House party: Three GOP candidates take aim at Rep. Queen
A trio of Republican candidates have lined up to challenge N.C. Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, for his District 119 House seat. One is barely old enough to drink, one campaigned for Barry Goldwater and one features Second Amendment-chest thumping on his website: “United Nations – stay out of NC!”
Aaron Littlefield, Dodie Allen and Mike Clampitt will face off in the primary. The winner will go up against Queen in November. The seat represents voters in Swain and Jackson counties and part of Haywood — namely the greater Waynesville, Lake Junaluska and Balsam area.
These three candidates took time with The Smoky Mountain News recently to talk shop. The discussions were loose. In addition to relaying their roots, candidates talked about such standard fare as the economy, healthcare and education. These legislative hopefuls also discussed some wildcard issues — gay marriage and marijuana legalization — that have fallen upon legislators in other states in recent years.
Dodie Allen, 79 • Auctioneer
Why she’s running: “I do feel that it’s a calling almost. I feel that I can be a part of the cure and not the disease.”
On political labels: “If you look at the classic definition of liberal, it’s the same as a conservative.”
On apathy: “The distrust in government is what drives apathy.”
On education: “Education doesn’t belong in the hands of an educational office in Washington, D.C. The local people and the parents should have control of our educational system.”
On war: “I’ve never known peace.”
On Rep. Joe Sam Queen: “If he would cut his hair I’d respect him.”
Hypothetical, gay marriage: “I don’t think I should have to go to the dagum state to get a license to get married — I don’t care if I’m homosexual or heterosexual.”
How she relaxes: “I don’t! If I relax I may die. What are you talking about? If I relax I may forget what I’m suppose to do.”
Last book read: “Defense of Liberty,” by Ron Paul.
In Dodie Allen’s world there are two types of people. The division does not fall along party lines.
“In my world, it’s divided into thinkers and non-thinkers,” Allen explained.
The candidate herself is a thinker. She thinks a lot. About politics. About government. About the future of America.
“I think we are unfortunately like Rome; I don’t know if we’re going to make it or not,” Allen said. “We’ve got to learn from our mistakes and our history. I don’t know if I’ll live to see it.”
Nearly 80 years old, the candidate has seen numerous societal cycles. The revolving ride has not gone unrecognized. She points out that varying political paths come in and out of vogue.
“We’re on a circle, we’re on a wheel,” Allen said. “It’s reciprocal, just like fashion. Politics is reciprocal, philosophy is reciprocal.”
A self-described “political junkie,” the candidate has been around long enough to see the pendulum swing a few directions. During her early twenties, she jumped on board the train trailing the banner of conservatism — a bold move for a girl hailing from a family full of Southern Democrats.
“Oh God, I thought they were all going to have cats with straw tails,” Allen recalled.
The candidate remembers an experience her husband’s family had as the government took their property via eminent domain. A seminal experience in Allen’s political trajectory, it blew her young mind — “I was shocked that this went on in this United States of America” — and sent her running into the arms of the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign.
The experience was a springboard, sparking a lifelong journey and appreciation of the conservative experience. She met William F. Buckley. She met Strom Thurmond. She went to weekend seminars.
“That’s when my real study began — philosophy, constitutionalism, I did a lot of study,” Allen said. “We would not have had Ronald Reagan if we had not had Barry Goldwater.”
Through the years —through a career at the Regional Bell Operating Company and raising four children — Allen dug deep into the conservative camp. She embraced the philosophy and the principals. She fell in love with John Locke.
“John Locke was way ahead of his time — appealing to the instincts of man, wanting to be free,” she said. “It’s conservative ideology that drives freedom.”
The candidate came to Western North Carolina more than three decades ago. She eventually opened her auction house and settled into Sylva. She’s run for this House seat before and is now doing so again.
Sitting in the auction house on a recent afternoon, Allen said that, if elected, she intends to focus on communication — communication with citizens, as well as lawmakers.
“Communication is the foundation of success, and the lack of it can be the foundation of failure,” she said. “Through communication we create good neighbors, harmonious communities. It’s so important.”
Mike Clampitt, 59 • Retired Charlotte fire captain
Why are you seeking office: “One, to be the ears of the citizens of Western North Carolina, and another, to be their voice. Also, to restore faith in our government.”
On Moral Monday marchers: “I don’t think they understand exactly where this was going.”
On roots: “I go back six generations. I have a good sense of Western North Carolina and its needs.”
On Rep. Joe Sam Queen: “Mr. Queen and I are in totally opposite areas for public policy.”
On political labels: “Republican-conservative, or conservative-Republican, you can put that in any order that works.”
Hypothetical, gay marriage: “When it comes to marriage, marriage is between one man and one woman. If there is a contract between two individuals, that’s their business.”
How he relaxes: “Work. Sounds crazy, but I like to mow. I have a farm and I like to mow. When I have something on my mind, I like to mow or garden.”
Last book read: “One Carbon Atom”
Over the past year, North Carolinians dissatisfied with the direction the state has taken have been marching on the capital in Raleigh. The marches have been dubbed Moral Mondays.
Mike Clampitt has had opportunity to watch the protests up close. He spent a recent term in Raleigh as a sargent of arms, charged with maintaining “decorum” on the House floor.
“Make sure the legislators maintain their emotions,” Clampitt explained.
The candidate recalled the Moral Monday events as “an interesting experience.”
“I have no problem with freedom of speech, [but] there is concern that, with that, you cause a disruption of the legislative process,” Clampitt said.
The disruption of decorum probably wasn’t the only thing giving the candidate pause during the Moral Mondays. He also agrees with the legislative decisions the marches were protesting.
Clampitt lauds the General Assembly for improving “voter integrity,” lowering income tax and making North Carolina “more business friendly.” He also agrees with lawmakers’ decision not to embrace the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid.
“To keep the financial house in order is to do what the legislature has done and not take the money,” Clampitt said.
The candidate is running a campaign full of red-meat positions on the issues. He’s a Second Amendment guy. He’s not a fan of “ludicrous regulations” on business. He’s an advocate for state’s rights. His politics tread into the risqué.
“I am an Oath Keeper,” Clampitt said.
In addition to being an Oath Keeper — a group of law enforcement and military types who intend to disobey orders they deem unconstitutional — the candidate is a retired fire captain, having served 28 years in Charlotte, and former director of Fire and Rescue Training at Central Piedmont Community College, also in Charlotte.
If he wins the primary, it will be Clampbitt’s second time going up against Rep. Queen. He narrowly lost this race in 2012.
Aaron Littlefield, 22 • Worship leader, full-time student
Why he’s running: “I believe people deserve a candidate that is willing to actually discuss the issues at hand — the key word is discuss.”
On the Affordable Care Act: “I don’t think you should force somebody to buy anything. Forcing somebody, I just don’t like the concept.”
On student-loan debt: “It’s our ball and chain, it’s weighing us down.”
On recently buying his first gun, a 12-gauge shotgun: “It’s easy to shoot, and the ammo’s cheap. You never know what’s going to happen. Why not? You buy car insurance, some people buy life insurance.”
Hypothetical, marijuana legalization: “This one is going to get me burned at the stake here. I think it’s worth looking at what happens in Colorado and Washington and then making an educated decision based on how they work.”
How he relaxes: Exercise and catching up on Netflix viewing with his wife.
Last book read: “The Epistle of James”
Sitting in a café across the street from the Western Carolina University campus, Aaron Littlefield covers a lot of ground. He talks about guns and God. He talks about political labels and the road construction on N.C. 107. He talks about his time spent campaigning for Mitt Romney.
“You may notice I speak a lot faster than my opponents,” Littlefield said. “That’s the way we are, we like to get things done. We like to go, go, go.”
The candidate speaks of his generation, the millennials. He talks a lot about the millennials.
“What millennials want is a way forward,” Littlefield said. “We don’t care about campaign ideas or rhetoric, we want results.”
The candidate is counting on the millennials, a growing population, particularly in Jackson County, to carry him in this election. He quotes Reagan — “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction” — and hopes he can motivate the youth to vote.
“I believe it’s time to pass the torch,” Littlefield said. “If the millennial will wake up, the time is now, we have the numbers.”