Congressman Howard Coble’s legacy

Online Guide to House Members and Senators /Wikipedia Public Domain

Online Guide to House Members and Senators /Wikipedia Public Domain

Mark Parent
Opinions Editor

Last Tuesday, the longest serving U.S. congressman in North Carolina history sadly passed away after more than 30 years of public service.

Howard Coble, a local Greensboro lawyer, was first elected to Congress in 1984 as a part of the Reagan landslide over Walter Mondale. The Sixth District Congressional seat at that time was one prone to change. In fact, Coble’s initial election marked the seat’s third straight transfer of power. It is safe to say, Coble changed that trend.

Despite his popularity, Coble maintained his humble approach to life and service for the entirety of his career, which came to an end when he announced his retirement last January. There is no better example of this than his refusal to accept the very generous Congressional pension plan.

In 2009, CBS News issued a scathing report on the pension system, which found “the bill comes to more than $26 million” per year. Pensions are even available to former members of Congress who are serving prison terms. In light of these abuses, Coble said, “I figured taxpayers pay my salary — not a bad salary — and I figure that’s sufficient. Let me fend for myself after the salary’s collected.”

Another admirable aspect of Coble’s record was his emphasis on constituent services. As a former intern at his High Point District Office, I witnessed firsthand his staff’s unwavering commitment to public service.

BJ Barnes, the Guilford County Sheriff, told the News and Record “what Howard does best is he takes care of his constituents. If you’re not getting your veteran’s checks, if you’re not getting help dealing with the government, he is your doorway.”

This loyalty towards our community, in my opinion, is what set Coble apart from other members of Congress.

Sadly, Howard Coble’s service-oriented approach toward governing is rarely found in today’s politicians. The emergence of polarized political groups has created a political climate that welcomes egotistical populists over moderate problem-solvers.

The best example of this idiotic approach to governing can be found in the state of Texas.

Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck, along with a number of other tea party leaders, is actively searching for an ultra-conservative primary challenger to incumbent Senator John Cornyn. Cornyn, the second-most conservative Senator in the entire chamber according to the National Journal, is a main target of the far-right because of his opposition to the Ted Cruz led defund-Obamacare strategy.

This problem is not exclusive to Republicans. Democratic lawmakers, like Ron Kind of Wisconsin, are facing a barrage of primary challengers for their unwillingness to vote with the party leadership on every bill brought to the House floor.

This polarization, however, is not limited to MSNBC, Fox News and talk radio. Earlier this year, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, found that between 2007 and 2012, political polarization in Washington “might have cost the U.S. 1.75 million jobs.”

This means that when politicians move to their partisan corners and begin hurling ridiculous insults at one another, the people suffer.

The entrenched political voices in Washington, however, ignore these facts and continue on their wayward path.

As unemployment remains at an unacceptably high level, the allocation of food stamp benefits are at the highest level in American history, and our national debt stands at over $17 trillion, our politicians say “my way or the highway” and refuse to even sit down at the table and discuss a possible bipartisan solution.

Howard Coble, a congressman who was in it for the people and not himself, is a rarity.

Regardless of your political beliefs, you have to admit Coble’s willingness to always place his community over his party is something we need more of in Washington.

Here at UNCG, we have an opportunity to stand up to political polarization on a local level.

Our support of problem-solving candidates, on both the left and right, will make an immediate impact in Greensboro and hopefully its effectiveness will set an example for lawmakers in Raleigh and Washington.

It starts with us, now let’s do something about it.

Categories: Columns, Opinions

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