Third ballot sends White to Senate
Published 10:31 am Monday, January 24, 2011
By Jonathan Clayborne
COLUMBIA — The seat of power in the 1st Senate District will remain on the coast.
The Democratic Party’s state Senate District 1 executive committee on Friday night closed ranks around a former Dare County commissioner as their choice to replace retiring Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare.
By the night’s end, Stan White, the former commissioner and a current member of the N.C. Board of Transportation, was selected to replace Basnight, whose resignation takes effect Tuesday.
White will be appointed by Gov. Beverly Perdue, who is bound to accept the committee’s nominee.
In the unlikely event that Perdue takes no action, White will automatically become the appointee within seven days, it was reported at Friday’s meeting.
Chris Hardee, a Democratic district chairman who presided over Friday’s meeting, said he had spoken with officials in the governor’s office, and expected White to be appointed by Tuesday.
This means the new senator will be in place when the N.C. General Assembly convenes at 12 noon Wednesday.
White will represent eight counties in the northeast – Beaufort, Camden, Currituck, Dare, Pasquotank, Tyrrell and Washington – for the next two years.
He enters the Senate as a member of the minority party in a body led by Republicans, following the end of Basnight’s record-setting run as Senate president pro tempore and top power broker.
White, a Nags Head businessman who has never held a legislative office, won a clear majority of the district committee’s support on the third ballot in the session at Tyrrell Hall.
After his acceptance speech, White was immediately besieged by well-wishers and media in the packed room, with some of the audience members offering to assist the senator-to-be immediately as he works to get up to speed in Raleigh.
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this, I can’t tell you what an honor it is,” White told a crowd that included State Auditor Beth Wood and a host of area mayors, county commissioners, other officials and unofficial onlookers.
“I can’t tell you what a responsibility I think has been placed on my shoulders,” he said. “So all I want to say is thank you.”
He added, “As I’ve done with my DOT job, I meet with elected officials at least once a year to try to find out … what’s going on in your communities and what I can do to help you. And I promise you with your help we’ll figure out some sort of system where we can stay in touch on a regular basis.”
White continued, saying “it’s important, as was mentioned on numerous occasions, that we work together, we stick together, because certainly we have our work cut out for us to be ready for this 2012 election.”
In a brief interview, White told the Washington Daily News he hadn’t had a chance to assess the district’s legislative priorities.
“I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t gone that far yet,” he commented. “Certainly I’ve got to learn who the other senators are, some of the goals and priorities. But I’ve got to really get a handle on this district to find out what it is that they think they need, what are some of the issues that they think are most important to them right now. I think I know, but I’ve got to have a lot of input and a lot of help.”
Of his fellow candidates, White said, “They all did a well-fought race. It was certainly well aboveboard.”
White emerged from a crowded field of contenders.
His strongest opponent was outgoing state Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort, who made the trip from Washington to Columbia in a rented bus full of supporters.
Williams came out ahead on the first ballot, but no office-seeker reached the “magic number” — 258.5 weighted votes — needed to win.
Voting were 14 delegates, two from each of the seven “organized” counties in the Senate district. Tyrrell County had no structured Democratic organization and was unable to send delegates to the meeting.
The delegates were apportioned a certain number of votes based on their counties’ populations in the 2000 census.
Williams had the full-throated endorsement of Beaufort County’s two delegates, John Murphy and the Rev. David Moore. As the most-populous county in the district, Beaufort County had the largest number of votes, 150, but that couldn’t swing the race for Williams.
Moore and Murphy could be seen lobbying their fellow delegates in an attempt to give Williams momentum, but White took the lead on the second ballot with no clear winner, and clenched the nomination on the third round of voting.
The final tally was 284 for White and 150 — only Beaufort County’s votes — for Williams, with lesser amounts going to two other candidates still under consideration.
With Williams’ run at an end after the third ballot, Murphy made a motion that the committee unanimously support White. The motion was adopted by the committee, with no member dissenting.
“I ran a good race and tried, and that’s all you can do,” said Williams, adding he appreciated the support of Beaufort County residents and those who turned out to cheer him on.
“To be honest with you, I think they wanted to stick together,” Williams said of certain coastal counties.
“Stan’s a good man, and I think he’ll do a good job,” he concluded.
The other candidates were Dare County attorney Kathryn Fagan, Kitty Hawk businessman Paul Tine, Dare County Commissioner Virginia Tillett, Pasquotank County Democratic Party Chairwoman Una Green and former Pasquotank County Commissioner Matt Wood.
From Murphy’s perspective, the big players of the night ended up being delegates from Dare, Currituck and Pasquotank counties.
“I don’t understand why Pasquotank would play such a key role there, but they did,” he said.
Murphy added he was not unhappy with the results.
“I think that we did pick a good senator,” he said.
Moore said he had talked to all of the delegates prior to the meeting, and had been assured some of them would vote for Williams.
“Folks that I felt confident might vote with us on the first ballot, somebody must have either gotten to them or there was some type of a strategy, but I noticed that they were extremely clannish when it came to the voting,” he said. “The folk that I had talked to beforehand, they had a change of heart.”
(Jonathan Clayborne is a Staff Writer with the Washington Daily News, a sister publication of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index.)