Politicians taken to task in print one day usually aren’t overly gracious the next. When the Herald’s front-desk clerk rang the newsroom Tuesday to announce that state Rep. Mike Clampitt, R-Swain, was downstairs asking to see me, I braced myself for the possibility, nay, the likelihood, of unpleasantries to come.
I believe in facing the people I write about, particularly those I’ve left feeling stung and bruised. I figure that if you throw punches, hey, guess what? Some people want to punch back. Just as long as the punching remains in the figurative realm, I think it only fair to allow self-perceived victims of my naughty pen to vent their grievances.
A journalist in another town hid under his desk when a high school principal came calling, a former member of the Green Berets, someone he’d flayed in print for reasons I’ve since forgotten. I pride myself on not making like a groundhog in similar circumstances. Though, to be fair, our fine House representative, a short, stocky retired fireman, can’t instill the sheer terror inherent to a well-muscled, 6-foot, 5-inch tall, trained-to-kill educator.
Meanwhile, those around me, the Herald’s news reporters and sports editor, visibly perked up, beaming – one and all – in gleeful anticipation of witnessing a showdown at my expense. (News people are like that, the cur dogs. How someone of such belletristic sensibilities as myself landed amid the ink-stained riffraff is a mystery of the ages.)
I asked the clerk to please have Mr. Clampitt wend his way upstairs to our luxurious office suites. When Clampitt manifested at the hall corner, he looked me in the eye and … smiled. Best that I could judge, it was a genuine smile. Whether it actually was or was not, those upwardly curled lips portend a better future in the political arena than I’d predicted previously to my newsroom pals.
If you can smile at the columnist who publicly, in forever-print, described your behavior as that of a schoolyard bully and lambasted your personality as something akin to a banty rooster … well, there’s simply no limit, is there?
In the event you skipped that column, I offer this brief recap. Clampitt held a Town Hall meeting in Sylva. Following boorish behavior by some in the crowd, our neophyte House representative responded with like, if not worse, behavior of his own. His demeanor was overbearing; his attitude combative; his bearing pompous, pugnacious and self righteous. Other than that, it went swell.
To my astonishment, during our wee little powwow confab getting-to-know-you get-together, Clampitt expressed dissatisfaction about a single point made in a column bristling with considerably more damaging observations. He took umbrage at my having scoffed at his assertion there is a proliferation of jobs in the region, the problem being this: people can’t pass their drug tests. He handed me educational material about the opioid crisis, as well as some state legislation, written by others, intended to quash the problem.
I remain unpersuaded. It’s like making the observation there’s ample shelter for Jackson County’s homeless if they’d only avail themselves of the many cardboard boxes. Yes, there’s an opioid crisis; some people can’t pass drug tests; however, that does not mean, ergo, there are plenty of jobs.
But, let’s not be small and picky.
Clampitt showed commendable, admirable, baffling affability. Next time an irate politician pays me a visit, I’ll be sure to extol the man as a model, the politico who took his medicine like a champ.
Quintin Ellison is the editor of The Sylva Herald.