As a lifelong and outspoken Democrat in a legislature where Republicans have a super majority and hold the governor’s mansion, Rep. Queen doesn’t get any invites to the back offices where the real deal-making happens in the General Assembly. He admits he is on the outside looking in, as the annual rankings just released by the N.C. Public Policy Research Institute show. Queen is listed as the 115th most-effective representative in the 125-member House.
That reduced influence, though, has perhaps made him even more vocal about the mistakes he believes the current leadership is making and direction in which they are leading his beloved state.
He is incensed about House Bill 2, the controversial measure passed in a recently called special session that limits transgender bathroom access and eliminates antidiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people: “I did not even go down to Raleigh for the session. It was Holy Week, and I knew it would be ram-rodded through, but it was worse than I thought. It was complete political theater that has nothing to do with any issue in North Carolina, except killing jobs, killing our rankings, killing the chances of our nonprofits who are looking for grants from national foundations, killing attempts to recruit IT or creative companies. This group is not for small business, not for big business; they are about the politics of bigotry and they think bullying is OK. I can’t understand why they would not analyze the potential consequences of HB2. It’s not rocket science, but they could care less, they just crammed it down our throats.”
As for Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the bill: “This governor has gone south. He’s completely lost it, is grasping for straws instead of governing. There is no leadership in him.”
Talk to Rep. Queen for even a few minutes and he keeps comes back around to what he describes as the job-killing efforts of the current GOP leadership. In fact, in recent media coverage of the closing of Central Elementary School in Waynesville and the declining enrollment in the local school system, Rep. Queen says the press should be looking at the jobs that were lost due to decisions made by this governor and General Assembly.
“I don’t think your coverage has gotten it quite right. They have killed about 400 jobs at our hospital because they would not accept the Medicaid expansion dollars from our federal government that was part of Obamacare. A bunch of other Republican governors were smart enough to take that money and run with it. And we’ve lost about 160 jobs in our school system due to their budgeting. These are real, solid jobs — lab folks, technicians, teachers and teacher assistants — that can support families and will put kids in the school system, but these guys just don’t get it. Each of these jobs supports secondary jobs, so the real number they are responsible for us losing is probably double that. Just by expanding Medicaid and bringing our own tax dollars home we could create over 800 jobs right here in Haywood County.”
Gov. McCrory refused to expand Medicaid and accept the federal tax dollars that all of us have paid. Other Republican-led states — including Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey, Gov. Rick Snyder in Michigan and even Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, among others — saw the economic benefits of doing so. Gov. McCrory refused, sending tax dollars paid by North Carolina citizens to other states.
“Statewide that’s over $2.5 billion a year, so in three years this governor has denied our state $7.5 billion that would have created real jobs at our hospitals, secondary jobs in our communities, and helped poor people stay healthy. Why did we get all the dumb Republicans?” Queen asked.
“When you lose jobs you lose families and children, which is Average Daily Membership. The big hole for Central Elementary is the ADM money, and when you cut jobs you send families to other counties to find work, so it’s no wonder we are losing students,” Queen said.
In the rural counties of Western North Carolina, the cuts to education and the refusal to accept the Medicaid expansion dollars from the federal government hurt worse than in urban areas. Local hospitals and the local school system are typically among the top two or three employers in rural counties.
“When you slash those jobs, you are hurting the people and the communities in rural North Carolina, and that’s just what these guys are doing.”
Queen is also very critical of the tax reform measures enacted by the state GOP leaders. “They are not doing anything for small businesses. They eliminated the $50,000 deduction that actually helped small business owners, but now the big boys get all the cuts. Small businesses have had deductions eliminated, sales taxes have increased on services and electricity and other things needed to run a business. All those breaks are going to the big boys, not small businesses.”
Queen points out that he and Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, disagree on almost every major issue, but that they are still able to work together for the district on most local issues. Right now both are sponsoring bills to get Jackson County named the Trout Capital of North Carolina.
As for the other representative who represents part of Haywood County — Rep. Michelle Presnell, R-Burnsville — he doesn’t mince words. Talking about the Lake Junaluska-Waynesville merger bill, “they let some nimwit (Presnell) from another county tell us what to do.”
Queen, still hopeful even as backbencher, keeps repeating his mantra to “remember in November.” That’s when he hopes voters will agree with his take on what’s been happening in the state legislature and turn out the GOP majority.
“The national economy is going well, but not in North Carolina. We’ve thrown the anchor out and it’s dragging behind us. They are just dumb as a post.”
The N.C Center for Public Policy Research has released its annual rankings of the effectiveness of the state’s lawmakers. Here’s how our representatives fared:
• Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin: 25th (of 50 senators)
• Rep. Roger West, R-Marble: 18th (of 120 representatives)
• Rep. Michelle Presnell, R-Burnsville: 78th
• Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville: 115th