North Carolina certainly has lost a good friend and dedicated public servant with the death last week of N.C. Sen. Martin Nesbitt.
The Asheville Democrat died Thursday from stomach cancer at the age of 67, just a day after a group of well-wishers lined a road to welcome him home and a week after he was diagnosed with the disease.
Nesbitt served in the N.C. General Assembly for more than three decades after being appointed to the House in 1979 to succeed his late mother, N.C. Rep. Mary Nesbitt. He became a top leader of the Democratic caucus and served for many years as a co-chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
Nesbitt was appointed to the Senate in 2004 and became majority leader in 2009, later assuming the post of minority leader after Republicans took control of the chamber in 2011.
His legislative colleagues from both sides of the aisle praised him for his dedication to public service and tireless efforts to make North Carolina a better place for its residents. He was a fierce advocate for public education, mental health care and workplace safety. A genuine populist, Nesbitt strongly believed that government had a duty to help people, and he reflected that view in the values he eschewed and the legislation he supported.
He represented the people of Buncombe County with extraoridinary dedication. While he disagreed often with his Republican colleagues, he still enjoyed their respect and the genuine friendship of many of them. The welcome-home gathering for him was organized by Buncombe County Commissioner Mike Fryar, a Republican who had known Nesbitt for 50 years.
He served as a shining example of how politicians could strongly disagree over policy issues without resorting to character attacks. His style of political leadership and legislative style harkens back to what now seems a bygone era when Republicans and Democrats could find common ground to advance the interests of the people they represent. That is a trait truly lacking in today’s political environment.