Mooneyham column: Basnight headed for exit too?
RALEIGH ó Love him or hate him, no one will ever accuse Tony Rand of being a slacker.
For better than a decade, the Fayetteville Democrat has been the chief workhorse in the state Senate, the go-to policy guy, the bad cop to Senate leader Marc Basnight’s good cop.
On most important policy issues considered by the chamber, Rand played a role, either as bill sponsor, negotiator or shepherd.
His influence didn’t end at the Legislative Building doors. Rand advised governors on judicial appointments. He helped devise political strategy that kept Democrats in power in North Carolina even as they lost the levers of power in other Southern states.
That doesn’t mean his colleagues will shed tears over his decision to leave the legislature and head up the state Parole Commission. When you’ve got as many fingers in as many pies as Rand, you’ll make some bakers mad, no matter how bland a few of the recipes.
Typically, Rand didn’t worry about making people angry, not when a budget deal or a key piece of legislation was at stake.
But animosity can build over time. It may have played a role his decision. On at least a couple occasions, some of Rand’s fellow Democrats wanted him ousted from his post of power, majority leader. Basnight interceded on his behalf.
Rand, though, was a reporter’s dream, a quip machine who could always find a funny or pithy phrase to enliven a story.
Earlier this year, as a legislative committee began meeting to consider a controversial fix to the health insurance plan for state employees, Rand understatedly remarked, “This is a bill you may have heard a rumor about.” On the best part of a competing House budget plan, “It was a nice piece of paper.”
Once Rand announced his decision, it didn’t take long for the speculation to begin about his replacement in the Senate hierarchy.
Sen. Martin Nesbitt, a Buncombe County Democrat, emerged as the favorite after Basnight publicly endorsed him. Nesbitt was once a chief budget writer in the House, but had been on the outs with then-House Speaker Jim Black by the time he moved over to the Senate in 2004.
Sen. Dan Clodfelter, a Charlotte Democrat and co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has also become a key cog and top policy wonk in the Senate.
Rand’s decision could clear the way for his other key post, Rules Committee chair, to be given to someone other than the new majority leader.
The more significant question posed by Rand’s departure: Is Basnight’s reign as one of the most powerful politicians in state history near an end, and what would that portend for Senate leadership?
Basnight says he plans to run again in 2010. He continues to raise money. A coup-like scenario, where he is tossed aside by fellow Democrats, is highly unlikely.
But minus a Republican takeover of the chamber, one day he will decide to no longer seek its No. 1 job. Now, his longtime No. 2 is gone.