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N.C. House candidates Queen and Clampitt draw distinctions during debate

N.C. Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, and Republican challenger Mike Clampitt are on a similar mission. Each is trying to assure voters they are nothing like the other guy.

Recently, the two candidates seeking the 119th District House seat faced off for a debate in Cullowhee hosted by Western Carolina University. The pair discussed education, healthcare and fracking. They got into immigration reform and term limits and more. And they disagreed at every turn. 


Early on, Clampitt tried to distinguish himself from Queen by ticking off successful efforts of the Republican-led General Assembly and wondering aghast how the representative could not have supported them. He asked how Queen could have possibly voted against such legislation as the Regulatory Reform Act, the Tax Simplification and Reduction Act or the Domestic Energy Jobs Act. He was appalled that Queen would have voted against an effort to supply schools with free EpiPens to treat anaphylaxis, or serious allergic reactions.

“He voted against children’s safety in schools,” Clampitt charged.

Queen then went into a routine he was bound to repeat throughout the evening: clarifying his position and dissecting the political particulars.

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“The Energy Modernization Act was fracking, so I voted against that,” Queen countered. “You’ve got to watch how they label these bills, because they are not what they appear to be. And they fill them full of poison pills with a few nice things like EpiPens and so forth.”

The spirited debate remained a trade of political punches throughout. Clampitt focused on graspable one-liners, while Queen beckoned voters to wade with him into the details.

The state House debate drew a packed house and required the set up of an overflow room with the bout on a big screen. It offered voters more than an hour of illustrative and revealing back-and-forth. 

Here’s a sampling:

On first piece of legislation if elected

Clampitt: I believe for Swain County that would be an easy one. To make the federal government honor their agreement and payment to Swain County residents for the Road to Nowhere. That’s to me is a no-brainer. It’s money that was owed, it’s money that was promised and we’ve got a second piece of paper from another congressman that says we’ll pay it. I think a resolution from the state House would be in order. 

Queen: I think one of the tragedies of this session has been not expanding Medicaid. We’ve lost $3.5 billion of our taxes. We’ve got to expand Medicaid in North Carolina. This next session that will be $2.5 billion of our taxes that will be denied coming to North Carolina in we do not correct this action.

On North Carolina’s new voting laws

Queen: This bill is really about keeping seniors from voting, keeping young people from voting, making it difficult to vote and as a consequence fewer people will vote. They know this, it’s statistically proven, but it’s the wrong thing for our democracy, it is the wrong thing for North Carolina. 

Clampitt: As far as disenfranchising students from voting, I remember when I was in college I applied for an absentee ballot in Swain County and voted in the election. And that’s the first presidential election I got to vote in, when I got an absentee ballot, so what’s the big deal? You know, a stamp is 46 cents now I think, but still, that’s not a problem, should not be a problem. And I think Mr. Queen has also forgotten that to get government assistance in North Carolina you have to have a photo I.D. to get that government assistance.

On the need for an independent commission to oversee redistricting

Clampitt: That’s a scream from the left-hand side because of gerrymandering. They want to say that gerrymandering is something that the big, bad Republicans come up with … it is a fact of life, it is going to change every time we have a change in leadership in the state. Left, grow up, get over it. 

Queen: I can assure you that just the way big-data is working, gerrymandering is a much more sophisticated enterprise than it has ever been in America, so it is time to have an independent commission on this issue … I will admit Democrats  have had their hands in gerrymandering, but it’s a matter of degree. If you look at these maps, it’s a matter of degree. I’m not claiming innocence for my party, I’m just saying that the Republicans have gotten so much better at it, partly because of the Census-track data mechanism that they have used to do it. 

On corporate taxes

Clampitt: Our Republican-led legislature and governorship has done a great job of streamlining the corporate and personal income taxes of North Carolina. North Carolina has now become one of the more business-friendly states of all the surrounding states to North Carolina. That being said, when you take and encourage business growth, the growth of the business will take and employ more people …. In order to establish more business growth, they’ve got to have the burden pulled off of them, and also the heavy regulatory fees and the stringent guidelines that they have to go through. 

Queen: I did not support the so-called tax reform that this Republican General Assembly passed. There are 77,000 corporations in North Carolina, the top 200 of them got a million dollars a piece in tax cuts. They eliminated the small business tax credit, which gave small businesses the first $50,000 tax free in North Carolina … They’ve given 99 and a half percent of the tax cuts of this so-called tax reform for corporations to the top half of a percent of corporations. It’s a disgrace, it’s not good for jobs, it’s not good for economic development, it’s not fair. 

On fracking

Clampitt: The thing about it is, it’s not viable in Western North Carolina. Folks, that is off the table. It is not even on the table to be done. Everybody’s screaming panic about that right now, but it’s a true thing. 

Queen: If you can recognize an election stunt — if they find natural gas in Western North Carolina, there is nothing to take it off the table. So, it’s just a stunt for the election. Sen. Davis sponsored the bill from Western North Carolina and there are folks that think there is money to be made quick and easy here. 

On teacher salaries

Queen: We definitely need to do more than we’re doing. 

Clampitt: I think it’s a step program, it can’t be done overnight.  

On immigration reform

Queen: I think a quality immigration policy is absolutely essential. It is mired in bitter, political — I don’t know what you’d call it, skirting around the issues. We need to solve it. It’s fair and right for the people involved … It’s not really a state issue, it’s really a national issue, so it doesn’t come up often in the legislature. 

Clampitt: We need to have immigration reform starting at the state level and going all the way to the federal government. The federal government is dropping the ball and not doing their jobs … When Mr. Queen says it’s not a state problem, it is a state problem. It’s a state a problem in a sense that it’s costing us, the taxpayers of North Carolina, money in to the hospital system, into the educational system and the entire system across the board.

On term limits

Clampitt: The political suicide answer is I believe in term limits. I believe the correct answer is, I believe in term limits.

Queen: I serve at the privilege of the citizenry. I have run six times, I have lost two. They can send you home just as quick as they can elect you. Generally speaking, if you have good representatives you should keep them. If you have poor ones, the ballot box is exactly the place you can limit their terms.

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