GREENSBORO — U.S. Rep. Howard Coble will not seek re-election to the 6th District of North Carolina, a seat he has held since Ronald Reagan was president.
He announced his plans during a news conference his office called Thursday. The 15-term congressman first one election to the House of Representatives in 1984.
The oldest serving elected official in the history of North Carolina said he was concerned recent health issues, combined with his age — he is 82 — would make campaigning difficult. In recent years he has been plagued by skin cancer, kidney and back problems.
Coble has not endorsed a replacement, but said that many qualified candidates may step forward.
“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 at Surry Community College.
In an impromptu interview, the congressman said he was happy to be in 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.
Wednesday night, he reflected on some of his time in office, and laughed about one good-natured regret he had from his time in office.
“I went to a Kiwanis Club meeting yesterday and they asked if I regretted taking any votes…I said I regretted not taking the pension,” Coble said of the pension offered to those who serve in Congress. “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. 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 Gov. 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.
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.
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