Morning Memo: Remembering state Sen. Martin Nesbitt

Posted by John Frank on March 7, 2014 

State Sen. Martin Nesbitt's sudden death Thursday evening generated an outpouring from Democrats and Republicans alike.

His death came 10 days after he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He was 67.

“He was a giant figure,” said Sen. Dan Blue, a former House speaker who entered the legislature about the same time as Nesbitt. “He had a sense of mountain populism that ran through him and he sensed that his major charge was to look out for the average everyday person.”

Read the story here. Remember his quotable lines. And see a photo gallery. Asheville Citizen-Times: Political titan Martin Nesbitt dies at 67. Read the hometown obit here

More remembrances:

"He was just absolutely for folks, and really represented the constituents back in western North Carolina. ... He just strongly believed that the institutions of government could help people." -- Steve Metcalf, a lobbyist and former Democratic state senator who held Nesbitt's seat

“I learned a lot about being a state senator from Martin. He was a great story teller – he filled all the freshmen legislators in on legislative lore from his years of service in the House and then the Senate. Martin has a special place in my heart. His wisdom and leadership will be sorely missed." – State Treasurer Janet Cowell, a Democrat and former state senator

"In him, the people of Buncombe County and of North Carolina have lost a fierce advocate who had an unwavering devotion to them and to the state he loved. The General Assembly has lost a great colleague and friend. North Carolina has lost a giant.” – Keith Crisco, former state commerce secretary and Democratic congressional candidate

“For 30 years, Martin Nesbitt has served the people of Buncombe County in the General Assembly with extraordinary dedication, and North Carolina has lost a great leader. Martin was a fierce defender of his values, a champion for mental health, and a strong advocate for North Carolina’s children and public education system. An avid racing fan, Martin helped organize the General Assembly’s ‘Pit Crew Challenge,’ and I always enjoyed being part of his team when I served in the State Senate.” – U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat and former state senator

"Sen. Nesbitt was a dedicated public servant to the State of North Carolina. He was a true professional in everything that he did. We join his family in mourning his loss." – Republican Gov. Pat McCrory

"I always considered him to be a good friend ... and also a statesman. He'll be sorely missed by me and others in the Senate because we looked up to Martin for his knowledge of the legislative process." – Sen. Bob Rucho, a Charlotte Republican

"He told me he was just keeping the seat warm for another woman, which was a very encouraging thing to hear from him in terms of encouraging women to get involved in public service. ... He meant so much to the people in western North Carolina and was just the epitome of a mountain populist Democrat." – Rep. Susan Fisher, an Asheville Democrat who took Nesbitt’s former House seat

*** Gov. Pat McCrory ordered flags at half staff until Nesbitt's internment. Read more North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo. ***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will hold a 10 a.m. news conference at AIG Technology Center in Charlotte.

Two subcommittees of the health joint oversight panel meet today: mental health at 9 a.m. in room 544 LOB and midwives at 10 a.m. in 421 LOB. The House committee looking at leasehold improvements meets at 1 p.m. in room 415 LOB.

IF YOU MISSED IT – Daily Show shames U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. Watch it here.

#NCSEN WRAP: A full day of news from the race wrapped into one story – Two leading Republican candidates for U.S. Senate jockeyed for an advantage Thursday, touting TV ads and endorsements in moves that illustrated their different approaches to the campaign. Read more here.

MORE FROM THE CANDIDATE FORUM: Former Republican U.S. Senator Jesse Helms was on the mind of those in attendance at a forum of candidates vying for the seat he once held.

Helms’ granddaughter, Jennifer Knox, is running for Wake County clerk of court. She attended the forum hosted by the Republican Women of Cary and Southwestern Wake on Thursday and thanked the Senate candidates for running.

“My granddad is Jesse Helms, and I know what it is to do what you all are doing,” Knox said. “After the primary, everybody said that they would support whoever is the nominee. Don’t forget that seat is my grandfather’s seat, and Ms. Hagan has it now. I would love for it to be taken back.”

Knox echoed what some of the candidates had already articulated: a common goal of taking the U.S. Senate seat back from the Democratic party.

THE BIG STORY – COURT RULING MAY FORCE ACTION ON COAL ASH PONDS: After much debate over how to deal with coal-ash hazards at Duke Energy power plants in North Carolina, a Wake County Superior Court judge says the answer is to take “immediate” action.

Judge Paul Ridgeway issued a 17-page order on Thursday that seems to cut through years of dithering over the utility’s obligations and what authority the state has to order a prompt response to eliminate an environmental threat.

Exactly what that action should be was not specified.

The order came after environmental organizations challenged a 2012 ruling by the Environmental Management Commission regarding groundwater contamination at Duke plants that store coal ash in unlined ponds near North Carolina waterways.

– McCRORY ADMINSTRATION POINTS AT PERDUE: A spokesman for DENR, the agency tasked with enforcing state environmental regulations, issued a statement after the ruling that put the blame on former Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration.

“Today’s action addresses a decision made in 2012 by the Environmental Management Commission based on interpretations made under the Perdue administration,” Drew Elliot, DENR spokesman, said in an email. “The judge found the 2012 interpretation is erroneous. DENR is carefully reviewing the court’s decision.” Read more here.

MILITARY BILL REJECTED, ANOTHER ADVANCES: The U.S. Senate on Thursday rejected legislation that would have stripped military commanders of the power to prosecute sexual assaults and other major crimes.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., had the support of 55 of the chamber’s 100 members, including 10 Republicans. But it was blocked by fellow Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri and other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who used procedural tactics to prevent an up-or-down vote on the measure.

The Senate instead moved unanimously toward approval of an alternative bill championed by McCaskill that would preserve commanders’ authority to convene courts martial, but give victims a formal say in whether their cases go before military or civilian courts. That version awaits final passage next week.

Sen. Kay Hagan said in a statement that she was pleased that the Senate was expected to pass McCaskill’s bill on Monday.

Hagan said the McCaskill bill “takes meaningful steps to ensure that our brave servicemen and women can focus on their mission rather than worrying about their personal safety while serving our country.”

Hagan also said that she was disappointed that Gillibrand’s bill was not approved. The Democratic senator from Greensboro is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

THE TEA PARTY EATS THEIR OWN: From The Daily Beast – They arrived in January of 2011, unfamiliar with the ways of Washington, and promising never to adapt. The Republican freshman of the 112th Congress had helped take back the House, riding a Tea Party-infused, throw-the-bums-out wave of conservative disgust with career politicians.

But after three years in office and an election season looming, a number of GOP Congressmen find themselves facing scrappy challengers who say that they are now the ones with a serious case of Potomac Fever.

“I didn’t expect Renee to go this route,” said Frank Roche, a conservative Internet talk show host, who is challenging Renee Ellmers in North Carolina’s Second Congressional District. “I am sad she did. Unfortunately she has chosen to go along with the establishment in Washington D.C.” Read more here.

MORE 2nd DISTRICT: Clay Aiken makes campaign stop. Read more here.

STATE EDUCATION BOARD LOWERS TESTING STANDARDS: The State Board of Education approved new standards Thursday for state exams that will lower required passing scores, potentially saving thousands of third-graders from having to go to summer reading camps under the new Read to Achieve law.

State officials said the change – passed by an 8-4 vote – will more accurately depict students’ level of skill in reading, math and science, allowing school districts to determine which students need additional help. The change will likely affect large numbers of students who would have fallen just short of passing under the standards used last school year, when new exams under the more rigorous Common Core standards resulted in much lower passing rates than in prior years.

State officials say the new scores fall within the “standard error of measure” of last year’s minimum passing scores. The term refers to the margin by which a test may be inaccurate in assessing student performance. Read more here.

IF ELECTED, CHILTON WOULD SIGN MARRIAGE LICENSES: From WCHL – Former Carrboro mayor Mark Chilton confirmed today that if he’s elected as Orange County Register of Deeds, he will sign same-sex marriage licenses, in defiance of the North Carolina state constitution. Read more here.

PERSONNEL FILE: Gov. Pat McCrory nominated Charlton L. Allen of Iredell County for a seat on the N.C. Industrial Commission. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the General Assembly.

From the governor's office: Allen is a graduate of the UNC-Chapel Hill, where he also received his law degree. He practices at Charlton Allen in Mooresville. Allen has prior experience in the field of workers' compensation law, among other areas of law.

QUICK HEADLINES ---

Two Indian Americans running for Congress in N.C. Read more here.

Robert Pittenger has no love for Russia. Read more here.

Is N.C. the most politically balanced state in the nation? Read more here.

Carteret County opposes teacher tenure changes. Read more here.

Staff writers Katie Reilly, Renee Schoof, Jim Morrill, Patrick Gannon and Scott Mooneyham contributed.

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