“Having served at the municipal and county levels, I understand the unique needs of our mountain communities.”  Ron Mau, Smoky Mountain News, November 18, 2019. Yes, Ron Mau has announced that he will enter the Republican primary race for the North Carolina House of Representatives, District 119.

Mr. Mau served on the village council for Forest Hills.  In 2017 Forest Hills had a rather demographically and economically homogeneous population of 382 and that is likely its ballpark population while Mr. Mau served on it. The village is primarily a residential area for WCU faculty and retirees, with some privately owned student housing. It does not have a downtown, a business center or much business at all. It is not home to a social or cultural center. It does have a decades old defunct golf course and at one time had a country club building, now demolished.

True, Forest Hills is certainly typical of parts of our mountain communities, but that  slice is relatively small, caters to outsiders and professionals, and rarely presents the economic, health, transportation or crime challenges faced by many mountaineers. In other words, it’s a pretty easy, atypical place to govern.

Mr. Mau has served on the Jackson County Commission for three years. Professionally, he has worked for an on-line university (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University), in the engineering department at WCU, and as a consulting engineer for “residential developments, retail/shopping centers, industrial sites and infrastructure projects.” That last set of experiences appears more geared to suburbia or urban environments than our mountains. While I don’t discount the value and quality of that work, I don’t believe that it necessarily introduces one to the “unique needs” of our communities.

Mr. Mau may indeed understand those needs, but I have a hard time seeing several years of public service as the primary justification for claiming such knowledge. That is particularly true, when we contrast his experience in these mountains with that of Joe Sam Queen. Mr. Queen’s family has been here for six generations. Like Mr. Mau, Mr. Queen is a practicing professional (he’s an architect, who left the region for his education, but importantly returned to it to practice.) Unlike Mr. Mau, he has deep roots in the cultural history of the region, including producing street dances in Waynesville and serving as the director of the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival. 

If a future race comes down to understanding “unique needs” of mountain communities, I’d put my money on Mr. Queen. However, I suspect the race comes down to the Republican Party’s calculation that Mike Clampitt would lose again to Mr. Queen and that the Party wants an alternative candidate.