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Coble on new district: ‘Losing family”

Howard Coble’s voice was more gravelly than usual on the phone Friday.
“Just getting over my Christmas cold,” the 81-year-old said.
But the Republican congressman sounded feisty as ever, fielding questions and lamenting the fact that the last round of redistricting radically changed his district.
For two decades, some part of Rowan County was in Coble’s district. But no more. He lost all but two counties in his old district and gained parts or all of eight new ones.
He can rattle off the new ones pretty quickly — “Surry, Stokes, Rockingham, Caswell, Person, Granville, Orange and Durham.”
Orange and Durham jump out at anyone who knows North Carolina politics. Those are strong Democratic areas, and Coble is a conservative Republican.

That’s unlikely to change the way he votes. But Coble gets the feeling he’s leaving something behind as he begins his first term representing the newly drawn district.
“You’re losing family,” Coble said. For 20 years, he visited our communities, addressed constituent concerns, worked with local staff. And then — poof! — they’re not his anymore.
“They were not unlike family,” Coble said. “It was heartbreaking to close the Granite Quarry office.”
Redistricting is old news, the result of the 2011 General Assembly’s work. We voted along the new district lines in November. But with Coble’s Rowan County office closing for good last month, some words should be said at the end of his long stint as one of Rowan’s representatives in the U.S. House.
Words like “thanks.” And “you’re one of a kind.”
Somewhere in the Post’s files, we have a photo of Coble touring the Frito-Lay plant here. Like all the workers in the photo, he’s wearing a hair net. Out of respect for the congressman — and because I can’t find it — we won’t reprint that photo now. We’ll keep looking.

Coble was sworn in for his 15th term Thursday, just days after casting a vote that surprised many. He supported the tax bill that averted the fiscal cliff and raised income taxes on those making $450,000 or more — a bill Republican hardliners treated like poison.
Coble is known for being tight-fisted, and the American Conservative Union has given him a lifetime award. He has fought the congressional pension program and refused to participate because he considers it a taxpayer ripoff. Unlike his more ideological conservative peers, though, he has a practical streak.
Coble said he supported the bill for several reasons. He wanted to protect tax cuts for the 99 percent of Americans who don’t make $450,000 or more annually. (Again we say, “Thanks.”) And he especially liked the fact that the bill staved off an estate-tax hike — one of the bill’s more “salient” points, he said. The amount of an estate exempt from the tax was set to drop on Jan. 1 from $5 million to $1 million, with the rest taxed at 50 percent. The bill kept the $5 million exemption in place and set the tax rate on the remainder at 40 percent.
That might sound like strictly a rich person’s problem, but to the agricultural community, the tax can make the difference between passing the family farm on to the next generation or losing it in a fire sale to pay estate taxes. We need to protect family farms, not aid their extinction.

“American people generally hate the Congress, but they love their congressman,” Coble said at a Lincoln Day dinner here in 1992. “Respect” may be more accurate than “love,” but you get the idea.
Will Rowan County warm up to Virginia Foxx and Richard Hudson, our new representatives, in the same way? Probably, in time. But they’re no Howard Coble.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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