By Jerry Schill
February 17, 2021
MARC BASNIGHT REMEMBERED
Former NC Senator Marc Basnight passed away recently at the age of 73.
Being a native of Dare County, he had many relatives and close friends in commercial fishing. He had a close working relationship with the North Carolina Fisheries Association and me personally. Most of it was good, but not all of it was peaches and cream!
Marc was about 10 months older than I and we both graduated from high school in 1966, but I should note that he was a Dare County native I’m a Pennsylvania native. He was married in 1968 to Sandy and I was married that same year to Pam. We both dated our girls in high school. Marc was elected to the Senate in 1984, the same year we moved to North Carolina. I was a Senate candidate in 1986 but did not get elected. He did not attend college and neither did I.
Other than the geographical differences there were others: He was elected to the Senate and I was not. He was a lifelong Democrat and I a lifelong Republican. On fishing issues, he had a love for commercial fishing because of where he was brought up and his friendships with many in the industry. When he opened his restaurant, he was personally involved with the seafood served there and made many trips to Wanchese to oversee it. Those trips meant conversations, and those chats would continue when fishermen and dealers dined at his restaurant. My love for commercial fishing started with my unsuccessful Senate bid as I met many fishermen and dealers in Carteret, Pamlico and Craven counties, which eventually led to coming on board with NCFA in 1987. That’s when I met the Senator. It was natural for me to gravitate toward commercial fishing due to my love for physical labor as a result of a farming background of milking cows, slopping the hogs, gathering eggs and the like. Add to that my strong belief in capitalism and the free enterprise system, commercial fishing was a perfect fit for me. (And I love seafood!)
The connection between Marc and me was good but did have its challenges. I had to be vigilant in my job while in Raleigh as Marc could report first-hand how I was conducting myself when he went back home to Dare County. At one time I was doing considerable work in Washington DC, which caused Marc to complain to a couple of NCFA Board members that Schill needs to get his fanny to Raleigh and take care of business. That was a cause for the Senator to be frustrated and angry. I heeded his “advice” and that’s when I began my frequent trips to the legislative buildings on Jones Street.
Prior to all this, early in 1993 right after his selection as Senate Pro-Tem, we heard that Marc wanted to introduce a bill to restrict menhaden harvest in Dare County. The late Jule Wheatly operated Beaufort Fisheries, a menhaden processor in Beaufort, NC. We made an appointment to speak to the Senator in Raleigh. Jule had multiple documents about the science of menhaden authored by some very credible fisheries biologists, but Marc wasn’t about to look at them. He was very pointed in that a constituent wanted the practice banned and he was going to introduce the bill, push it and pass it! It was a rather short conversation but I responded by telling him that I understood constituent service but I also have constituents as NCFA members and we would fight it with everything we had. It wasn’t an ugly conversation but there was no doubt where we stood. In April, Marc introduced Senate bill 991: “Restrict Certain Menhaden Fishing”, which would have stopped the practice of menhaden harvest in certain parts of Dare County. The measure passed easily in the Senate and the wheels were greased in the House. Both Senate and House were controlled by Democrats and few in the House wanted to earn the scorn of the boss in the Senate. Many Republicans were opposed to the bill but without us getting support from a few Democrats it was going to pass. Dan Blue was the Speaker of the House at the time. Because most jobs in the menhaden reduction fishery were black and Marc’s bill would have threatened some of those jobs, many in the House Black Caucus joined Republicans and killed the bill on second reading. Without a doubt, that was the low point in the relationship between Marc Basnight and NCFA, but it’s also what put our organization on the political map. He wasn’t happy with me at all. We never did sit down after that and discuss it. Rather, it was “time heals all wounds” that fixed things. No ill words were spoken between us, but we kind of avoided each other for awhile. Marc and his staff were extremely helpful for years afterwards.
There are two reasons for all of these words. One, it’s an interesting chronology of how an elected official can get squeezed between constituents. In other words, sometime you can’t win for losing. More importantly however, is how things used to be and should be today. Disagree without being disagreeable.
I once heard some university professors say that Marc Basnight was not a good example to our young folks because he was a success without a college degree! It wasn’t a partisan statement because they included US Senator Lauch Faircloth, a Republican, in that same “club”. I thought it was a very interesting perspective and obviously, one that I disagreed with.
Marc Basnight was a good man. I treasure the memories of working with him and yes, having him on one occasion as an honorable adversary.
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