forward by Sen. James Forrester (R-Gaston) to define marriage in our state’s constitution as one man and one woman, Basnight would send it off to some committee to die a quiet death,” Creech said. “It never got a hearing under his leadership, even though the legislation had bipartisan support and would have easily passed. It wasn’t until Republicans won control of the Senate in 2010 that legislation for the marriage amendment could even move.”
“Despite the unprecedented good Basnight did for North Carolina in so many other ways, despite his other good qualities and the conservative positions he held, I will always feel these matters terribly stained his record as a statesman.”
When Republicans did gain the upper hand, Basnight conceded with dignity, say his political opponents.
“I will always remember the grace with which Sen. Basnight conducted the 2011 transition. He spared no effort and denied no request. He could wage political battle with the best of them, but he always put the institution of the Senate, as a symbol of the people’s representative government, first,” Berger said.
To honor Basnight, Gov. Roy Cooper has ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff until sunset on New Year’s Day.
“His positive influence on our public universities, transportation, environment, and more will be felt for decades,” the Governor said.
The N.C. Board of Transportation voted in 2019 to name the new bridge over Oregon Inlet the Marc Basnight Bridge.