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Honoring Howard Coble

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Sunday, 08 Nov 2015 08:21 AM Current | Bio | Archive

From his fellow North Carolina politicians to onetime colleagues in Congress to reporters who loved to cover him, everyone had a story about Howard Coble following the news last Tuesday that the former Republican congressman died at age 83.

“An unforgettable old school gentleman as well as an astute and skilled politician,” is how veteran North Carolina GOP consultant Marc Rotterman recalled him.

Coble, who served in Congress from 1984 until his retirement last year, was an “original,” right down to his signature fedora and cigar and his distinctive drawl.

“When you go out on a date with me, it’s a cheap date — movie and dinner after at a place that’s not expensive,” Coble (who never married) told me more than 20 years ago, “Yep. I’m cheap in my personal life and a fiscal skinflint in my public responsibilities.”

With a lifetime rating of 87 percent from the American Conservative Union, Coble would personally comb the federal budget looking for things to “pencil out.” Admirers even gave him a giant rubber pencil to highlight his efforts, which the congressman proudly displayed in his office.

A former state representative and state secretary of revenue, Coble won his first term in Congress in 1984 by unseating Democratic Rep. Robin Britt. Arriving in Washington as Ronald Reagan was winning his second term, the North Carolinian joined a Republican House class that included future Majority Leaders Dick Armey and Tom DeLay.

Another classmate was Connecticut Rep. and future Gov. John Rowland, who recalled to me how “Howard’s office was a few doors down from me and he was one of the most charming guys in the chamber. I walked back and forth from votes with him almost every day. He treated everyone with utmost respect, and with kindness and compassion. My entire staff adored him and the elevator operators loved him.”

Rowland “wanted to show my constituents what these southern guys sounded like, so every week he did my cable TV show with me. ‘Hollywood Howard,’ which was funny because no one was more un-Hollywood than he was.”

The ’84 election also left one House race undecided: that in Indiana’s 8th District, with Republican Rick McIntyre narrowly leading in all election night counts and holding a certificate of election, but the Democratic majority in Congress refusing to seat him because of disputes over some ballots.

A subsequent recount by a special House panel chaired by then-California Rep. (and future Secretary of Defense) Leon Panetta came up results showing Democratic Rep. Frank McCloskey defeating McIntyre by four votes.

When McCloskey was sworn in by Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill, House Republicans to a person angrily stormed out of the chamber and many wore buttons proclaiming: “Thou Shalt Not Steal.”

Reporters who covered Congress at the time usually agree that the McIntyre-McCloskey dispute was the beginning of the end of the camaraderie that existed in the House among Members of different parties.

“That’s probably correct,” Coble recalled to me upon his retirement in 2013. “But in the ’80s, the House was still a place where you could have a drink with a Democrat at the end of the day. Not now, that’s for sure. I prefer things the way they were when I got here.”

In 1986, Coble survived a rematch with Britt by 79 votes in the closest House race of all 435 that year. Since then, the feisty Republican had little trouble winning re-election.

Although he supported Republican efforts in the House that defunded or delayed implementation of Obamacare, Coble said it may have been a tactical error to link the issue to the continuing resolution and the debt-ceiling extension bills.

"Perhaps a better tactic would have been to allow Obamacare to go into effect, and as we are witnessing now, then collapse from its own dead weight."

Coble was also one of the few House members in modern times who did not participate in the congressional pension program.

"I'll get something from the state and something from the Coast Guard and Social Security, so I don't need any more retirement," he told me.

Coble said his proudest accomplishment was "removing the requirement of financial gain for criminal prosecution of copyright violation." In 1997, the House passed the No Electronic Theft (NET) Act that Coble had worked to secure passage of for so long.

“Howard was smart, unassuming and old school,” said John Rowland, “We need more old school in Washington these days. I loved him and I’ll miss him.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.   

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Everyone had a story about Howard Coble following the news last Tuesday that the former Republican congressman died at age 83.
howard coble, acu
Sunday, 08 Nov 2015 08:21 AM
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