Marc Basnight, longest serving NC Senate leader, dies at 73

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FILE - In a May 2006 file photo, Senate leader Marc Basnight speaks on the Senate floor at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C. Basnight died Monday, Dec. 28, 2020, at age 73. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. – Former state Sen. Marc Basnight, a Democrat from North Carolina's barrier islands who became one of North Carolina’s most powerful contemporary political leaders while serving a record 18 years as Senate leader, died Monday. He was 73.

Basnight, who was ill for years with what was later diagnosed as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, died at his Manteo home with family members present, according to Amy Fulk, Basnight’s chief of staff while he held the chamber’s top job.

Despite humble beginnings and little formal education, Basnight rose through state politics to serve in the Senate for 26 years. His nine two-year terms as Senate president pro tempore made him the longest-serving head of a legislative body in North Carolina history.

Basnight was a legislative powerhouse involved in enacting every significant state policy of the 1990s and 2000s, including passage of the state lottery, a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars and improved public education and ethics reforms. And he made it a point of stopping to meet constituents on his weekly 190-mile (305-kilometer) commute between Raleigh and the coastal Outer Banks to learn about their needs.

He resigned his seat in early 2011, announcing his decision weeks before Republicans took over the chamber for the first time in over a century due to electoral wins the previous November. Basnight told reporters at the time that he was already struggling with a degenerative nerve disease that affected his balance and speech.

Democrats who served and learned as lieutenants under Basnight in the Senate are numerous and included a future governor, Beverly Perdue; the late U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan; and current Gov. Roy Cooper, who was Senate majority leader in the late 1990s.

“North Carolina lost a giant today with the passing of my friend," Cooper said in a news release. “His positive influence on our public universities, transportation, environment and more will be felt for decades. A man of great power and influence, his humble, common touch made everyone he met feel special ... He believed in North Carolina and its people, and our state is stronger because of him.”

The Manteo sewer contractor arrived in state government in 1977 with little other than a high school diploma and his distinctive Outer Banks accent. Then-Gov. Jim Hunt appointed him to the Board of Transportation. Basnight succeeded his cousin as a senator seven years later.