Rep. Howard Coble (R)
North Carolina 6th District
For more than half a century, furniture store managers and owners from all over the country twice a year have converged on the huge Furniture Mart in High Point, the center of the U.S. furniture business. The giant trade show put on by manufacturers now attracts about 70,000 visitors. High Point sits amid rolling farmland originally settled by Quakers. It was the site of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in the Revolutionary War. The furniture business grew here early in the 20th century because of the hardwoods in the mountains not far west and the abundance of low-wage labor in the flatlands not far east. For many years, the furniture business has proven more resilient than textiles and tobacco, but lately it has faced serious competition from China, and many furniture jobs have been lost, including more than 6,000 jobs in this area since 2000. Some local businesses have been reaching out to China, with increased textile and fabric exports. The Triad area—Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem—has been forced to scramble for new engines of economic growth to keep pace with booming Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte. FedEx planned to open in 2009 a new hub at Piedmont Triad International Airport, between Winston-Salem and Greensboro, with some 1,500 workers. That has led other firms to plan distribution centers to utilize the new facility as part of what one business expert termed an “aerotropolis.” At the same time, the region’s Hispanic population is growing. The town of Robbins in Moore County—the childhood home of John Edwards, former Democratic vice presidential candidate and North Carolina senator—was 48% Hispanic by 2007, as Latinos moved in for jobs in chicken processing and furniture making.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 6th Congressional District of North Carolina is centered on greater Greensboro and High Point, which collectively cast about one-third of its votes. The Furniture Mart itself is not physically located within the 6th, but the district takes in other parts of High Point, which calls itself “North Carolina’s International City,” plus Quaker-settled Randolph County. Moore County and its numerous golf courses are in the district, as are parts of furniture-manufacturing Davidson County, most of textile-making Alamance County, much of populous Guilford County (though not central Greensboro), and the eastern half of Rowan County. Many of these areas are historically Republican, and others have moved in that direction in the past generation. This district has the highest share of registered Republicans in North Carolina.
Rep. Howard Coble (R)
Elected: 1984, 13th term.
Born: March 18, 1931, Greensboro .
Education: Appalachian St. U., 1949-50, Guilford Col., B.A. 1958, U. of NC, J.D. 1962.
Military career: Coast Guard, 1952–56, 1977–78, Coast Guard Reserves, 1960–81.
Elected office: NC House of Reps., 1968–70, 1978–84.
Professional Career: Claims rep., State Farm Ins., 1961-67; Asst. Guilford Cnty. atty., 1967-69; Asst. U.S. atty., NC Middle Dist., 1969–73; Secy., NC Dept. of Revenue, 1973–77; Practicing atty., 1979–83.
The congressman from the 6th District is Howard Coble, a Republican first elected in 1984. He grew up in Guilford County and went to Guilford College. After wrecking his father’s car, he fled to the Coast Guard, where he started off collecting garbage and served for five years. He was an insurance claims representative, went to law school, and became an assistant U.S. attorney and the state revenue commissioner. He served in the state House for eight years. Coble was elected to Congress in what was then a swing district. It was the third time the 6th District had changed parties in three elections. Coble won re-election in 1986 by just 79 votes, in a contest that Democrats complained was decided by the Guilford County election board’s refusal to hold a recount. But his personal popularity and redistricting have made this a safe seat.
|Howard Coble (R)||221,018||(67%)||($688,818)|
|Teresa Sue Bratton (D)||108,873||(33%)||($105,750)|
|Howard Coble (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (71%), 2004 (73%), 2002 (90%), 2000 (91%), 1998 (89%), 1996 (73%), 1994 (100%), 1992 (71%), 1990 (67%), 1988 (62%), 1986 (50%), 1984 (51%)
Coble is a friendly man who asks visitors if they mind if he smokes his cheap cigars. He likes bluegrass music and eats pork brains and eggs for breakfast. His voting record is mostly conservative, with interesting twists. He is tightfisted, and since his first term, he has tried to pass legislation to abolish pensions or health coverage for congressional retirees, which he calls “a taxpayer rip-off.” He hasn’t found many co-sponsors, but he has refused to back down on his pledge to boycott the program himself. Like many of his constituents, he is leery of free trade. He initially opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement but voted for it in 1993. But he has opposed subsequent trade initiatives, including normalizing trade relations with China and the 2005 Central America Free Trade Agreement.
“I see my role more as one of keeping bad legislation off the books,” Coble once said. But as a subcommittee chairman he was legislatively productive. As chairman of the Courts and Intellectual Property Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, Coble argued that industries that depend on copyrights produce more GDP than does manufacturing, and he has supported greater protection for intellectual property. When the Bush administration sought budget cuts from the Patent and Trademark Office, Coble told the appropriators to “keep their grubby paws out of the PTO’s coffers.” In 2002, he shepherded the enactment of additional changes in the patent law, including the development of an electronic system for the filing and processing of patent and trademark applications. In 2004, the Judiciary Committee approved his bill to protect commercial databases from piracy. Despite his own limitations in operating a computer, the nearly 80-year-old Coble is a major cheerleader for the digital revolution and says he has come to appreciate the Internet.
In 2003, when Republicans controlled the House, Coble was chairman of the Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Subcommittee of Judiciary. The House passed his bill to modernize the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives with new investigative powers against rogue dealers of firearms. He was in line to become the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee in 2007, after Democrats won control, but GOP leaders gave the post to Lamar Smith of Texas, a more prolific party fundraiser. Coble, instead, got the top Republican post on the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property.
Coble voted in 2002 to authorize the use of force in Iraq, but by 2005 he began to distance himself from the party position and raised questions about President Bush’s war policy. In February 2007, he was one of 17 House Republicans to vote for the resolution opposing Bush’s plans for a “surge” of troop strength to try to restore order in Iraq. But he opposed Democratic measures imposing a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops. In January 2008, he was one of 35 House members who voted against tax rebates that were designed to stimulate the economy, saying the rebates were like “applying a Band-Aid to a problem that requires major surgery.” After first opposing the $700 billion bailout of the financial markets later that year, he cited warnings from local business leaders of a looming liquidity crisis and voted for the bill.
In July 2008, Coble broke James Broyhill’s record for the longest tenure in the U.S. House of a Republican from North Carolina. Broyhill served 23 years, from 1963 to 1986. When Coble faces a Democratic opponent, which isn’t very often, he typically exceeds 70% of the vote. Democrats view this seat as possibly competitive once Coble departs, but that seems a stretch. More likely, the district’s future could hinge on redistricting.