Two Senate Seats Open? Watch This Space, by Penny Smith – May 19

We members of the Tribe of the Politically Addicted were greeted this week with the news that Senator Burr is under investigation by the FBI. Apparently not all is forgiven after Senator Burr cashed in some of his Stock Market holdings following a “Behind Closed Doors” briefing about the coming epidemic; made the news about that sale in the wake of a market crash; and then sought a review by the Senate Ethics Committee.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Burr’s cell phone was seized on May 13. A day later we learned that, beginning in March, four US Senators have been under investigation for insider trading. 

A wrinkle in the current dilemma in which Senator Burr finds himself is that his Senate committee charged with investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 election issued a bi-partisan report that was at odds with a partisan production by its House counterpart. Burr’s committee found Russian involvement; the Republican majority House Committee did not. Given that our President has found “unacceptable” conclusions that disagree with his world view, it seems unlikely that there will be a Trump rescue card in sight. Mr. Flynn walks, but Burr may not.

If Senator Burr were to resign or be found guilty of a crime, that would leave another North Carolina Senate seat vacant. Now wouldn’t that make for an interesting November? However, the wheels of American justice run slowly and are subject to multiple appeals, so we are likely to be voting for only one senator this November (that would be, of course, Cal Cunningham). Burr may have a difficult time outlasting the investigation, particularly since Trump probably no longer holds him within his inner circle.

Stay tuned.

FYI: According to Section 163-12 of the North Carolina General Statutes, if a vacancy occurs in an United States Senate seat the Governor must appoint a person from the political party that held the seat. The State Executive Committee of that party would present the Governor with a list of three names from which to make his selection. It must submit that list of names within 30 days of the vacancy. The state will then hold a special election for that seat at the next regular election for members of the NC General Assembly, which would be in 2022. The person winning that election would serve whatever time remains on that individual’s term. 

Burr would normally be up for re-election in 2024, although he indicated in the last election that this would be his final term in office. There are a few timing quirks in this process, but that’s basically what would happen.

Cal Cunningham Rising, by Penny Smith – May 19

I don’t know if you’re noticing it, too, but the Cal Cunningham name is showing up more and more in the news. That’s true for both print and social media. What’s even more interesting is that it’s true for both state and national news.

Cunningham, in case you’ve been taking the shelter-in-place admonitions too seriously, is the Democratic Party’s nominee for the United States Senate. He will face the incumbent, Thom Tillis, sweetheart of the Koch Brothers, ardent follower of almost all things Trump and architect of the disastrous policies of the GOP-dominated state legislature of the 2010s. Over the spring North Carolina has moved from probably red state to lean red to now being considered by many pundits a toss-up.

What changed?

Well, for one thing, Trump’s economy turned sour. We could argue that’s not his fault, since there was/is this pandemic thing going on. However, the obvious counter argument to that is: “things probably wouldn’t have been as bad as they are had Trump acted wisely.” So, the Trump pandemic caused the Trump Recession, which is now heading toward the Trump Depression. 

Or we could counter by pointing out that the economy Trump inherited was healthy and on the rise; Trump himself has done little to incentivize growth, particularly for our waning middle class. Indeed, many of his initiatives have proven harmful. The tariffs he continues to claim are being paid by China are actually being paid by Americans. The wall that Mexicans were going to finance slowly grows, also paid for by Americans. The price of fossil fuels is sinking lower by the day and with it that sector of our energy economy, thanks in large part to his friends the Saudis and the Russians, who are engaged in a petroleum supply war. 

Some of our crops, largely planted and picked by immigrant labor, are in danger of finding no one to harvest them; the absence of sufficient farm workers is the result of immigration policies almost too cruel to contemplate.  Chinese retaliation for tariffs has meant that many farmers found no customers for their products, so it’s your tax dollars and mine that have flowed from Washington into their pockets to compensate for their losses. And, not surprisingly, it’s the big players that got most of that compensation and not small family farms. Once the tariff fights end, there’s no guarantee China will return to purchasing things from us, even though that’s what our President claims will happen. He has, after all, been known to be wrong. Clorox for the virus, anyone?

We have alienated our friends and many of the best international consumers of American products. We have passed tax cuts for the wealthy and tossed peanuts to our workers. Trump, in his effort to grease the skids for business friends, has loosened regulations, ensuring that we will have more polluted air, dirtier water, and contaminated landfills. Those actions mean expensive costs down the road to repair the environment and our citizens’ compromised health. Promised redrafted, “huge and improved” international agreements remain either undone or unratified. 

And the good Cunningham news: He out-raised Thom Tillis in the first quarter this year: $4.4 million compared to Tillis’s $2.1. (Unfortunately, Tillis still has a cash-on-hand advantage, since he had a bunch of money already in the bank.) Among the Cunningham donors are people like Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator, and Steven Spielberg, the well-known movie director. So, Cunningham’s on the radar of people who have money to spend. He’s also risen significantly in the polls, whereas Tillis has declined.

Cunningham is an attractive candidate in many ways. He’s a veteran who saw service in both Iraq and Afghanistan; he continues to train special operations troops at Fort Bragg.  He has experience in the state legislature. He leads an environmental services and waste reduction company and has been an active voice for environmental sanity. While in the state legislature, he fought for a number of educational reforms, including higher teacher pay, smaller class sizes and more robust early childhood opportunities.

I once thought Tillis’s name recognition and outsider money, as well as the financial support of insider Art Pope, would guarantee his re-election; I no longer think that’s true. This seat is in play. Our job is to get as many Democrats to the polls as we can in November.

Democratic candidates in WNC call for immediate Medicaid expansion – April 1, 2020

Cory Vaillancourt, Smoky Mountain News

As the greatest public health crisis in more than a hundred years continues to ravage both the physical and fiscal health of the world, the nation and the state of North Carolina, a group of 15 Democratic candidates is calling for the immediate expansion of Medicaid.

“It’s been critical for some time, and we have a General Assembly that basically just has refused to act on the issue,” said Brian Caskey, a Mills River Democrat currently running against incumbent Republican Sen. Chuck Edwards in the 48th Senate District. “Medicaid expansion for years has been the decent and moral thing to do, but right now it’s the necessary thing to do.”

North Carolina is one of just 14 states that haven’t taken advantage of the opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage, which was made available via the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.

Beginning in 2014, states could choose to include people in Medicaid who earn up to 133 percent of the poverty level, with the federal government picking up 100 percent of the cost of the expansion population from 2014 through 2016, 95 percent of the cost in 2017, 94 percent in 2018, 93 percent in 2019 and 90 percent in perpetuity thereafter.

North Carolina, like most of the South, declined to participate, citing the potential cost to states if the federal government ever decided to decrease or do away with the 90 percent funding level.

North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has also called for Medicaid expansion — something vehemently opposed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly; in fact, Cooper vetoed the state’s budget last summer over the failure to include Medicaid expansion, and nine months after the law requires a budget to be passed (July 1) Republicans still haven’t been able to override Cooper’s veto.

A press release issued by the Caskey campaign on March 30 cites the global Coronavirus Pandemic and the “unimaginable stresses” it will place on North Carolina’s health care system as big reasons for the collective call for Medicaid expansion.

Caskey is joined by a host of Western North Carolina Democrats, including Ed Hallyburton of Rutherford County (District 112).

“No matter what we look like, where we live or what’s in our wallets, getting sick reminds us that at our core we’re all just human,” Hallyburton said. “For too long, we’ve allowed a powerful few to profit by making life and health a product for sale. We must ensure that everyone can access the care that is needed, without fearing bankruptcy. This is a moment that we must stand with, and for, each other — across our differences and against anything and anyone who seeks to divide us.”

David Wheeler, Democratic nominee for the Senate seat in Polk, Rutherford, McDowell, Mitchell, Yancey and Madison counties (District 47) said that the lack of access to quality health care is “not acceptable in the most powerful country in the world and one of the most prosperous states in the country.”

In addition to Caskey, Hallyburton and Wheeler, N.C. Senate candidates Edward Phifer (Morganton), Julie Mayfield (Asheville) and Victoria Fox (Canton) also signed on to the release.

N.C. House candidates supporting the effort include Ted Remington (Marion) Cecelia Surratt (Morganton), Sam Edney (Brevard), Susan Raye Landis (Murphy), Alan Jones (Canton), Rep. Susan Fisher (Asheville), Rep. John Ager (Asheville) and Rep. Joe Sam Queen of Waynesville, who’s been campaigning on Medicaid expansion for some time now.

“Medicaid expansion is for low-wage workers in North Carolina, and our low wage worker community is taking the biggest hit,” said Queen. “They need health care. Can you imagine being without both a job and health care? We’ve already paid for it and the legislature is just wasting it. It’s way past time, and now the crisis is upon us.”

Moe Davis, the Democratic nominee to replace Congressman Mark Meadows, R-Asheville, has also indicated support for the demand, even though elected officials on the federal level have no say in the decision.

“Expanding Medicaid in North Carolina is not the solution to our broken health care coverage system, but it would toss a lifeline to thousands of people in this district who were already struggling to tread water before COVID19 broke open the dam,” said Davis. “If we really had ‘the greatest economy ever in the history of the United States’ as [President Donald] Trump said a month ago when he was in India, we should have been paying down our debt then so we had the capacity to incur debt now when we’re in a crisis. The poor and those who now suddenly find themselves out of work should not have to bear the burden for the revenue problem that began with a massive giveaway to big corporations and the wealthiest Americans.”

Expanding Medicaid would cover more than 400,000 North Carolinians who currently lack access to health care coverage, according to Caskey’s release.

In Western North Carolina, expansion would cover between 600 and 900 people in each of the region’s smallest counties like Clay, Graham and Mitchell.

In mid-sized counties like Avery, Cherokee, Macon, Madison, Polk, Transylvania, Swain and Yancey, that number is between 1,000 and 2,000 in each county.

In larger counties like Burke, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson and Rutherford, between 3,300 and 6,900 people would be covered in each county. In Buncombe County, WNC’s largest county, the number of people who would benefit is estimated to be nearly 17,000.

All in all, that’s almost 56,000 people throughout WNC. The economic growth associated with expansion is estimated by Caskey to be more than half a billion dollars.

“As of [March 30], 44 percent of the COVID19 cases reported are among the working poor, people aged between 25 and 49,” Caskey said. “These are the people who can’t afford to take off work. These are the very people most likely without health insurance and are the very ones bagging your groceries or handling your food in the drive-thru.”

Queen’s November opponent, Bryson City Republican and former Rep. Mike Clampitt, said that in light of the recent federal stimulus package — the largest in American history — as well as uncertainty over the financial impact of the pandemic on tax revenues, he was leery of winding up on the hook for the costs of Medicaid expansion.

“I think it would be a knee-jerk reaction, and with the cost to taxpayers especially in light of the loss of jobs and the tax revenue, we need to be good stewards of what money we do have at the moment and be very thoughtful as we go forward,” Clampitt said. “I’m for health care, but we need to take a step back, be rational, and look at the affordability.”

Davis’ opponent in the N.C. District 11 congressional race has yet to be determined — the runoff between Republicans Lynda Bennett, of Maggie Valley, and Madison Cawthorn, of Hendersonville, was recently moved from May 12 to June 23 as a result of the pandemic.

Bennett didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story, but Cawthorn doesn’t see Medicaid expansion as the right move.

“I don’t think it is,” Cawthorn said. “I don’t think the government does anything efficiently. What they should be doing is introducing more competition and deregulating a lot of the health care industry.”

Caskey’s opponent, Sen. Edwards, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but both Caskey and a quick Google search say that Edwards has been one of the greatest opponents of Medicaid expansion in the General Assembly.

“This is 100 percent of the reason why he’s wrong for North Carolina,” Caskey said. “I’ve been telling people at all my events that Chuck Edwards is simply a Raleigh yes man. He’s simply there to vote for the majority party in Raleigh. November is going to offer voters a choice.”

Joe Sam Queen – Raleigh Report, March 27, 2020

Coronavirus Update

As of today, March 27, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has reported one case of Covid-19 in Jackson County. Haywood and Swain still have no reported cases. I’d like to continue to ask all citizens to adopt safe practices, follow the Governor’s executive orders as well as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.
Governor Cooper has issued Executive Order 120 which closes K-12 public school statewide through May 15, bans mass gatherings over 50 people and closes some businesses. The order currently keeps governmental establishments and airports open.
Additionally, Governor Roy Cooper signed Executive Order 121 today, March 27, 2020 ordering North Carolinians to remain in their homes except for performing essential work and essential activities such as taking care of others, obtaining necessary supplies, and for health and safety purposes.
This Stay at Home Order will help slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent the medical system from being overwhelmed by keeping individuals from being exposed to the virus and keeping those who have the virus from spreading it to others.
Myself, Governor Cooper and many of my fellow legislators are all working hard to provide North Carolina with the necessary strategies and resources to weather the Coronavirus. Stay tuned for periodic updates.

The Importance of Social Distancing, For a While

The graphic above emphasizes the importance of social distancing for a whilein reducing the number of people who fall ill with Covid-19. We can all do our part and keep our distance to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy.

Things We Can Do

Virtual Town Hall Scheduled

I’ve received numerous calls and emails from constituents who are concerned about the global COVID-19 pandemic and want to know how their state is working to protect and serve them. I will be hosting a virtual and telephone Town Hall event on Saturday, April 4th at 11:00 a.m. to address those concerns and speak directly with you, my constituents in Jackson, Haywood and Swain. If you have pressing questions that you would like me to cover, please email or text those in advance to: or 910-632-0707.
Citizens can participate in the Town Hall one of two ways: dial in by phone or view a live video stream online. The dial in and website information is listed below. To access the Town Hall, click this link or dial 312-626-6799 and enter the pin 177-922-853#.

Useful Resources

Below are some credible and useful links regarding the virus:


Joe Sam’s Notes

In the days, weeks and months ahead let us all keep one another in our thoughts and prayers. This pandemic is having great consequences on all aspects of our lives and our economy. During these times I request that you especially remember those without a job or paycheck. Remember those without healthcare. Remember many don’t have internet access and are isolated. Remember many are without the necessary resources to weather this pandemic for very long. Many will need food, housing and care. Remember the many in healthcare and emergency services that are serving, often in harms way, to help us all. There will be much for us to do for one another in weeks ahead.

This is a time to come together and be thoughtful and respectful as we support one another. We will get through this to recovery and become stronger and wiser than ever.
As we face this crisis together I want everyone to do their part and stay safe. I’m working remotely and planning a virtual town hall that I hope will be helpful. I’d appreciate it if you’d join in and share this newsletter so others can participate in the town hall as well. We all need to share good, credible information as we work our way through this crisis.
Please remember that we’re all in this one together. All our best efforts are just that. This is a new, unknown virus that is much more contagious and deadly than the flu we’re familiar with. While we have no cure, social distancing is our best response.
It’s not exactly possible to be precise about what is going to happen in the near future. We are learning as we go. Right now, North Carolina is advancing forward with the best approach that is based on the knowledge that we actually have. But it’s a moving target, and as the facts change, we will learn from our experience and adjust accordingly.
In the meantime, if you or a loved one is concerned about your health, the numbers for each of District 119’s Health Departments are listed below:
Haywood – (828) 452-6620
Jackson – (828) 586-8994
Swain – (828) 488-3198

Joe Sam Queen, NC House, Raleigh Report: 11/4/19

The House & Senate are Stalling

The legislature will be temporarily adjourned until Wed. November 13th without the Senate taking up the Budget Veto override or the Legislature sitting down with Governor Cooper and negotiating a Comprehensive, Fair and Balanced Budget that works for all North Carolinians. Instead, we have muddled along for months on a bipartisan basis, doing our best to keep our state government afloat with “mini-budgets.”

First the Governor joined Democrat and Republican Legislators to pass Budget Bill HB111, which funds our state government functions at the same level they were funded in the previous year, excluding things that were paid for with one-time funds.

Next, we have passed some critical public safety funding and disaster relief that we all agreed upon.

We also accepted the State Employee raises of 5% for 27% of State Employees that the Republican Conference Budget was in agreement with Governor Cooper’s Budget on. However, we’re clearly not finished yet.

Additionally, some other important bipartisan mini-budgets successes were:

We tripled the GREAT Grant funding to help expand rural broadband from $10 million to $30 million.

We expanded the personal tax exemption, which is a solid working family tax cut.

We finally funded the clearing out of the backlog of untested sexual assault evidence and rape kits with HB29.

We also strengthened our laws on sexual assault and child abuse with SB199. Along with this, the bill added sexual assault training and human trafficking training to our NC School Curriculum.

What we have not done, and I stand with the Governor and his veto until we do are:

  • Invest in adequate teacher and public educator pay raises instead of more corporate tax cuts.
  • Pass a true voter approved School and Infrastructure Bond instead of a pork-barrel slush fund.
  • Expand Medicaid, closing the healthcare coverage gap for a half million North Carolinians instead of wasting $4 billion of our tax dollars each year.
  • Provide the remaining 73% of State Employees with a 5% raise and our retirees with a 2% COLA.

Governor Cooper is willing and ready to negotiate a Comprehensive Budget that is balanced, fair and serves everyone in our state. We can do better. For more details click Billions Better.


Congressional Redistricting

Soon we will have new and hopefully fairer Congressional District Maps to run on in 2020. The select committee on Congressional Redistricting is now meeting and the Courts are considering the directives for the redraw to be fair and nonpartisan. This is great news for the citizens of North Carolina. Click here for more.

The Push for Medicaid Expansion Continues

Despite the stalling and delays of the Legislative Leadership, a bipartisan majority of the NC House wants to expand Medicaid now! We are stymied by Speaker Moore’s waffling on his promise to allow the House to vote on this critical piece of legislation (HB655). Stay Tuned.

Town Hall Meeting

Town Hall meeting co-sponsored by the Democratic Women of Jackson County and Issues Roundtable.  Event will feature District 11 Democratic candidates for US Congress Tom Hill and Rick Bryson. Participants will be able to ask questions.
Also featured will be Jackson County Commissioner Chairman Brian McMahan who will be speaking briefly about the Jackson County 1/4 cent sales tax referendum to be on the June 7 Primary ballot.
The event is followed by a “Meet and Greet” with area Democratic Candidates.

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