Democratic Sen. Stan White reflects on his first legislative session
It was tough enough taking the helm from one of the state’s most
successful politicians, but when Nags Head Democratic Sen. Stan White
began his job representing the 1st Senatorial District, he was
outnumbered and outgunned by energized opposition.
With his first legislative session behind him, sitting where former
state Sen. Marc Basnight had served for 25 years, White said that being
a newcomer in the minority was no picnic.
The state spending plan passed recently was especially painful,
slashing funds to the bone for schools, cultural resources, and
“In my opinion, it was a bad budget,” White said. “It’s setting back
North Carolina in a lot of areas, certainly in education.”
A former Dare County commissioner and most recently a member of the
state Board of Transportation, White, 64, was selected in January by
the district Democratic Party to replace Basnight. Prior to
vote, White assured the party that he intends to run for the seat when
his two-year term is up.
Basnight, first elected in 1984, announced his retirement on Jan. 4,
three weeks before he was to start his 14th term in a wholly new
legislative landscape in Raleigh. For the first time in 140 years, both
houses of the General Assembly were controlled by Republicans --
automatically ending the Manteo Democrat’s record-breaking nine-term
streak as Senate president.
The senator, suffering from a motor-neuron disease that affects his
speech, decided he would no longer be able to do an effective job as
a minority member.
White said the party asked him to throw his hat in the ring, and he was
endorsed by the eight counties in the district, comprised of
Beaufort, Camden, Currituck, Dare, Hyde, Pasquotank, Tyrrell and
White describes himself as a strong supporter of the environment,
education, and helping the needy, but said he is “a lot more
conservative” than he was 20 years ago. He lets his constituents’ views
guide him on social issues, he said.
An admirer of Basnight’s political skill and wisdom ---- calling him
“as great a visionary as I’ve ever seen”--White held no illusions that
he could come close to filling Basnight’s shoes. Not only was he a
neophyte in the Senate, he had the misfortune to take office as a
Democrat right when Republicans, flexing their newfound power, took
“My fellow Democrats there are telling me it’s bad,” White said shortly
after he went to Raleigh.
But White, owner since 1973 of Stan White Realty &
no political babe-in-the-woods. He grew up in a political family. He
served nine years on the Dare County Board of Commissioners, three of
those as chairman. Until his recent resignation, required when he
became senator, he represented Division 1 on the powerful state Board
of Transportation for nine years.
His father, W. Stanford White, who died in 1989, had served 20 years as
county commissioner, followed by two terms in the state House. In 2003,
a North Carolina ferry was named after the senior White, who was
instrumental in bringing the ferry maintenance facility to Manns
Pulling an old photograph of his father from a drawer in his office
desk, which has piles of neatly stacked papers and reports completely
covering the top, White showed a portrait of a trim, neatly-dressed
man, looking the epitome of a serious politician.
“He was a good one, they say,” White said, studying the picture for a
moment before carefully putting it back.
Nearby, White shows off the latest version of an annual calendar that
his niece has made for the last eight or so years that features old
photographs of family members.
Every Thursday, White shares a family dinner with his 96-year-old
mother, Grace, who lives next to the family’s store in Manns
Harbor. She was happy that her son is following in her
footsteps, White said, sounding more pleased than boastful.
“Of course, she’s proud as can be,” he said.
Born in a long-gone hospital in Columbia, White grew up in Manns
Harbor, the middle child between two brothers. He remembers spending
long hours working in the family store, looking yearningly out the door
as his friends walked by with cane poles hooked with worms as they
headed to nearby Bratton’s Pond.
“My hobbies have always been hunting and fishing, because that’s all
there was to do,” he said. “I just love being outdoors.”
To this day, White loves to escape to his hunting cabin at Durant’s
Island or his cottage on Ocracoke Island. But since his grandson was
born three years ago, he said, weekend getaways with his wife, Susie,
who works in the family business, have been frequently replaced with
grandparenting in Nags Head.
After weeks of intense negotiations that often found legislators
working until 2 a.m. in order to meet the Republican leadership’s
budget deadline, White will be looking for some down time until
legislators reconvene briefly on July 13.
The session may have been brutal, he said, but it was also eye-opening.
Satisfaction was found in being able to help people, but he spent much
time “very, very frustrated.” Early on, White observed what he
considered differences in philosophy in his Republican colleagues that
influenced budgetary choices.
“They’re number crunchers, but they don’t seem to care what those
numbers mean when they hit the street,” he said. “They are taking away
a lot of stuff from the people who don’t have the ability to fight
them. They get what’s handed them and that’s about all they can do.”
White said that the cuts the Republicans made could have a long-term
detrimental effect on education, driving teachers to leave the state
permanently and undermine the quality of education for years.
“We’ve got all these poor counties that just can’t afford to pick up
all these additional costs,” he said. “There’s just a ton of
progress they’re eliminating . . . when you’re talking about education
and programs for the needy, you really have to be careful. I mean,
we’re looking 10 years down the road.”
With the state House of Representatives having the last word on the
budget this session, Creswell Democrat state Rep. Timothy Spear ended
up having to align with Republicans to keep the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry
from being tolled and to save funds for the mid-Currituck Bridge, the
Ocracoke School, and the Museum of the Albemarle, among other state
facilities and projects.
Despite pressure from his party, Spear voted with four other Democrats,
including Elizabeth City Rep. Bill Owens, to override Gov. Beverly
Perdue’s veto of the budget.
But White said he understands that Spear made the choice in order to
put him in a position to negotiate with Republicans, rather than having
no say over the proposed cuts.
“I’m glad I wasn’t in his position,” White said. “Everybody can
speculate one way or another ---certainly, the governor wasn’t
happy. But I can tell you, because of what they did,
North Carolina is a better place. There’s a whole litany of things they
were able to keep in the budget.”
As the dust settles, White said he believes significant backlash from a
politically disengaged public will come later, after the results of the
budget cuts becomes evident.
“I don’t think the average person is going to feel the impact,” he
said, “until they go to get some of these services.”
If anything, White said he is less na´ve than when he first went to
Raleigh, “thinking people would do the right thing.”
Having more than 600 e-mails waiting for him in his senate inbox was
not unusual. But he still does not expect to accomplish too much in his
“I’m realistic enough to know what my limitations are,” he said.
Coming on the heels of Basnight presents its own challenges, White
said, “because people expect the same thing from that
Basnight has left him on his own, he said, telling him that now it was
“I tell you,” he said, “the folks in Raleigh, on both sides, really
respected him and miss him.”
When White first came to Raleigh, he had no computer and no phone in
his office. After about two weeks, the phone was finally hooked up.
Unfortunately, he said, it was the same number Basnight had used.
“Since the minute they made it active, it lit up like a Christmas
tree,” White said, laughing. “We had the number changed.”