Debate for NC House District 119 highlights

blah Photo by Mick Cauthen.

Queen and Clampitt answered questions from community members. Photo by Charles Hadley.

This story was co-written with Charles Hadley

North Carolina State Rep. Joe Sam Queen (D-Haywood) and challenger Mike Clampitt (R-Swain) engaged in a substantive debate Wednesday night, Oct.12, on the campus of Western Carolina University.

About 60 people attended the debate between Clampitt and Queen in the Health and Human Sciences building at WCU.

The candidates answered questions posed by community members of North Carolina House District 119, including some questions from WCU students.
The debate was moderated by Todd Collins, Director of Public Policy Institute at WCU and Frank Fraboni of WLOS-TV Asheville.

The controversial North Carolina House Bill 2 was the first topic discussed. However, the focus of the questions from the moderators was not bathrooms, but other provisions within the bill. Such provisions include the ban of local governments mandating a minimum wage above the state’s minimum wage and limits on rights to sue for discrimination in state courts based on sexual orientation.

“We tried to ask about the other provisions about HB2 and specifically avoid the ‘bathroom’ part as both have taken stances on this before,” said Collins.

Clampitt said he stood by the bill and that independent businesses should make the decision on how much they choose to pay their employees.

“I strongly stand in support of HB2, as HB2 is a security issue,” said Clampitt.

Queen said he does not support any provisions of HB2.

“It was chock full of discrimination… it had very little to do with safety,” said Queen.

The debate as a whole remained civil between the two candidates despite their differing views on policy. After the lengthy discussion on HB2, the candidates traded barbs on energy, climate change, the state budget and the Affordable Care Act. Arguments of the candidates stayed largely along party lines, with the only outlier being Queen’s moderate stance on gun rights in North Carolina.

The most tense moment during the debate during Clampitt’s response to a question regarding racial tensions across the state. Clampitt was speaking in support of faith-based education as solving the problem when he was interrupted by a man in the audience.

“I’m no Bible scholar, but…,” said Clampitt.

“I am,” yelled the audience member.

The moderators, candidates and audience were all taken aback by the interruption. The man continued to speak to Clampitt, but was informed by the moderators that if he did not stop talking he would be asked to leave.

Following the interruption, Clampitt continued his statement on faith-based education.

About 60 people attended the debate. Photo by Mick Cauthen.

About 60 people attended the debate. Photo by Charles Hadley.

Queen then responded with his campaign slogan, “Let’s all join hands in one big circle.”

Collins outlined the path to victory for each candidate after the debate.

“For Clampitt, he has to show that he is a better alternative and will make some changes. The district is pretty conservative, overall, so Clampitt has to show that he is more representative of the district, which he tried to do a bit in the debate,” explained Collins.

“For Queen, he is running in part on what he has already done for the district. As a Democrat in a conservative district, he has to show that he is moderate in order to win over more voters,” said Collins.

This election year marks the third time each candidate has faced off against one another. Queen won both previous races.