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Editorial: Coble, the ‘old-school’ public servant

Political friends of former U.S. Rep. Howard Coble thought it was more than a coincidence this longtime congressman from North Carolina’s 6th District died on Election Night.

Coble, 84, had won so many elections over his career in public office that if he had to leave this world now, his friends could not think of a more appropriate day.

In the work his Washington, D.C., and district offices did for constituents and in his down-home manner and conservative principles, Coble drew comparisons to the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, though Helms had a knack for drawing a lot more attention.

The way Coble welcomed you into his office or greeted you during one of his tours in the district and asked about your family endeared him to many constituents. Those attributes also drew comparisons of Coble, a diehard Republican, to the late N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Jim Graham, a diehard Democrat.

Former Landis Mayor Fred Steen, now Gov. Pat McCrory’s legislative director, described Coble perfectly when he said many people looked on him as their favorite uncle. Coble seemed comfortable in his straw hats and loud sport jackets, which fed right into the genuine persona he expertly cultivated.

Likewise, he wore his conservative mantle well, but did so in a manner that drew respect from Democrats as well as Republicans. He used the professionalism he learned as an attorney to his advantage.

Coble benefited greatly over his decades in Congress from a district drawn to favor Republicans. His biggest challenges every election year came from Republicans in the primary, but it always proved too difficult for the GOP opponents to unseat Uncle Howard. He had the conservative credentials, constituent service, downright friendliness and power of incumbency to make unseating him virtually impossible.

Coble also followed a path to his congressional seat borne of important experience. He served in the Coast Guard and was a federal prosecutor, state legislator and secretary of the N.C. Department of Revenue before he ran for the U.S. House. Few people today bring that kind of background and expertise to Congress.

Coble deserves high praise for his decision not to accept the high-value federal pension due to him — something he thought was too out of whack for other taxpayers to absorb.

Coble was definitely an old-school politician. It’s a shame “old-school” is the term used these days for a public servant who was principled, experienced, hard-working and friendly.

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