Clampitt Queen

OLD RIVALS — Mike Clampitt, R-Bryson City, left, won the House 119 seat in 2016 after losing in two consecutive elections to Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville. Queen regained the seat in 2018. 2020 will mark the fifth time they’ve squared off.

Democratic incumbent Joe Sam Queen and GOP challenger Mike Clampitt clashed early and often over Medicaid expansion during their debate on the campus of Southwestern Community College Oct. 8.

The 2020 campaign marks the fifth matchup between Clampitt and Queen in the state House 119th District. Queen emerged the winner in 2012, 2014 and 2018, with Clampitt flipping the seat in 2016.

As with prior debates, questions were posed to the candidates by students in Bucky Dann’s Social Problems class.

Queen repeatedly posed Medicaid expansion as an ideal solution for Western North Carolina on a number of fronts, from helping with veterans’ health care to job creation to battling the coronavirus pandemic to helping local agencies deal with the opioid epidemic.

Queen continually asserted that North Carolina tax dollars are being sent to Washington, D.C., and not returned to the state. Clampitt maintained the tax dollars are being returned in other federal funding, such as money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

North Carolina is one of 11 states that has not opted for Medicaid expansion.

The two clashed on a number of other issues, from the state’s record on and role in education funding to Clampitt’s assertion that Queen favors defunding the police, a charge Queen called “a straight flatfooted lie.’’

The candidates were in agreement on the need for broadband expansion in the western counties, and for North Carolina to allow medical marijuana. Clampitt was against going any further, taking a stand against legalization, while Queen said he wanted to see the results of recreational marijuana legalization in states that have taken that approach.

He said afterward if it appeared to be a good tact for North Carolina the issue could be placed on the ballot for voters to decide.

Asked about their priorities should they gain office, both candidates voiced support for community colleges. Queen said his focus would be on helping steer the state out of the recession and pandemic, broadband, job creation, funding NC Promise and the restoration of unemployment benefits. Clampitt also cited broadband and said he’d focus on public safety, vocational programs and constituency service, giving out his phone number to those in attendance and watching online.

The final debate at SCC will feature candidates for N.C. Senate District 50 Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. This debate and prior debates can be viewed at https://livestream.com/southwesterncc/jccdebate2020.

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