Tony Rand, Longtime N.C. Senator, Power Broker, Dies At 80

May 1, 2020

Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, waves papers around Thursday March 11, 1999 before the start of the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting in Raleigh, N.C. where they considered a bill that could make DNA testing as common as fingerprinting.
Credit Karen Tam / AP file photo

Former Democratic state Sen. Tony Rand, a longtime power broker in North Carolina state politics whose legislative acumen helped elevate careers of politicians from both parties, died Friday at age 80.

Rand died about 1 a.m. at a family home in Blowing Rock, according to his son, Ripley, a former U.S. attorney. Rand had battled thyroid cancer and hypopharyngeal squamous cell cancer for several years, he said.

Rand, once a defense lawyer and a businessman in the health care field, served in the Senate representing Cumberland County more than 11 terms from 1981 through 1988 and from 1995 to 2009. Beginning in 2001, Rand was simultaneously the majority leader and chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, serving as the chief lieutenant to Senate leader Marc Basnight.

During that time, he was heavily involved in fashioning nearly every significant piece of Democratic legislation, from the passage of the state lottery in 2005 to probation reforms. He was the Senate's chief negotiator in every annual budget.

Rand "was the muscle who moved good ideas into great laws," Gov. Roy Cooper, who was Rand's predecessor as Senate majority leader in late 1990s, said in a news release.

Then-Gov. Mike Easley's chief political ally in the legislature at the time was Rand, who helped launched Easley's statewide political career when as a local prosecutor he appeared in a television ad for Rand's unsuccessful 1988 campaign for lieutenant governor. Easley ultimately was elected attorney general in 1992 and governor in 2000.

Easley called Rand on Friday a great adviser to him and a "charismatic leader and friend" to many.

"He was our go-to guy for progressive ideas as well as business, criminal law and judicial legislation," Easley wrote in an email. "His wit and wisdom allowed him to launch a charm offensive on any issue and build consensus. But if he felt you were hurting those in need he could become a vicious foe."

In 2007, he was the primary sponsor of a bill apologizing for the legislature's past role in promoting slavery and Jim Crow laws. The apology, he said at the time, will help lawmakers "try to be better children of God and better representatives of all the people of this state."

Rand's campaign fundraising prowess and ability to keep liberal and moderate members of the Senate Democratic Caucus happy allowed the party to extend their century-long dominance in the chamber even as Republican fortunes improved in state politics. After Republicans took over the legislature in 2011, GOP Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca often called Rand seeking advice for operating the chamber.

Current Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, who served with Rand in the 2000s, said Rand "will be remembered as one of the most effective and influential political figures in North Carolina over the past 30 years."

Rand resigned from the Senate in late 2009 when then-Gov. Beverly Perdue put him on the state probation and parole commission. He later became the commission's chairman. Cooper later put him on the state lottery commission, where he also ultimately became chairman. With cancer already quieting his booming voice familiar on the Senate floor, Rand resigned from the lottery panel in December.

Rand, a Wake County native, served as a page at the legislature in the 1950s when it still met in the old 1840 Capitol building. He got his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for whom he became its largest booster at the legislature.

Rand is survived by his wife, Karen; sons Ripley and Craven; a sister; and two grandchildren. Details on a memorial service will be announced later, the family said.