“I’m a happy warrior,” the incumbent said. “I like campaigning and pressing the flesh and getting out with my constituents. I actually like the season.”
Clampitt, too, seems to be enjoying himself. He’s been crisscrossing the district, hitting events and going door-to-door.
“You may have seen me on a billboard somewhere,” Clampitt reenacts his pitch. “I am that guy, I really do exist.”
The barbecue, budget and office decor
On the table before Clampitt is a plate of barbecue and some political mailers. One of the mailers in particular has caught the candidate’s attention. It features him, with arm draped over Gov. Pat McCrory, and describes the Republican pair as creating “one big, enormous, fracking mess.”
“That’s gonna backfire, it’s going to be taken negatively by most people I know up here,” Clampitt said. “That’s over the line. Most folks are going to know what they mean by that word.”
Besides, fracking’s a dead issue anyway. A distraction that shouldn’t play into the election, Clampitt said.
“The resources, if they’re found, will be back east, not in the west,” Clampitt stressed. “This is an emotional issue more than it is a real issue, if you want to call it that.”
The candidate is tired of the fracking debate. Clampitt would much rather discuss other issues facing North Carolina. For that matter, he’d rather discuss the state budget. In detail.
“You wanna see the budget? I got a copy,” Clampitt said. “No, no, sit right here, I’ve got a copy, I’ll be right back.”
The candidate got his copy of the budget at the capital in Raleigh. It’s a thick read, with enormous staples binding it together.
“That’s about as authentic as you can get right there,” Clampitt said, holding up the tome. “It’s interesting reading. It’s dry reading.”
Clampitt enjoys using the state budget to illustrate differences between he and his opponent. He defends Republican-led efforts on issues like education funding, health care and government regulations and paints his opponent as being well-meaning but on the wrong side of each debate.
“It’s not an us-versus-them thing,” Clampitt explained. “I don’t see it as an us-versus-them, because I think both sides have the interest of everyone at heart, but there is a decisive difference in how to achieve their goals.”
Clampitt hopes to join these debates in Raleigh. He’ll be on the “pro-life, pro-gun, friend of small business” side of the aisle. The majority side.
He won’t be there to make everyone happy. Especially not people who’ve “got their hand out.”
“If you’re gonna wait for me to tell you what you’re wanting to hear you’re gonna have a long wait — there’s only so many ways you say ‘no,’” Clampitt said. “If you want more money spent tell me how you want to raise that money.”
Clampitt also has some ideas on how to improve things. He’d like to launch a multi-county consortium within his districts, inviting local governments, schools and chambers of commerce to the table to together tackle issues facing the region — “strength in numbers.”
“I call it IRS for issues, resources and solutions,” Clampitt said. “The best ideas come from the local and county governments.”
The candidate looks back down at the “big, enormous fracking mess” mailer on the table. The hand draped over McCrory’s shoulder — “that ain’t my fingers” — is superimposed. Still, it’s a dandy picture.
Recently, Clampitt had an opportunity to discuss the doctored photo with the governor. They had a good laugh.
“He pulled that out and he said, ‘My God, Clampitt, that’s a good picture. Why can’t you look that good all the time?’” the candidate recalled.
Clampitt plans on holding on to the mailer as a memento. Plans on turning the negative ad into a positive.
“When I’m elected I’m framing that one,” he said, “and putting it on the wall down in Raleigh.”
Ready for another rough round in Raleigh
It’s been rough in Raleigh recently. A tough place for a Democrat, anyway.
“I have been a one-legged man at an ass-kicking this year,” Queen said. “It has been awful.”
Sitting in his downtown Waynesville office, the incumbent lawmaker tried to stay positive.
“You know, you never give up your fight,” Queen said. “I stand up for my people.”
It’s easy for Queen to get worked up when talking about goings-on in Raleigh. He disagrees with much of what has taken place in the General Assembly as of late.
“McCrory-Tillis is killing our health care, they are killing education,” Queen said.
Queen takes issue with the way Republicans have handled the state’s education funding. He’s outraged they won’t expand Medicaid, arguing that the expansion would bring about 140,000 healthcare jobs to the state, as well as insure the currently uninsured.
Queen is also livid about what he views as tax cuts for the wealthy. He charged that Republicans have adopted a “robber baron” approach to economics.
“We’re backing into a 19th century tax code and these guys have a bunch of 19th century ideas,” Queen said.
The incumbent contrasted the legislature’s decision to repeal the estate tax with its decision to up the tax rate on mobile homes — “I use the Biblical analogy that they squint at a gnat while they swallow a camel.”
“So, if you’re a little guy it costs you $3,500 to take a $55,000 doublewide home,” Queen said. “Why is the rich man getting richer and the poor man getting poorer? That’s why right there — public policy.”
Queen doesn’t have any delusions of turning the majority tide in Raleigh. He knows the Republicans have conquered the capital for now.
But the incumbent is optimistic about this election.
“My prediction is we will pick up three to four Democratic legislators,” Queen said. “I think we’ll pick up Hicks, John Ager, Brian Turner, and my money is still on Jane Hipps — right now that’s the longest shot, but it’d be the biggest upset, it’d send a message to Raleigh that we get it.”
As for his own race against Clampitt, the candidate has every intention of heading back to the capital for further abuse.
“I doubt very seriously I’ll get beat this year,” Queen said. “If I do I’m not jumping out of any window, but I don’t think I will be beat.”
Mike Clampitt, 59, Republican
Mike Clampitt was born and raised in Swain County. He graduated from Swain High School, then obtained a degree in Fire Science.
The candidate spent his career years — 28 of them — in Charlotte, where he served as a fire captain with the City of Charlotte’s fire department. He retired in 2004 on Christmas Day.
After retiring, Clampitt headed home — “I’m traditionally a mountaineer and I’ve always wanted to come home” — to Bryson City.
“I inherited my grandparents’ farm,” he said. “The house is 93 years old.”
Clampitt ran initially in 2012 but did not win election. More recently the candidate has spent some time in Raleigh serving as an Assistant Sargent of Arms for the General Assembly.
“I had an opportunity to observe the legislature and I thought it might help me in my next election,” Clampitt said.
The time in Raleigh served to energize the candidate. It’s that energy he’s taken out on the campaign trail.
“After listening to some of the left, liberal comments on the House floor,” Clampitt explained, “it gave me the determination and drive to push for the conservative ethics, morals and principals of the people of Western North Carolina.”
• On not expanding Medicaid: “There’s no such thing as a free ride and no such thing as free money.”
• On gay marriage: “Striking down the marriage amendment goes against the will of the people of North Carolina. The will of the people has been violated by the judicial.”
• On perspective: “I’m not a professional politician. I had a blue-collar job. I’ve been out there in the workforce and seen a lot of crazy stuff, government regulations and such.”
• On relaxing: “For the last debate, to get relaxed I mowed my yard.”
Rep. Joe Sam Queen, 64, Democrat
Joe Sam Queen’s family has been around these parts for quite a while. He traces his roots back six or seven generations.
“We were here with the first white man,” Queen said.
The incumbent state representative got his political start as a 10-year-old boy. He was assigned a job by his dad, who was managing Terry Sanford’s 1960 gubernatorial bid against Beverly Lake in Haywood County.
“I was given a ladder and my job was not to let a Beverly Lake sign go up in Waynesville,” Queen recalled.
In 2002, Queen ran for a state Senate seat. It was a late-season decision.
“My Senate district didn’t have a Democratic candidate,” he said. “this was Fourth of July in 2002.”
Queen wasn’t suppose to win, but eked out a 49 percent victory. His opponent, he feels, didn’t take the contest seriously.
“He took the race for granted, quite frankly, he thought he had it in the bag,” Queen said.
Queen went on to serve in three terms in the state Senate. Then, in 2012 — following a redrawing of political districts — he decided to try for the 119th District N.C. House seat and won.
Now, he’s up for another round.
“I’m probably as much on fire as I’ve ever been,” Queen said.
• On not expanding Medicaid: “Cynically speaking, they don’t give a damn and they want healthcare to fail and blame Obamacare.”
• On the GOP’s budgetary direction: “The way out is common sense, decency. Let’s stop using political rhetoric as economic policy.”
• On trickle-down theory: “It does not work. George H.W. Bush referred to it as voodoo economics, and he’s exactly right.”
• On expanding broadband availability: “Our rural children do not have the internet. The digital divide is real, let’s close it.”