RALEIGH — N.C. Sen. Martin Nesbitt of Asheville has stepped down as the Senate’s minority leader because of a recent medical diagnosis requiring treatment, and Sen. Dan Blue of Raleigh is taking his place.
The Senate Democratic Caucus released a statement late Tuesday announcing the change, which occurred Monday night during a conference call meeting of Senate Democrats.
The statement didn’t provide details about Nesbitt’s illness, except to quote him saying the diagnosis was recent and “it has become clear that I will need to take some time in the coming weeks and months to focus on my health.”
Ford Porter, a Senate Democratic Caucus spokesman, said Nesbitt wants to “keep his health a private matter” and that he hasn’t decided yet what to do about his Buncombe County Senate seat. He filed for re-election last month and three Republicans are vying to challenge him in November.
“He felt it was prudent to step down from leadership,” Porter wrote in an email. Nesbitt didn’t respond to a phone message Tuesday evening.
The 67-year-old Nesbitt was elected Senate Majority Leader in 2009 and has been minority leader since 2011, when Republicans took over the chamber. He’s had the difficult job of providing leadership as Democrats serve in the minority at the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century.
The post now goes to another veteran leader in Blue, who was elected North Carolina’s first black House speaker in 1991 and served for four years. He left the House following an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 2002. He returned to the House in 2006 and shifted to the Senate in 2009 — in both situations he filled vacancies.
Blue, 64, and Nesbitt originally joined the House about the same time — Nesbitt in 1979 to fill out his late mother’s term and Blue in 1981.
Nesbitt “has served our caucus with remarkable dedication and his decision to step down from leadership while seeking treatment is a testament to his desire to get North Carolina back on track,” Blue said in his prepared statement, wishing Nesbitt a speedy recovery.
Democrats currently hold 17 of the Senate’s 50 seats. They would need to add four more in November to regain some influence in the chamber by ending the Republicans’ supermajority, which can override a governor’s veto.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement he was “terribly saddened” by Nesbitt’s news and “he can rest assured his colleagues from both sides of the aisle will stand with him as he focuses on getting well.”