Sunday, August 4, 2013

Not senator, not Mr. ... just Marc


It has only been a little more than two years ago since the name "Marc" was uttered frequently when discussing how to accomplish projects, solve problems. Sometimes it was invoked to just show the world that the speaker had such a close personal relationship with arguably the most powerful man in the state that they could call him by his first name.

The truth was that everyone in Eastern North Carolina - and many other parts of the state - called him Marc - not Sen. Basnight, nor Mr. Basnight - just Marc. He had a personal relationship with every constituent who reached out to him regardless of party affiliation, socioeconomic status or county of residence. He truly loved people.

As a journalist, I covered him for a couple of decades. Some of his accomplishments I applauded; some sparked editorials critical of his actions. Some days, he liked me; some days he wished I'd go somewhere - Hell was probably the destination he had in mind.

But it never became personal - he is who he is; I am who I am.

Sadly, when he left office for health reasons, it was as though someone had used a huge eraser to wipe out his existence and all the very many things he did for the state. His name has mostly disappeared from everyday language usage.

I started noticing it right away and thought that folks were just caught up in trying to fill the seat and deal with a changing legislature.

But as time passed, I realized that it was more than that. The last race he was in was without a doubt one of the ugliest muckraking campaigns I've ever seen waged against anyone. Brutal attacks on him came in my mail, aired on television, played on the radio and were the focus of hundreds of print ads.

Marc was never perfect; no human is. But the attacks were slanderous, misleading and often based on out-and-out lies. I don't know how he managed to keep campaigning, but he did.

There is no way to be absolutely certain why his name and the lessons learned from his leadership have been so quickly cast aside, but I think it is due to fear. I think that the brutality of the negative campaigning against him caused many to turn their backs. It isn't because they believed it, but they were afraid that if they spoke his name, they would become the next target.

Marc could and did play good-old-boy politics just as those before him and those who are in power now.

But in 20 years, I don't know of a single time when he set out to hurt any individual or group. I don't know of any actions that were aimed at causing divisiveness between social classes, races, women or gays. I don't know of one instance when he put party politics above people - even if those people were Republicans.

And the reason he was chosen as Senate Pro Tem was simple - legislators, both Democrats and Republicans - knew he could get things done. And they knew he didn't hesitate to reach across the aisle to get the votes needed to keep things moving along.

The General Assembly session that just ended has produced legislation that is unbelievably destructive on many fronts. The negative impacts will be felt for years even if the Democrats could take back control tomorrow.

And now, that is the big question: can the Democrats take back some of the seats it lost in the last election?

It's possible but won't happen unless they take some time to stop and consider the legacy and lessons that Marc left the party.

To garner enough votes to make a difference, the party needs to understand why he was simply called "Marc."

There are many examples of how that came to be but one of the most obvious was the way he campaigned. Each year, he held a shindig at Wanchese Seafood Park and similar gatherings in other locales. They weren't those types of events that only those who had fat bank balances were invited to. They were open to everyone and everyone attended - Democrats, independent voters, rich and poor, men and women - and even Republicans. He knew the value of grassroots campaigning.

There were always donation checks passed to whomever was the 'money holder' for that year. Campaigns are expensive and need large donations, but Marc never lost sight of what the real prize was - votes. Ten people giving $10 each equated to 10 votes because each had become part of his campaign. Research has shown that $1,000 might be able to influence a few people through advertising but these are expensive votes.

And whether the check was $10 or $1,000, the gracious appreciation he showed was the same. When the event was over, each of those who attended knew that they had a special friend who valued them.

To each of them, he was just plain Marc.

And I miss him.

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