Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Basnight kids Manning: 'Not one of our favorites'

Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare, was elected to an unprecedented ninth consecutive term as president pro tempore of the state Senate. That has long been an influential position, but under Basnight it has become among the most powerful posts in state government, sometimes overshadowing the governorship because the legislative leadership can frustrate the desires of the chief executive and push through other initiatives.

During today's selection as the 148th General Assembly convened, Republicans in the Senate offered their leader, Sen. Phil Berger of Rockingham County, as an alternative to Basnight. The ensuing vote fell largely but not entirely along party lines, with Cabarrus Republican Sen. Fletcher Hartsell and Wake Republican Sen. Richard Stevens casting ballots for Basnight. But Berger quickly moved to make the vote unanimous, a recognition of the fact that Democrats have the votes in the 50-member Senate (30 Democrats to 20 Republicans). It also helped maintain a spirit of good feeling on opening day, rarely a time for overt partisanship on either side.

Basnight, who loves to gently rib his colleagues from time to time, was sworn in by Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, a veteran judge who has presided over the long-running Leandro schools case for so long no one can remember when he wasn't supervising it. Manning is a highly respected Republican judge whose rulings in the Leandro case have pressed the state to do a better job providing students with a sound basic education. Manning has not ordered lawmakers to spend more money, but his rulings have pressed the state to put adequate resources, teachers and principals into every school -- and that, of course, has a financial impact.

So moments after being sworn in, Basnight told the Senate he wanted to extend "special thanks to Judge Manning, who is not one of our favorites, but he is a personal friend."

Everybody laughed pretty hard at that one, because a lot of legislators on both sides regard Manning as a good judge who had had an impossible job trying to bring order out of the chaos of the Leandro case. Basnight looked Manning up after the session adjourned so he could get his photograph taken, and when a writer told of plans to blog on the "not one of our favorites" remark, Basnight put up a mock howl of dismay.

For the record, Manning has ordered that every child have a competent teacher, every school have a competent principal and every child get the resources needed to get a sound basic education. It's a noble goal that goes unmet.

Next up: Manning has a hearing in his courtroom next week to gauge further progress toward the goal, upheld by the N.C. Supreme Court five years ago.

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