R.I.P. Martin Nesbitt

Martin NesbittThere’s truly dreadful news tonight that one of the ablest members of the North Carolina General Assembly, Senator Martin Nesbitt, has died just days after announcing that he was seriously ill. It’s a grave blow to the state and we are all worse off for his passing.

There will be time in the days ahead for tributes to this wonderfully intelligent, caring and good-hearted man, but if you don’t know that much about him and would like to get a feel for who he was, go to the search function on this website and just type in his name. Upon doing so, you’ll find a host of articles in which he was featured — usually as a rare voice of reason in the state’s increasingly troubled policy debates in recent years.

When I did that, I was happy to find this post I wrote back in 2007 soon after this blog was first launched. In addition to featuring the now youthful looking photo of the senator that you see here, the post was a tribute to his willingness to stand up and speak the truth on an unpopular issue. I remember hearing at the time that he’d seen the post and appreciated it, so I offer it again tonight as one small and very fond remembrance:

Martin Nesbitt: Keeping us coming back

Martin Nesbitt: Keeping us coming back

As most people guilty of golf will attest, all it usually takes is one good hole (or, sometimes, just one good shot) to convince even the lousiest player that he or she should try it again soon. The fact that the person will, in all likelihood, endure another four to five hours of mostly miserable play at great expense is forgotten in the glow of that one enjoyable moment.

And so it is with those of us guilty of participating in North Carolina public policy debates. We trod the dark and sweaty halls on Jones Street, endure hour after hour of stultifying committee discussion, and listen to one self-congratulatory, politically expedient speech after another in search of those rare moments that remind us of why it is that we got in the business in the first place: Moments in which a political leader speaks like, well, a leader — with vision, courage, intelligence and a genuine concern for the people he or she serves.

These days, the person most likely to provide such moments (at least in the state Senate) is Martin Nesbitt of Buncombe County. Yesterday, Nesbitt did it again when he stood up on the Senate floor and argued with his usual eloquence, passion and folksy good humor for the Senate to preserve a pilot clean needle/syringe exchange program for IV drug abusers (see page 88). While several other supposedly progressive lawmakers sat silently in their chairs, Nesbitt stood up and spoke the truth.

He told his colleagues how the program would help stem the tide of HIV and AIDS and thereby save lives (of drug abusers and their innocent spouses and partners) and, in the long run, help control the scourge of IV drug abuse. In short, Nesbitt provided a large measure of what he almost always provides – plainspoken common sense about how government can be used in a direct and intentional way to improve the quality of life enjoyed by all North Carolinians. Nesbitt’s performance was nothing new. He’s been a voice of reason in the General Assembly for decades — sometimes from a position of great power and influence and other times not. Either way, he’s almost always the sharpest, best informed person in the room.

Of course, Nesbitt did not win yesterday’s vote. Only nine other senators mustered the courage to join with him in support of the program. Kudos to Senators Ed Jones and Charlie Dannelly for speaking and voting with Nesbitt. Two senators actually spoke in favor of the needle exchange program and then voted against it (along with 37 of their colleagues). Despite the disappointing vote, Nesbitt was undaunted. He told one friend that he was upbeat and thought the Senate was making progress on the issue.

In short, it sounded like he would be coming back for more. In so doing, he’ll be helping to make sure that a few other folks who care do the same.

3 Comments

  1. Paula Wolf

    March 6, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Thank you, Rob. I remember reading this eloquent piece when you first wrote it. I tell this story all the time, but in 20 years of lobbying, Martin was the first person I ever heard stand up in the Chamber and say that a woman had a right to choose. He was fearless, brilliant and usually right.

  2. Marcia A. Daniel

    March 6, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    Thank you for a wonderful tribute to a great Southern politician. Sen. Nesbitt did indeed love this state and always remembered all of his constituents not just the wealthy or well connected. This state has lost a great Democrat whom we will never see the likes of again.

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