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NC Senate Dems to pick leaders next week

Democrats in the state Senate will meet Dec. 20 to pick leaders for their shrinking caucus. Democratic membership in the chamber will slip from 19 to 17 as a result of last month's elections.

Sen. Martin Nesbitt, an Asheville Democrat, said he expects to be reelected minority leader next week. "We're going to have a discussion of it," he said. "I think that's the way we're going."

Basnight has Lou Gehrig's disease

Former Senate leader Marc Basnight acknowledges in an interview with the N.C. Coastal Federation that he has Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a fatal neuromuscular disease. 

Basnight was the state's most powerful senator for nearly two decades.  He won re-election in 2010, but resigned his seat before the session started and Democrats began their new existence as the minority party. 

Basnight, a Manteo Democrat, had been diagnosed a few years earlier with a degenerative nerve disease that left him unsteady on his feet and his speech slowed. 

He said he said in January 2011 that he was resigning for health reasons, but said that his doctors had not identified his disease. 

Shaking the money tree

Senate Democrats are getting in on the fund raising action with an event scheduled for July 12, the evening before the legislature is scheduled to start a new session.

An invitation from the Senate Democratic caucus announces the event planned for state Democratic Party headquarters.

Prices: $250 for a ticket for two, up to $4,000.

Session eve fund raisers are a Raleigh tradition because legislators are back in town and donors tend to be around.

The legislature has planned for three sessions this year rather than one - the regular long session that just ended and two more focused sessions for redistricting (and voting bills and veto overrides) and constitutional amendments. That creates more opportunities to hit up contributors.

Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat who is the minority whip, said Democrats have no control over the schedule - Republicans set it up this way.

As for Democrats using the intersession for fund raisers, he said, "Our opponents have been busy raising money and we have to do what we can to try to keep up."

UPDATE: When the House Republican Caucus at Seaboard 18 Restaurant in Raleigh on Wednesday, it drew picketers and criticism from a watch dog group that it was cashing in from special interests during a legislative recess.

One of those critics,  Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said he was not thrilled about the Senate Democrats either, but he was not very critical either.

“I am not blaming legislators for raising money when they have the opportunity,” Hall said. “They are corrupting system that makes them focus on fund raising too much and too often.”

He said both Nesbitt and Stein supported public financing of elections, but were forced to play by the rules that exist.

“I criticized the Republican House leaders because of their claim that they were going to provide strong leadership to change what they termed pay to play culture,” Hall said. “That didn't get done.

“I'd like to see both parties exercise leadership so they don't have to rely so much on large donors and special interests,” Hall said.

Senate Dems choose Nesbitt

State Sen. Martin Nesbitt will be his chamber's minority leader next session.

Senate Democrats, who will be in the minority for the first time in more than 100 years, chose the Asheville Democrat in a unanimous vote during a closed-door meeting this afternoon.

Nesbitt, who has been the majority leader for about a year, said he was the sole nominee. Sen. Linda Garrou of Winston-Salem had announced after last month's election that she wanted the post, but Nesbitt ended up walking into the job without opposition Tuesday.

Being minority leader means acting as chief spokesman for the caucus, trying to build a united front on major questions, and, if recent history is any guide, filing a lot of bills that don't get committee hearings. Republicans will hold a 31-19 majority in the chamber.

Nesbitt will also be expected to help Democrats win back the majority in two years through candidate recruitment and fund raising. Over the last decade, Senate leader Marc Basnight, former majority leader Tony Rand, and maybe a few others shouldered much of the fund raising duties.

Individual senators are going to have to take more responsibility for raising money, Nesbitt said. "We can no longer depend on one or two people to get it," he said.

Sen. Josh Stein of Raleigh was elected minority whip. 

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