Foriest aims to unseat entrenched Coble

by Eric Ginsburg

Both candidates for the North Carolina’s 6th District in the US Congress are criticizing the politics in Washington, DC to energize supporters, even though one of them is an incumbent who has been serving in the capital for more than 25 years.

Tony Foriest, the Democratic challenger to conservative Republican Howard Coble in a district covering the central-northern part of the state, including a significant portion of Guilford County, said a major reason he is running is frustration with how the US Congress has been operating.

“I’m very disenchanted with the 112th Congress,” Foriest said, adding that the body was “kicking the can down the road” and unproductive. “My opponent is part of that. He’s part of that traditional Congress that’s been there for a very long time. I think basically the government should work for the people and not some sort of special interest or the privileged few. He’s part of what is wrong.”

Foriest, who served as a state senator covering Alamance and Caswell Counties from 2006 to 2010, said “grandstanding and confrontation” marked the Congress rather than a desire to address real issues and create solutions. Coble, who easily defeated Republican challengers Bill Flynn and Guilford County Commissioner Billy Yow in the primary, said it wasn’t really an issue.

“Some grandstanding is typical in the political arena, but I don’t think that’s been abused,” Coble said, adding that he would be happy to see more bipartisanship. “I don’t think the rancor is as bad as some of the media claims it to be.”

The 6th District was dramatically redrawn in the latest redistricting process, roughly balancing the number of registered Democrats and Republicans and maintaining a large number of independent voters, Foriest said.

In his interview and in his advertisements, Coble emphasized his opposition to Congressional pensions as an example of wasteful government

spending and the need for politicians like him who would wield a “sharp pencil” to do so. In an ad wrapping the front and back covers of last week’s Rhinoceros Times, Coble prominently cited his refusal to take a congressional pension four times. Foriest said the incumbent’s stance on the issue was “inconsequential.”

“He’s talking about whether he takes pension or not. Well, that’s nice, but so what?” Foriest said. “It isn’t an issue for the US Congress. Don’t let that [issue] take up valuable debating time.”

Foriest said there were several other issues that were more important to him, such as fixing the nation’s broken immigration system.

“My priority is getting our people back to work,” the site says. “The opportunity to feed our families through meaningful employment has to supersede partisan bickering.”

His website states the importance of access to quality education and healthcare, fair regulations and taxes and a recovery that isn’t “balanced on the back of those without a voice.”

When asked, Foriest provided more specifics on his stances on several issues outlined on his site. When it comes to education, Foriest said he was concerned about charter schools and vouchers.

“I’m not against charter schools but I am not in favor of building them up at the expense of traditional public education,” Foriest said, adding that students and resources leaving traditional public schools would leave the school system to educate the least fortunate pupils with significantly reduced resources.

Coble’s stance on education, which is spelled out on his website, emphasizes the need for local control.

“If the issue can be solved by the city, county or state then it should be,” the site says. “The last resort should to be to rely on the federal government to tell our NC families how to educate their children.”

The candidates clash more directly on healthcare and immigration. Coble said he doesn’t believe “Obamacare” is constitutional, but that there are likely more important issues to focus on “because people are living longer.” He opposes amnesty for undocumented immigrants and said we must “secure our borders.”

“We simply cannot afford to offer permanent legal status to people who are here illegally,” Coble’s website states. “We cannot reward those who entered our country illegally by giving them a head start above those who are playing by the rules and trying to become American citizens through proper and legal channels.”

Foriest said everyone wants affordable healthcare and instead of working to make the Affordable Care Act work, Republicans have been trying to dismantle it. Foriest said he wasn’t an expert on immigration but that the current system was broken and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants needs to be created.

“[Immigration] is one of those things that keeps being kicked down the road,” Foriest said. “A way needs to be made clear for people who are paying taxes, working and wanting to do the right thing” Coble said he is confident Gov. Mitt Romney will win in North Carolina and hoped Romney would win the election overall, which he said would bear “imminent positive results” in Congress because the president would be on their side for issues like increased drilling for oil and coal usage. President Obama should have more fully supported the Keystone Pipeline project in the central part of the country, Coble said, because it will create thousands of jobs and increase energy independence.

Speaking about oil drilling, Foriest said he opposes short-term solutions that put profit before the interests of people and that the country needs to prioritize exploring other types of energy.

Coble is known for his strong constituent services, something he is proud of alongside his high attendance record. His services are so strong Foriest said he would seek to emulate the incumbent’s example and said he is ready to work 10-12 hour days as he did in the NC Senate, but added that constituent services alone don’t make a good representative.

“The thing is, there is more to representing this district and this area than constituent services,” Foriest said. “That will be a major priority but there is a lot more to being a congressman.”

Foriest has not raised any money from political action committees, or PACs, and is his own campaign’s biggest contributor. Coble has received more than $280,000 from different PACs, most of which are out of state and which represent an array of industries. With the changed demographics of the district and a grassroots campaign, Foriest hopes he can win what he called an “uphill battle” against Coble and said he is counting on people being ready for a change.