Senator Dan Blue takes the reigns as Senate Minority Leader
By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
March 7, 2014
ASHEVILLE – Tuesday, North Carolina State Senator Martin Nesbitt (D-Asheville) from Asheville stepped down as Senate Minority Leader. Nesbitt sited an undisclosed illness and his need to concentrate on treatment. Nesbitt died on Thursday from what is now being reported as a bout with stomach cancer. He was 67.
According to the Raleigh News and Observer, Nesbitt released a statement Tuesday, saying: “‘After a recent diagnosis, it has become clear that I will need to take some time in the coming weeks and months to focus on my health…However, this year’s elections are too important to the future of our great state to not have all hands on deck. I am therefore pleased and proud that my friend, Sen. Dan Blue, Jr., has agreed to lead the Democratic Caucus while I seek further medical treatment.”
A statement from Sen. Dan Blue (D-Wake) had wished Nesbitt a speedy recovery while acknowledging that “Martin has served our caucus with remarkable dedication…” The Associated Press reported Fred Porter, a Senate Democratic spokesman, as saying that Nesbitt wanted to keep his health a private matter and that he hadn’t decided whether he would seek re-election to his Buncombe district. Three Republicans were vying for his seat. “He felt it was prudent to step down from leadership,” Porter had written in an email.”
According to the Asheville Citizen Times, Nesbitt was “a champion for the common man.” The Citizen Times also reports Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Hendersonville), chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee who often locked horns with Nesbitt to say, “We did what we had to in the session but we enjoyed each other’s company out. He was one of a kind and will truly be missed.”
“I am genuinely saddened to hear of Senator Nesbitt’s passing,” said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Martin Nesbitt was a choice servant of the people. I had profound respect for him and his leadership. I may have often disagreed with him on several important matters, but there was no question Senator Nesbitt was a man of stalwart integrity. I’ll never forget his vigorous opposition to a state operated lottery – the power of his eloquence, with his appealing and authoritative mountain drawl that would accentuate his debate. I can also remember the way he fell out of favor with the Former House Speaker, Jim Black (later incarcerated), when Nesbitt rightly challenged him. Senator Nesbitt gave more than 30 years of his life serving the people of Western North Carolina. I considered him a friend, and I feel honored to have known him.”
Nesbitt first started serving in the North Carolina House in 1979. He filled out his mother’s term, Mary Cordell Nesbitt, who previously held the seat until her passing. Nesbitt moved over into the Senate, appointed by then Governor Mike Easley, to serve in the vacant seat left by the resignation of then Senator Steve Metcalf in 2004. Within five years, 2009, Nesbitt would rise to the position of Senate Majority Leader, garnering the endorsement of Marc Basnight after the departure of then Senator Tony Rand. When Republicans took over the Senate in the 2010 elections, Nesbitt would take the leadership as Senate Minority Leader, starting in 2011.
A moving testimony to the bi-partisan affection for Nesbitt was seen when well-wishers from both parties lined the road near Interstate 40 in Swannanoa as the ambulance Nesbitt was riding returned him home from Duke University Hospital on Wednesday. The crowd held up a large blue sign that read, “Get Well Soon!” Others brushed away tears, while waving American flags. The ambulance was escorted by Sheriff’s deputies and police. Even a few race cars were included in the demonstration because of the Senator’s love for racing and his son’s racing team.
“While we are praying for Sen. Nesbitt’s family, let’s also remember in our prayers, Senator Dan Blue, as he takes the reigns as Minority Leader in the Senate,” said Rev. Creech.
Like Nesbitt, Blue first started serving in the House too. Starting in 1981, Blue served until 2002. He has the unique and honored distinction of being the first African American elected as Speaker of the House in 1991, serving from 1991 to 1994. In 2002, Blue ran for the U.S. Senate and lost the nomination of his party to Erskin Bowles. In 2006, he was appointed by then Governor Mike Easley, to return to his former House Seat after the death of Rep. Bernard Allen. In 2009, Democrats selected him to take the place of Senator Vernon Malone, who died while he was in office.