GREENSBORO — U.S. Congressman Howard Coble representing the 6th District of North Carolina announced he would not seek re-election at a news conference on Thursday.
The congressman began his tenure in 1985.
The oldest serving elected official in the history of North Carolina revealed he is plagued by skin cancer, kidney and back problems, and mounting a re-election would be difficult due to his health issues.
Coble has not endorsed a replacement, but revealed that many qualified candidates have stepped up to the plate.
“There are good candidates out there and I’ve had discussions with them,” he said.
Coble made an unexpected appearance on Wednesday night at the second annual Southeastern United Grape and Wine Symposium held at Surry Community College.
In an impromptu interview, the congressman said he was delighted to return to Surry County.
“I am delighted to be a guest of Surry Community College tonight. I am a huge supporter of the programs here. I am looking forward to the wine tasting tonight,” said Coble.
During the interview, the congressman offered insight on several topics.
“As you know, Congress is in its district work period now, so what I do is cover as much ground as possible, with Surry being one of my eight new counties. It’s been a very productive work period and I’m always delighted to meet new people and share the work we’re doing,” said Coble.
The congressman was asked if he had any regrets through any votes he’s cast over the years.
“I went to a Kiwanis Club meeting yesterday and they asked if I regretted taking any votes, just like you asked. I said I regretted not taking the pension,” said Coble. “However, one of the reasons not doing it was that taxpayers pay my salary and I didn’t think they deserve to pay my pension, too.”
At one point and in laughter, the congressman said not accepting the pension was probably one of the dumbest things he’s ever done.
Coble has historically opposed pay increases and excessive benefits for members of Congress. Coble, a fiscal conservative, has voted repeatedly against pay raises for members of Congress, too. Since the 1989 reforms to ethics rules, the congressional pay rise has been automatic unless the House passes legislation prohibiting the increase.
“When I retire, I will not be eligible to remain on the congressional health plan because I have refused the congressional pension plan,” Coble reiterated.
The congressman made some assessments of Tuesday’s election for the Republicans.
“I am just elated about Governor Christie (New Jersey). We just re-elected a red governor in a blue state. I’m very high on him. I think he’s a good man. Some say he’s too liberal, but I feel we need to make the Republican tent large enough to accommodate Christie and Cruz from Texas,” said Coble.
When asked if Christie should run for president, Coble said that such matters would need to be decided sooner rather than later.
Closer to home, the recent win by conservative leaning insurgent Bob Norton to the nonpartisan Elkin Board of Commissioner seat was discussed.
“I am well to the right of center. I am classified as a conservative. I’m aware of his conservative-leaning style and being elected to the commissioner’s seat in Elkin. I wish him great luck,” said Coble.
During the recent government shutdown, Coble stated that a portion of his paycheck was donated to the Elkin Rescue Squad.
Coble has raised little money for re-election, according to campaign filings.
After winning his first two elections by close margins, Coble has comfortably won ever since.
Health concerns have been a struggle for the aging congressman.
In late August, Coble canceled several events so he could recover from what his staff called a dermatology procedure.
In July, Coble had surgery at a Washington hospital for a hernia, and doctors called the procedure a success.
In February, he nearly fainted before heading to Washington, D.C., and spent a day in the hospital. He had been dizzy and light-headed for weeks.
Coble underwent back surgery in June 2012, and he spent two weeks in the hospital in December 2011 for treatment of an upper respiratory infection.
Wednesday night, Coble struggled to keep his balance and needed to lean back and use a pillar to hold himself up.
Coble rejected any assistance by staff and appeared focused, sharp, and in tune with all questions and his answers.
Several Surry County families who greeted the congressman were discussing schools their children were attending. Coble would shout the name of each mascot associated with every high school.
Reach Anthony Gonzalez at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.