Longworth takes Coble opponent to task

by Jim Longworth

Over the years, as host of “Triad Today,” I have given free air time to as many candidates in key races as possible, including gubernatorial candidates in 2004, and Congressional candidates in ’04 and ’06. We even followed those Congressional interviews with half hour debates leading up to primaries and general elections. It is because of this commitment to voter education that “Triad Today” received the prestigious Spectrum of Democracy Award.

As such, I have always tried to go into these discussions and debates without prejudice for or against any candidate. I have also withheld my endorsements until after all candidates had appeared (or had been given the opportunity to appear) on “Triad Today”. This year, however, I am breaking with that tradition, and ruling out one contestant in the 6th Congressional District race early on.

So far, the North Carolina Democratic Party recognizes two major candidates in the field to unseat Rep. Howard Coble. One is Johnny Carter, a Summerfield business man, and the other is Jay Ovittore, a young house painter. Carter seems to be a serious minded, respectful man with well-thought out positions. Ovittore, meanwhile, has demonstrated that he lacks the maturity to walk the halls of Congress.

Noting that Coble had missed two votes on August 4 and 5, Ovittore told the Greensboro News and Record, “I noticed him (Coble) leaving early at times…maybe it was past his bed time”. Jay’s caustic attempt at humor fell short for a number of reasons. First it was a cruel jab at Coble’s advanced age (he is 76 years old). And, second, it was deliberately misleading. Coble told the News and Record that he had a “constituent appointment” already on the books for those two days, but that he had checked with the House Whip in advance to make sure his absence would not affect the outcome of the scheduled votes.

Everyone is entitled to a slip of the tongue now and then, but Ovittore’s remark was calculated and revealing, and it should tell us all we need to know about this youngster.

Coble’s last opponent , Rory Blake, was gracious and intelligent. He and Coble showed each other respect, and engaged in constructive discourse about the issues. In contrast, Ovittore has blown his chance of being taken seriously. That’s why if I host a debate on “Triad Today” for 6th District candidates, Ovitorre will not be invited. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude when it comes to politics. The fact is I have presided over some pretty spirited political debates including the now famous Vernon Robinson/Virginia Foxx primary skirmish. But the one thing we never allowed on our broadcasts were personal attacks or rude behavior from any candidate toward another.

Ovittore’s childish and mean spirited joke has now cost him an opportunity for free air time on “Triad Today,” and, more importantly, it may have cost him any substantive support from Democratic voters who realize that Coble has been a hard working representative, and was the first Republican to stand up to George Bush about troop withdrawals in Iraq. Of course, Howard doesn’t need my help to get re-elected. That’s because he generally wins with about 70% of the total vote. Still, I thought it was important to send a message to candidates throughout the region that personal attacks and cruel insults are not appreciated, and might prove costly this November.

Assuming Coble dispatches all comers this Fall, he is then expected to retire from Congress in 2010. But, if he wants to stay a little longer, that’s OK with me. I’d rather have someone representing me who is 76 and has the energy of a 25-year-old, than someone who is 25 and has the demeanor of a 10-year-old.