6th district House candidates differ on Iraq, Nafta, drilling

by Jordan Green

Republican Rep. Howard Coble, a 24-year incumbent representing North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, attempted to dismantle Dr. Teresa Sue Bratton with his homespun wit in an Oct. 21 debate at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Greensboro. His Democratic challenger floated a wide array of policy ideas in an attempt to define herself against Coble, and drew laughs when she stumbled over an anecdote about German teenagers getting paid to procreate.

“Teresa Sue, you will not be the physician in this exercise,” the 77-year-old Coble said at the outset of the debate moderated by retired UNCG political science professor David Olson. “You and I will be the patients.”

Coble has bested previous Democratic challengers with returns upwards of 70 percent in past elections. His district, which includes Randolph, Moore, Davidson, and parts of Guilford, Alamance and Rowan counties, is the most Republican-leaning in the state.

Although Bratton, a 60-year-old pediatric allergist, launched her campaign because of her opposition to Coble’s 2007 vote against funding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and has maintained a focus on expanding healthcare coverage, the two candidates sketched out differences on four other signal issues.

Coble spoke in favor of domestic offshore oil drilling.

“We’re going to have to develop, I think, more domestically,” he said. “That’s one issue, ladies and gentlemen, where the Republicans in the House have held higher ground than have the Democrats. Every time an energy-laced bill came before us, Republicans voted overwhelmingly in favor of exploring.”

Bratton countered, “Instead of investing in new drilling equipment that will not produce any change in our gas price or drop in our problems for ten years, we need to use those ten years to fully develop our renewable energy sources.”

Coble voted to authorize President Bush to go to war with Iraq in 2003, but as early as 2005 he criticized the administration’s lack of a post-invasion strategy. During his debate with Bratton he sounded hawkish notes.

“I believe and believed today that Saddam Hussein is an international terrorist,” he said. “I furthermore believed and believe today that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq…. They’ve never been found, so I guess the burden would be on me to prove it.”

Coble voted against the surge but said on Oct. 21 that he thought it has worked.

“I would like to get our troops home sooner rather than later,” he said. “I think a time table, if you will, I think we need to reserve that to the commanders on the ground, who obviously have an advantage over us.” Coble added, “I do feel like we can’t cut and run today.”

Bratton called for an end to the war.

“We need to disengage as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible,” she said. “We need these funds at home, and we need our troops at home.”

Bratton downplayed the success of the surge, as temporary and artificial.

“One of the reasons the surge worked is we paid the leaders of the Sunnis and Shia to not fight, which is one of the reasons why we are losing so much money,” she said. “When we leave, if someone doesn’t keep paying them, I’m sure that they will do what they want to do.”

Bratton said the United States must insist on more environmental and worker protections in international trade pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

“When we instituted NAFTA, not only did many of our states here suffer — although some have prospered; Texas prospered — but we destroyed the economy for many farmers and many small businessmen in Mexico. We didn’t do much good on either side of the border.”

Coble voted in favor of NAFTA in 1994.

“If the vote were tomorrow, I would vote in favor of NAFTA again,” he said. “I think NAFTA has been a nicely compacted trade deal with our friends to the north and to the south. I think it’s served us well…. I think it has served not only America favorably, but Mexico and Canada as well.”

The two candidates found room for agreement on a culturally polarizing corollary to trade, that being immigration.

“I have talked to tobacco farmers specifically, farmers generally, pork producers, landscapers, restaurateurs, and they assure me that if the arsenal from which they draw these guest workers is foreclosed to them, then it would be financially devastating,” Coble said. “And I don’t doubt that.”

Bratton’s comment prompted laughter, and perhaps distracted from her point.

“Right now, in Germany, they’re paying teenagers to have sex when they go to rock concerts so they can have more babies because they need more young people to be workers,” she said. “We have a tremendous number of immigrants who are coming in and are ready to work. I think we should make them documented and have them work.”

Later, she said the information came from a news article dated more than five years ago she could not say with certainty that the German government made the payments and she doubted the practice was continuing. In any case, she acknowledged that she could have chosen a more effective anecdote to make her argument that creating a pathway to citizenship would help the United State’s Social Security system maintain solvency.

The candidates expressed disagreement on the issue of campaign finance.

“We can save money and we can make our campaigns better if we work to make them publicly financed,” Bratton said.

Coble has traditionally opposed publicly funded campaigns.

“I think that should be up to the individual candidates,” he said. “Money in politics is an obscenity, as far as I’m concerned. I remember when I first ran, Teresa Sue, I’d rather take twenty lashes across the back than ask someone for a fifty-dollar contribution. It’s gotten out of hand, but I don’t believe it’s going to be cured by public financing. I would still rather have the private sector involved more prominently in the financing of campaigns.”

As of Oct. 15, Coble has reported raising $519,760 in the current cycle, almost five times the amount that Bratton has raised. The Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics ranks lawyers; TV, movies and music; and pharmaceuticals as the top three industries contributing to Coble’s campaign over his career.

Coble said, “To coin a well-worn phrase, I voted no before I voted yes” on the recent financial bailout.” The congressman said he voted no the first time because telephone calls from constituents were running about 90-1 in opposition. He wasn’t enthusiastic about the first bill, but he thought the second one was dramatically improved.

“The [federal deposit insurance] amount threshold was raised to about $250,000, a good proposal,” he said. “The alternative minimum tax was given a one-year patch to benefit between 20 and 21 million middle-class families.”

Bratton said she would have voted for both bills.

“I agree with Representative Coble that raising the FDIC limit to $250,000 was excellent,” she said. “And the alternative minimum change was excellent.”

Bratton smiled throughout the debate, but generally avoided making eye contact with Coble. As her opponent spoke, the Democratic challenger took copious notes. At the end of the debate, when Coble said, “I have enjoyed getting to know my worthy adversary,” she gave a quick glance in his direction to acknowledge the compliment.

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