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Dedicated to Johnston County: An Intriguing Conversation with Representative Donna White
Episode 44th December 2023 • Best of Johnston County • Jonathan Breeden
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This episode dives into the vibrant community spirit of Johnston County. Join Jonathan Breeden as he welcomes Representative Donna White, a stalwart advocate for the county and a significant voice in the North Carolina General Assembly.


Narrator: [:

Jonathan Breeden: Hello and welcome to another episode of best of Johnston County. The podcast about the community of Johnston County. My name is Jonathan Breeden and I'm the host of this podcast and the owner of the Breeden Law Office.

And today we have as our guest, Representative Donna White. Who has been in the North Carolina General Assembly for many years and before that, for many years was on the Johnson County School Board and is a Johnson County native. So who better to talk about Johnson County and where it's gone and where it's going than her.

Welcome to the

ate that. It's a pleasure to [:

Jonathan Breeden: Could be interesting. We could talk. I mean, if you and I started talking, this podcast might be like one of those Tim Ferriss podcasts that were like 90 minutes long and we could do four or five episodes about what's going on in the legislature.

Well, that's why

Donna White: I brought some notes so

Jonathan Breeden: I wouldn't go Oh my goodness. We, I mean, it, we, it could go all, we could go all night, but we're not going to do that because. We really could talk for the next three hours, but I didn't want to talk about. So a lot of the, you know, I mean, you're elected office for.

The last 20 years, I believe, and so a lot of people know about you, but a lot of people, they may be listening to podcasts, dolls. Let's start out with, you know, I know you're from Johnson County, you were born and raised in Clayton. Tell us a little bit

Donna White: about that. Actually, I wasn't born in Clayton. Okay. I was born in South Fork.

o Johnson County to the late [:

But my mother just wanted to come back to home. Which was Clayton. And Daddy had worked for the CCC camp planting the trees at Clemens Forest. Oh, yeah. And so that's how he met my mom. And then they moved, got married and moved up to Bolivia. So anyway, I've been here since I was seven. That's a long time.

Don't ask

Jonathan Breeden: me how old I am. No, I'm not going to go there. But, I mean, I know you went to Clayton High School.

Donna White: I went to, I went, I started in first grade in Clayton like I said, I was seven years old, but my birthday is in November, so it's I started when I was almost seven but I started in Clayton, and graduated from Clayton, was the head cheerleader at Clayton, and Miss Clayton High School, and all those things, so, yeah, I've been in Clayton Since I was seven years old.


Jonathan Breeden: well, and then it's after, I guess it's you become a nurse. I know that. When, and where did you, I guess when, but where did you go to school and

d then I got some additional [:

So I got a public health job and then they said, oh, well. You don't have your B. S. yet. And I said, well, no. And they said, well, where did you graduate from? I said, Watts Hospital. They said, you're hired. So, and that was a trend in the year that I graduated. So, but then I went on to ECE and got some students.

More there and UNC Chapel Hill as well. So I continued my education.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay, and so what are some of the jobs I guess you had in nursing and public health

Donna White: over the years? Well, I began in the intensive care unit, pediatric intensive care unit, and worked there in the hospital. And then I... I always had a strong interest in being with the people, serving the people in the local community, which is why I went to nursing school.

ic health. So, pretty much I [:

I worked in the Hillsborough office. I did school nursing. We were called generalized nurses. We did school nursing. We did all the lab and all the clinical coverage. And then we did the community home visiting. So I got a really good strong background in public health nursing on the job as well as going back to school.

And so then we moved back to, my husband and I moved back to Johnson County, Clayton and I went to work at the Johnson County Health Department. I'd been there about two weeks and they made me Pediatric Nurse Consultant. Ok. So I had a team of. AIDS and LPNs underneath me Dr. Daniels, who was the only pediatrician in the county at that time wanted me to become what they called then a nurse extender, which is now a nurse practitioner.

for several years. And then [:

So we, and they're still using that program now at Partnership for Children.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh, how about that? How about the Partnership for Children? Yeah. How about that?

Donna White: That's awesome. And then when the AIDS epidemic came out in the late 80s, I just was intrigued, being Florence Nightingale, you know, I was intrigued about this.

Simeon War. Yeah. So, I thought this is just like the plague, you know, that came about during that war. And so, I became kind of a local expert on HIV AIDS and as a result of that Governor Hunt wanted all 7th grade parents to to be educated so that you could also train the children. But that was a caveat.

And as a result of that the [:

So I was in home care, home health. I was, and I kept reading, you know, continuing my interest in HIV and AIDS and Health Resources Services Administration of Bethesda, Maryland sent contacted all the 50 states and said, we've got a a case management model of nursing that has, is new and we want to have states to apply to get this grant.

So, so, you know, here's a little PR nurse at Johnson County Health Department. And I wrote a grant to get into the state. to the state of North Carolina for HRSA. And they were only going to take six days. Okay. So, I knew it was going to be highly competitive. Well, I knew if I just, and they were targeting aging, the aging population.

little... Hook in there, so [:

So I put that little caveat in my application, took my family to Disney World, came home and all the health department was standing on the outside of the health department Clapping for me, and I got up and I said, what in the world's going on? Is somebody coming? They said, they've arrived. I said I don't know, I don't know what's going on.

Listen, you... I got your grant. I said, well, they better give me more than 2, 000 because I am not going to do all this work. They said, oh, no, you didn't get 2, 000. I said, it was less than that. That's a lot of money. Because, I mean, I had a big plan there. I said, how much did I get? They said, you got 6, 000, 000.

of nurses and aides and all [:

And so the state had to rewrite the job description because I wasn't a

Jonathan Breeden: doctor, I was a nurse. You were a nurse, so right, so you went to

Donna White: Raleigh. So I went to Raleigh and became the HIV AIDS coordinator for the whole state. And that grew into developing a community alternatives program. We had it for children, we had it for adults, but we didn't have anything for HIV AIDS.

that just kept growing and by:

And I was traveling all over the states. Oh, yeah. I remember that. So finally, I said you know, they had been asking me to come to work as the nurse consultant for the Division of Aging and Adult Services, which was now the Department of Health, in the Department of Health and Human Services. And Public Health had gone over that too as well.

So, in:

Jonathan Breeden: to the school board.

Right, that was my

Donna White: next question. Prior to that I did the Board of Adjustment, Town Council, or not Town Council, Board of Adjustment and Planning Board for Clayton for many years. And the The advisory chair for the high school, the Clayton High School. But I went to the, I got a call one day from a current senator and his wife, and she said, we want you to run for the school board.

don't have time to do that. [:

And and that was the first year that we had December filing as opposed to March filing. Right, right. And so, threw my name on a ballot because I was asked to do that and the next thing I know I'm, Going to Raleigh, right? No, I know that was 17 six years and 10 months from

Jonathan Breeden: college. I mean, that was crazy I remember helping you out on that first school board campaign Because I mean you were talking about the issues that I thought and I you know I didn't have kids at the time, but I thought you know, we need community schools We need schools that are responsive to the parents.

d, and y'all were saying one [:

Donna White: and We worked really hard and had a really good school, and actually, Representative Strickland, as you know, ran for the House the same time.

Neither one of us knew that the other ones had planned to run, it just, different things. The person that was in, that he's in their seat now was getting older and needed some, was getting, had some health issues, and Representative Daughtry had decided to, So we, but neither, we both kept it very quiet.

n we left the school board in:

nized, Johnson County School [:

And actually Dr. Kroon, the superintendent at that time, flew up and it received an award because we were the only school system in the state. United States that had met the highest criteria for recertification in all of the areas like say the highest you can make is five And there were five areas and we made five on each area So and we had the highest graduation rate lowest dropout rate.

So we were pretty famous when we got to Raleigh already Yeah, well,

Jonathan Breeden: I mean yeah, you had a great school board that was there You had arguably the best superintendent in all of North Carolina in Dr. Croom and I mean things were going really well, but I mean he had, you know, by the time you were getting off, he had retired and now I think he's the president of Mount Olive College and you know, so they went for different, you know, they were going for different superintendent and.

dr. Bracey now So, so you I [:

They're now there are about 68 Republicans and 42 Democrats, I think 72 Republicans 40

Donna White: Right. Do the math.

Jonathan Breeden: Right. I'm doing the math. I'm trying to get to 120. Cause somebody switched. Right. So it's 72 and 48. Right. And it was 71 and 49 before Representative Cotham, I guess out of Charlotte, switched earlier this year.

an intern for Robin Hayes in:

to [:

They're running the state Senate, and they didn't see things the same way Leo Dolce, Harold Brubaker, and Robin Hayes saw things or Jim Hunt, and everybody had to sort of get along, and I think it was a lot more collegial back then than I think it is now, but, you know, that's sort of water under the bridge, but I really enjoyed it learned a ton.

The issues don't ever change. The faces change. Maybe the solutions change, but the issues never really change, you know, safety, education, roads. I mean, I mean, that's basically what you want from your government, you know what I mean?

ssionate team at Breeden Law [:

Jonathan Breeden: So, so what's been the most, I guess, surprising thing in the six or seven years you've been there?

Donna White: Well, I guess, if I tell the honest truth, I think the most surprising thing is that you know, being a conservative being elected on the Republican ballot I guess I just thought everybody had maybe the same mindset on what needed to be done and how it needed to be done. And I found out that is not correct, you know.

s what I do best. Right. But [:

They go there more with a, and I'm not saying that we don't have really good legislators. We do on both sides of the aisle. Right. And but when I realized that maybe everybody did not come there with the same in understanding that I did, that we were going to all think the same way. Right, right. I understand.

I understand. So, what I've done since I've been there, I guess the thing that I'm most proud of, and you didn't ask me that, but I will just say it now. I realized that in order to get anything done, because as a, you know, I'm a health chair for policy and appropriations. And so there are six of us this time.

bly during my orientation is [:

on both sides of the aisle that had good ideas and needed to have a voice. And I thought if I worked as hard as I've worked to get up here and they worked as hard as they've worked to get up here, you know, I need to give them a chance to have a voice. So that's what I started from the very beginning.

I have made friends on both sides of the aisle. I've made some enemies. on both sides of the aisle, I guess. That happens. I'm not going to talk about that because I really don't know. No, it happens. But what I have really enjoyed doing is looking at the expertise on both sides of the aisle and when I do a bill and I've had the honor of putting a lot of bills in that have been passed I've had a lot of bills that have been put in the trash can when they get on the other side of the chamber but we won't talk about that right now.

rson and ask them if they'll [:

Then also there's A couple of years ago I got up old enough to, I was asked if I would put my name on their bills, which I've done many times, and I've also got it now to the point that they can put their name first and not be in the first spot, but I will just be a backup. Right.

But I think that's the way to make good legislation, and I wish to cross that. across the political spectrum, we could have more of bringing the best out of each person and using that in working together. I mean, 95 percent of the time we vote together. You know, it's just, we just do. Right. It's only those 5 percent of issues where there's friction and there's, that's gonna always be because we, you know, you have folks that have You know, this is some of their major things, and you have folks that this is, and they're never going to come together on that, but you can still make it work if you come together on those 95 percent of things that we can collaborate and share expertise on.

And so that's been [:

Jonathan Breeden: I always, I do think the public, if they looked at all the votes cast. Would recognize that the majority of the votes have right have Well over a hundred votes out of 120, you know what I mean?

And then you just have the issues that get

Donna White: in the headlines more than about a hundred That means a lot of people out that day, right,

Jonathan Breeden: right, right. So, right. It really is, you know, you know, every, you know, the, you know, the hot button issues, the hot button issues. But other than that, everybody largely agrees and gets along.

And and I don't think that was surprising to me when I went to the legislature. I thought. every single vote was a fight. And I mean, I was there for four months before I saw anything get less than 100 votes. I mean, you know what I mean? I was like, what in the world? So anyway, but it was fascinating.

k about, I guess the best of [:

special to me up until about:

You know, you could go to the grocery, it would take me two hours at the grocery store. Not because I was getting groceries, but because I saw everybody I knew. And it was like a great time to just catch up. So, no matter where you went you didn't have a lot of choices about where you went.

But, when you, wherever you went. Whether it, you know, church or the grocery store or getting gas or just right. You know, walk outside, walking or something. There was just tons of people that you could talk with and you just, you had the same language. You taught the same, right. Taught, told the silly same silly jokes.

e family that you could feed [:

But it just always felt like you had this huge family that you were very familiar with. And it gave you a sense of confidence and just enjoyment. So that's my first part. The second half of that is where we are now. Because we were growing, my district is the fastest growing district in the state and the ninth fastest in the nation.

And I'm not talking about all of Johnson County. It's western Johnson County, which is just my strip now. I've lost my Smithfield precincts. I've lost all of my Cleveland precincts now except one. And so pretty much my district now is Clayton and Archer Lodge and the rural area going up to the Wilson Franklin Nash County line.

Right. [:

Oh, I understand that. I understand that. But it's I think What has happened with the influx of a lot of new people at one time is that obviously we kind of lost a lot of that familiarity. Right, right. And so, and there's so many people too that have decided that they don't like the growth so they've moved to Emerald Isle.

y wonderful people that have [:

So it's always an opportunity to share you know, to share that with people that new friends that I'm making all the time. And that is so special. And I know that. So many people that moved here in that first round of folks that moving in, they moved here because they wanted wide open spaces and they just loved the fact that we didn't have traffic and all that stuff.

And I think the thing that I love most about Johnson County is that I, you know, before is that I could get on the, could get on 42 East and I could drive all the way to Wilson County line without seeing a car. And I could see. Wild turkeys on the road. I could see fox, deer. I mean, it was just amazing.

d here about that time, early:

Farming community. I said, well, you know, it is what it is. Well,

Jonathan Breeden: I mean, it's going to, well, it's going to continue to grow. I mean, and I give a lot of credit to. I think our credit commissioners have done a great job. We've had a lot of different ones, I

Donna White: think. And we had a really good school system.

Right. That brought a lot of people. Right, right. Especially children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Right. That brought a lot of children, a lot of people here. And that was when I was on the school board. Right, right. I'd say, how did you choose Johnson County? And they said, well, You've got I 40, which of course hadn't been opened until the early 90s, and then, and it goes straight to Duke and Chapel Hill, and so we lived places that we didn't have access to our children with those issues.

So that's been a major drawing card. As well as, you know, we have Two large pharmaceutical, one of the two of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, Griffell's and Novo. So we've got a lot of stuff pulling people in here, and that's a good thing. And you know, used to, the only, there was only one restaurant open in Johnson County on Sunday.

y where it is because, well, [:

Jonathan Breeden: eat. Now you have choices. Oh, you have tons of choices. And you're going to get even more choices. Yeah,

Donna White: the growth has brought choices and it's brought new friends and new ideas and new ways to do things.

Yeah, I

know, I mean, I moved here in:

people in Johnson County in:

et. I remember watching that [:


Donna White: he had two television stations. Right, right. Five

Jonathan Breeden: and 11. Right. Well, and I watched, I mean, I watched that as a as a senior in high school in Laurinburg, North Carolina at the time. And, you know, and now there's 270,000 people in Johnson County depending on, you know, I mean, that's unbelievable.

I mean, when you just think about that, it's four times bigger than it was and it's

Donna White: not gonna stop. Early two thousands, we had a little over 600, 6,000 in Clayton proper. Right. If 31,000 now in growing.

Jonathan Breeden: Right, right. And there's, and if you draw a line going from the Wake County line starting at Corinth holders.

And you make a mile, a curve line that goes five miles into Johnston County and go all the way down to Willow Spring. I think it's like 60 or 70, 000 people just in that five miles, the western edge of Johnston County. And it could be even more than that now. I mean, so it's

Donna White::

Right. I mean, that's right. It's just a

Jonathan Breeden: little strip. That's right. I mean, that's basically right. It's not the rest of the county. Right. I mean, it's basically 70 and 95 to the northwest is your district. I mean, that's it's not 95. Well, not it doesn't go all the way to 95 anymore.

Donna White: 70 to the bypass.

Well, actually, a little bit before the bypass. Right. It's right. It's just crazy.

Jonathan Breeden: It's unbelievable. And you know, but it's been You know, we've been very fortunate, I mean, to have Riverwood and Flowers Plantation. And you know, out here with Adams Point and Broadmoor and I mean, we've got some very nice developments and, you know, we had Paul Flaherty on and we talked about, you know, the Copper District is going to transform that side of Clayton where the hospital is,

Donna White: That's going to be, it's going to be bigger than Clayton is now.

hey're gonna do a tremendous [:

And so I do think the county commissioners and our legislators and stuff have done a pretty good job of. Planning for it as best they can. We've got a Clayton's getting a new wastewater treatment facility. Johnston County is getting a new wastewater

Donna White: treatment facility. Thank you to Representative White and Representative Strickland.

Yeah, y'all have a lot

Jonathan Breeden: to do with that.

Donna White: And yes, this year I was, I would mention that to you. Yeah, just this year in the cycle we got over 20 million dollars for the airport to put in new hangars because people want to come here and put their planes in. Correct. You know, there's no taxes there. Nope.


So, and then we're going to get a new senior center. Clayton, which will be of course a collaboration between the community and senior services in Smithfield and Clayton, but We got some money for the library so that it can continue to meet the needs of the incoming citizens We've gotten let's see, I was trying, let me think, I've just, Oh there's

Jonathan Breeden: a ton.

YMCA. That was a huge budget, YMCA. YMCA,

Donna White: yes. So, and the Archer Lodge community has been helping them get their big community part done and for every year for the last three sessions we've been able to, so this year we got about 2. 6 million for them. And, That's exactly what they asked for. Right, that's awesome.

legislators to get, each one [:

Plus, we put 59 percent of the state budget in education. Right. And that depends and you know, we have broadened some of the ways that people can decide to get their education. But when you look at over 11 billion dollars in North, in education for North Carolina and a chunk of that came to Johnson County.

Right. So, you know, there's, and of course, in my field of health care We've done a lot to address the mental health issue. I got money for additional mental health beds at the, at Johnston Health. UNC Johnston Health. And they'll be full by the minute

Jonathan Breeden: they open. There's no doubt. It'll be open.

The mental health

cal hospitals and physicians [:

ve been working on that since:

Jonathan Breeden: Well, the P. A. S.

Unfortunately, I have not

Donna White: gotten that. That's what I'm saying. And they should have been my right.

Jonathan Breeden: Right. And they should, in my opinion. But, you know, that's a debate for next year and maybe it will. So I guess to wrap this up, what has you excited about Johnston County moving forward over the next couple of years?

metimes we maybe didn't know [:

So I think with more meetings that we're having now to try to talk things through, hopefully that will allow us to know what everybody wants and what they're working on and how we can just support and enhance each other.

Jonathan Breeden: Well, that's awesome. Well, I want to thank you for coming and taking your time out of your busy schedule.

r information about johnston [:

Thanks a lot

That's the end of today's episode of Best of Johnston County, a show brought to you by the trusted team at Breeden Law Office. We thank you for joining us today and we look forward to sharing more interesting facets of this community next week. Every story, every viewpoint adds another thread to the rich tapestry of Johnston County.

If the legal aspects highlighted raised some questions, help is just around the corner at www. breedenfirm. com.





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