Friday, May 08, 2009

What will a Sen. Blue mean in Senate?

Although Dan Blue had some personal reservations about whether he wanted to move from the House to the Senate, he evidently has resolved those issues in his own mind. Blue, the former House speaker and legislative veteran, wasn't sure he wanted to move over from the House when I spoke with him Tuesday.Since then, the party has recommended him for succeeding the late Sen. Vernon Malone, D-Wake, and by law the governor must follow that recommendation.

One concern of Blue’s is the Senate's brisk debates, which often seem shorter than one might expect. A key reason for that is related to a strong caucus system in the Senate, as well as its longtime leadership with President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, now in his ninth term leading the Senate, and Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand. On the one hand the Senate is a model of efficiency; on the other, a lot of legislators, Democrats and Republicans, privately feel stifled. Basnight's wife died in 2007 and his restaurant in Nags Head burned to the ground before being rebuilt, and some observers believe he might hang it up after this term. But he's a savvy and highly successful politician, and my guess is he'd win reelection as long as he runs.

Blue's move to the Senate is especially interesting now. He represents a potential challenge to the leadership. As a former presiding officer of the House, he'll have his own ideas about how the Senate should be run and how debate should go. And if Blue has plans to change things, he'll certainly find allies. Among them might be Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, who was in the House for years with Blue before moving to the Senate. Nesbitt has a populist streak, asks a lot of questions about how things are done, and reflects the independence that many mountain lawmakers have brought with them to Raleigh. With Blue in the chamber, there might be a few more internal challenges.

Gary Pearce has an interesting take about all this at his and Carter Wrenn's blog, Among them: the possibility that Sen. Dan Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg, might benefit: "Dan Clodfelter might position himself as a moderate alternative to both sides."

1 comment:

David McKnight said...

Also significant, in addition to his move from the State Hosue to the State Senate, is Dan Blue's recent selection as chairman of the Duke University Board of Trustees. Of the three "Research Triangle Universities," N.C. State, UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke, surely the basic day-in and day-out politics throughout the year at State and Carolina are better known to political reporters, academic observers and historians of contemporary North Carolina than are the new political ambitions being projected from the grounds of Duke University.

The biggest surprise I ever encountered in seeking to understand institutional and organizational politics in the Research Triangle area is the extent to which more recent managers of Duke's institutional affairs have chosen to transform the once solidly scholastic, regionally conservative and reformist Southern private university into an all-out, throughly committed political entity pressing relentlessly for greater influence in national political affairs, especially within the Democratic Party of this country, including in the influential states of the Northeast and New England.

Duke's new political managers, having thrown off the South-building legacies of the founding Duke family, seem less interested in imparting to each year's new class of undergraduates knowledge about the history, culture and economics of the South as a region than in pushing Duke University forward as a big-time player at the wheels of power in politics, journalism and public policy in Washington and nationally. A person could go through four years of political science study at Duke and never hear that a Duke (or previously Trinity College) alumnus had ever served as governor of North Carolina, as Gastonia's R. Gregg Cherry did in the mid-20th Century.

So. Rep. Blue (he has not yet swapped in his State House title for his future State Senate position) must be careful not to let himself be taken advantage of personally or politically by this enigmatic and mysterious new political creature which has for years now been pushing aside the literary, philosophical, religious and scientific traditions of excellence traditionally associated with the name of Duke University. As a graduate of North Carolina Central University in Durham and of the Duke Law School, Blue, a veteran Wake County legislator who himself could be a strong contender for the governorship of this state, must be ready to remind the national inlfuence-seekers running plays in and out of Duke's academic huddles not to forget the heritage of North Carolina, Southern and Appalachian learning and erudition which helped bring Duke into national academic promise in the first place.

In a favorite Southern idiom, Dan Blue ought not to let Duke's new elite political captains forget "them what brung you to the dance." Good politicians demonstrate periodically hat they haven't forgotten the needs and aspirations of the people they serve. As a new member of the North Carolina Senate and now as the new chairman of the board at Duke, Dan Blue ought to keep his feet squarely in the batter's box and "wait on the right pitch," letting some of these wild political curveballs and floaters pass far beyond the outside corner of the plate.