As popular as Howard Coble was in North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, he still wasn’t appreciated enough.
Coble was the rare politician who served the people, not himself. He was affable, funny, modest and accessible. He seemed to know all his constituents and treated them like friends rather than voters to use for his own benefit.
Like a favorite uncle, he never wore out his welcome. New generations of voters embraced him during his 30 years in office.
Coble, a Republican, had a friendly district, but he made it friendlier by never putting partisanship ahead of people. The few people who didn’t vote for him still liked him and found him personally agreeable. More importantly, he didn’t distinguish between political supporter and opponent in personal relationships or when it came to providing constituent services. He considered it his job to do the best he could for everyone, Republican or Democrat.
After his initial election in 1984, Coble ran again every two years. But his campaigns resembled his normal schedule of activities — traveling through the district, attending all sorts of events and constantly meeting the people. He didn’t belittle opponents or run attack ads or surrender the dignity of his office. Sixth District residents were spared the ugliness of nasty, expensive, negative campaigns like those they saw elsewhere. Such tactics would be foreign to Coble’s character, and if anyone used them against him, well, they would be sure to fail.
Coble was conservative but hardly an ideologue. He wasn’t for shutting down the government or any kind of political brinkmanship. He did care about protecting his district’s textile, furniture and tobacco industries, and he would seek federal funding for local projects if the money would be used effectively and achieve a worthwhile objective. Coble, a Coast Guard veteran, voted to authorize the war in Iraq but later came to regret it, speaking candidly about the failure to design an exit strategy. He famously refused to participate in the congressional pension plan, calling it far too generous, but later he called that stance a mistake. Nobody on Capitol Hill supported his effort to do away with the pension, and he probably worried about a leaner retirement than he might have had.
Coble died Tuesday at 84, just 10 months after leaving office. It’s sad he didn’t have more time to rest after so many years of hard work — not that he ever seemed to consider his job a labor.
Many people say Coble won’t be forgotten. He shouldn’t be, and not only for his personal kindness and common touch.
He represented a better way to conduct oneself in politics. Differences of opinion shouldn’t translate to personal animosities. Office holders should treat everyone with respect. Maintaining one’s principles doesn’t mean closing one’s mind to other people’s views. Coble is getting tributes from people of all political persuasions for a simple reason: He earned them.
One of the last comments Coble made on a public issue concerned the Greensboro City Council bill, which was proposed and ultimately approved by the Republican state legislature. Typically, he wasn’t bound by partisan loyalty.
“The bill should have originated with the people of Greensboro since they are the ones affected by it,” he said in March.
Coble put the people first, and that’s why they embraced him as their congressman.