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Clampitt, Platt look to gain new ground in 119th District

Al Platt (left) and Mike Clampitt Al Platt (left) and Mike Clampitt

In North Carolina politics, some things change, while others stay the same. 

For the first time in the past five elections, Swain County Republican Mike Clampitt will not face Waynesville architect Joe Sam Queen in the 119th House District. 

For the first time in the past five elections, Haywood County is not part of the 119th House District. 

For the first time in the past five elections, Transylvania County is, joining Jackson and Swain counties. 

That also means that for the sixth straight election, Clampitt’s General Election opponent is an architect. 

Brevard Democrat Al Platt has a chance to take back a seat that Western Carolina University professor Dr. Chris Cooper recently said had been passed “back and forth like a loose joint at a Phish concert.”

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Clampitt, a Swain County native and retired fire captain, lost to Queen in 2012 and 2014, defeated him in 2016, lost to him in 2018, and defeated him in 2020. 

Republicans are again eyeing a supermajority in the General Assembly, which will be needed to accomplish some of their legislative goals so long as Democrat Roy Cooper remains in the governor’s mansion. They need to flip five seats, two in the Senate and three in the House, but most importantly, they need to hold on to every other seat they currently have. 

Mapping site davesredistricting.org says Republicans can expect about 54.5% of the vote in the newly drawn 119th District, but that’s far from comforting for them — it’s the lowest percentage of any Republican-held House seat west of Charlotte. 

Clampitt, however, seems buoyed by his party’s recent successes and his own performance. He’s a strong public safety advocate, and with fellow Haywood Republican Rep. Mark Pless played a tremendous role in getting millions in flood relief after last summer’s unexpected tragedy. 

Clampitt also serves as chair of the Indian affairs committee and co-chairs the wildlife committee, two important jobs for any Western North Carolina representative, but his top priority remains education. 

“We have a lot of school districts with aging facilities,” Clampitt said, mentioning Swain and Transylvania counties. “There are also security issues with those aging facilities. Schools don’t have perimeters now and limited access, like is being recommended now because of some of the nationwide problems we’ve had.”

Clampitt said he’s looking for funding, but the bad news is, even if he finds it, it will still take four or five years for them to come online. 

Housing, another top priority, is a touchy issue, because people — Republicans in particular — don’t much like to see the government competing with private industry. But the free market hasn’t solved the problem, which is why much of the west is still bogged down in an affordable housing crisis. 

“Where we’re at now I think, is working with infrastructure to solve those needs,” Clampitt said. “Water and sewer would make it a lot better for free enterprise to come in and put housing in. That’s not really calling it ‘government subsidized housing,’ but everybody benefits from better water and sewer projects.”

The final point on which Clampitt is focusing is the regional economy, which today can’t be discussed without mentioning inflation. 

“We have encouraged businesses by reducing the corporate income tax, and we are looking at going to zero,” he said. “That’s a real incentive for companies to come here, because that allows them a more of an opportunity to hire more people, and they don’t have to have that burden on them to pay the corporate tax, so they can pay their employees and hire more people.”

Clampitt remains a familiar name in his home county of Swain, and has run (and won) enough in Jackson County to warrant recognition, but the real battle for Clampitt will be in turning out votes in Platt’s home base of Transylvania County. 

“I’ve likened it to getting transferred to a new fire station. New people, new faces. I’ve been down in Transylvania County about three days a week, usually at night for meetings,” he said. “I have gone to the town board of Brevard and have introduced myself to them, and the school board. I’ve introduced myself to them at the Quebec Community Center earlier this week. They don’t know my name, they don’t know my face, so I’m getting down there at every opportunity to address these folks.”

Platt faces a similar situation. He’s a well-known businessman and philanthropist in his home county, but must make inroads, especially in Swain, if he’s to win.  

Born in New Jersey, Platt grew up in Decatur, Georgia but finished his final year of high school in New York. He spent two years at Notre Dame before transferring to UNC-Chapel Hill, and has been in North Carolina ever since. He taught in North Carolina public schools until attending N.C. State and graduating with a Master of Architecture degree in 1975. Not long after, he opened his architecture business. 

“I have built a lot of things that are complex and that have involved a lot of different people with different viewpoints and different skills and different ideas of what the outcome ought to be,” he said. “I accept that as the world that we live in. And I’m prepared to be effective in it and open-minded and cooperative.”

Platt credits his late wife with sparking his interest in community affairs, especially once she was elected to the Brevard city council. He’s served on the board of Brevard College for much of the past 30 years, and was named a Main Street Champion for his work in saving the town from what would have been a devastating one-way street proposal several years back. 

He filed for the 119th District race relatively late, but cited a sense of urgency and a need for balance in the General Assembly as reasons to run. A personal phone call from Gov. Cooper didn’t hurt, either. 

“He encouraged me to do it and said that he thought that I could accomplish it. The other thing that happened that was central to my decision was that the district changed,” Platt said. “I have many years of experience working in southern Jackson County as a transplant so I have a lot of connections and friends.”

As a product of public schools and a former teacher, Platt places a high priority on education. 

“I’m not sure we have a shortage of teachers, but we sure have a shortage of people that are willing to be underpaid, overworked and disrespected,” he said. 

Platt touched on the outdated facilities and thinks safety can be factored into new designs, “without having to throw concertina wire around the schools.” He also thinks it’s shortsighted to assume that the threat from airborne pathogens is over, and wants so see better ventilation systems. 

Although the Senate has teed up Medicaid expansion by passing its desired version, it hasn’t yet happened in the House. Platt’s a proponent, unsurprisingly. 

His top two issues, education and health care, also factor into his third priority, which he said was a sandwich made of good paying jobs and a healthy environment. The final piece of that sandwich would be housing, something he knows a bit about. 

“We know how to build them, we know how to design them, what we don’t know is how to pay for them and close the gap between what it costs to put them on the ground and what people can afford,” Platt said. “The inhibitors to these housing things, some of them are regulatory. Some of them have to do with land use. I think the state could incentivize to some degree, some amount of toolmaking for local governments — tax incentives and things for densities and stuff like that.”

Platt may be onto something with the whole sandwich idea, because it wouldn’t be a true 119th District race without a little salt sprinkled in — both are skeptical of who, exactly, the other would be advocating for in the General Assembly. 

Clampitt said he expected “Joe Platt” — a dig at longtime nemesis Joe Sam Queen — would simply be a yes man for Cooper, while Platt said he’d been told that when community leaders reached out to Clampitt about a certain issue, Clampitt told them that Republican leadership in Raleigh wouldn’t go for it, prompting those leaders to ask Platt, “Well, who is he representing?” 

 

WCU to host District 119 forum

In conjunction with Blue Ridge Public Radio and The Smoky Mountain News, Western Carolina University will host a debate featuring Republican Rep. Mike Clampitt and Brevard Democrat Al Platt at the A.K. Hinds University Center Theater in Cullowhee on Tuesday, Oct. 25. The event is free and open to the public and begins at 6:30 p.m. Moderators include BPR’s Lilly Knoepp, SMN’s Hannah McLeod and WCU’s Dr. Chris Cooper. 

Leave a comment

2 comments

  • Does Mr. Clampitt still believe North Carolina should secede from the United States of America?

    posted by Kevin Brock

    Monday, 10/17/2022

  • Why didn't you mention Mr. Clampitt's stance on abortion, banning it from conception which he claimed at on time was his #1 priority. Or Mr. Platt's. Or ask either of them if they believe the 2020 election was fraudulent. Or how they feel about gerrymandering.

    posted by Lisa Chapman

    Friday, 10/14/2022

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