North Carolinians gather to honor Sen. Martin Nesbitt

Funeral services are slated for this afternoon for Senator Martin Nesbitt. The Democratic Senate leader, who died last week of stomach cancer, was remembered as a mountain populist in era of hyperpartisanship and a defender of working people in his hometown paper, the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Here’s an excerpt from Editor Jim Buchanan’s column:

NesbittNesbitt was often described as a mountain populist — because he was. He was a voice for educators, was often found wading deep into the weeds of North Carolina’s fractured mental health system in search of solutions and was at the forefront of issues important to average working people and the poor.

He was chief budget writer for a number of years and put his stamp on landmark legislation such as the groundbreaking Clean Smokestacks Act, which forced power plants to cut down on toxic emissions.

Fellow Buncombe Democrat Sen. Steve Metcalf, the other major force behind the Smokestacks Act, said Nesbitt “just strongly believed that the institutions of government could help people.”

Metcalf summed up Nesbitt nicely when he noted “he’d rather be at the race track on a Friday night than hanging out at the country club.’’

Sen. Dan Blue, who entered the legislature about the same time as Nesbitt, told the News & Observer, “He was a giant figure. 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.”

That, in the end, defined Martin Nesbitt. He wasn’t a politician in the game to feather his own nest and then pull the ladder up behind him.

He was a public servant.

Those words sound quaint these days.

They shouldn’t.

These mountains feel a little smaller, a little more vulnerable to the troublesome forces of the outside world, with the loss of Martin Nesbitt.

He was our advocate and defender.

We thank him for his service.

The service is slated for 2:00 p.m. at Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden. Governor Pat McCrory has ordered all state flags to fly at half-staff through Tuesday to honor the Buncombe County Senator.

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