From seniors to freshmen - in Congress, that is
For more than a decade, residents of the High Point area could approach a congressman of each party who has had seniority — and the clout that comes with it — to secure support in Congress for local requests.
But after next year, High Pointers could find themselves in the opposite situation, represented by a pair of freshmen congressmen following the long terms of Reps. Howard Coble, R-6th, and Mel Watt, D-12th.
Coble, the longest-serving current member of the North Carolina congressional delegation, announced last Thursday that he will retire after his 15th term concludes at the end of next year. The 82-year-old congressman cited health issues as the reason for his departure.
Meanwhile, the other congressman who serves most of High Point with Coble is awaiting word on whether he’ll join the administration of President Barack Obama. Watt, who is in his 11th term, is seeking confirmation from the Senate on becoming the next head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. He would leave Congress if confirmed to the post.
Watt has indicated that he’ll announce a decision next month or in January about whether he’ll seek re-election if the Senate hasn’t acted. But Federal Election Commission reports show that Watt isn’t actively raising campaign money now.
The High Point area and Triad initially could have a more difficult time securing federal resources for projects, especially competitive ones, with a simultaneous departure of Coble and Watt, said Matthew DeSantis, professor of political science at Guilford Technical Community College.
“You could go from two well-established congressmen who understand how deals are done to two freshmen congressmen who may or may not have a ton of experience, with little experience in Washington, D.C., or governance in general,” DeSantis told The High Point Enterprise.
The importance of clout in Congress to help with a major local project is reflected in work Coble did last decade to help the High Point Market, the city and state’s largest single economic event.
When High Point was dueling with the upstart World Market Center in Las Vegas, Coble helped secure federal money to build the Mendenhall Transportation Terminal. The terminal is the nerve center for shuttle service to and from the furniture market district. The terminal and shuttle service are credited with helping High Point combat the Las Vegas furniture market and keep High Point in its role as the world’s largest home furnishings trade show.
The transportation terminal, which was completed six years ago, cost $11.2 million, according to the High Point Market Authority. The terminal, between the International Home Furnishings Center and Showplace, handles tens of thousands of marketgoers on shuttles and vans during each spring and fall trade show.
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Rep. Howard Coble, R-6th, has received praise for his service from fellow elected officials on both sides of the political aisle since announcing his retirement last Thursday. Here’s a sample:
Don Webb, longtime Republican activist from High Point and candidate to replace Coble: “I want to thank Congressman Coble for his many years of service on behalf of the people of the Sixth District. He has always been accessible to his constituents, visible in the district and gracious in his dealings with friends and foes alike.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan: “He set an example for outstanding constituent service that the North Carolinians he helped will never forget. I thank Howard for his many years of dedicated service to our state and I wish him well in retirement.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr: “Congressman Coble has been a steadfast voice for North Carolina in Washington for nearly 30 years and he will be sorely missed. Having served with Howard for many years, I am proud to call him a friend and mentor.”
Democratic 6th District candidate Laura Fjeld: “I applaud Howard Coble. He’s a dedicated public servant who has worked hard for North Carolina for over 30 years.”