Honoring Congressman Howard Coble

After serving in the House of Representatives since 1985, representing the citizens of North Carolina, Congressman Howard Coble will be retiring at the end of the year.

In a retirement interview, when asked about his service, he talked about credibility and accessibility to his constituents.  While many in our nation’s capital talk about lofty dreams, Mr. Coble always understood and practiced the basics of his job.  For those that did not have the honor of knowing him, I would describe him as a true Southern gentleman.  Kind to all, straight forward and plain speaking, and always available to talk to you.  A couple of personal stories highlight this.

A few years back (I think 2009), I was talking to Mr. Coble at a reception.  He asked who my Congressman was, which was Rep. Tom McClintock.  “Mac, he’s a good man”, he replied.  He stated he was heading to the House Chamber for votes and would let my Congressman know he saw me.  A week later, I saw my Congressman in the district and asked him if Rep. Coble had told him I was in DC the previous week.  He laughed and said “Howie” had told him, but he didn’t make the connection to me.  He asked for my business card, which surprised me because he knew who I was, but I gave it to him anyway.  A couple weeks later I received a call from Misty Chally, our CFA Executive Director, that a message had been left on our office phone to call Rep. Coble.  At the time we laughed that it was probably an invite to a fundraiser, and she gave me the phone number.  Not really paying attention, I called the number, and in fact it was his House office, not a fundraiser number.  I gave them my name and said I received a message to call.  The receptionist asked me to hold, and in about 10 seconds the phone picks up with a “Hi Keith, this is Howard Coble”.  Now, I was in a panic, as the last thing I was expecting was a Congressman to pick up the phone.  But here I was, on the phone, with no thoughts on what to say.  He told me “Mac” had given him my business card and he was completing the circle and telling me he had received it.  That was the personal touch he had.

On another occasion, I was leading a California group on Hill visits.  We had a break, were in the Rayburn Building, so I decided to go by Rep. Coble’s office to say hi to his staff if they were available.  Next thing we know, we are being welcomed into the Congressman’s office and talking to him.  One in our group said she had a daughter going to college in Rep. Coble’s district, to which he told her we have to get some pictures so she could send them to her daughter.  For those that go on these group Hill visits to lobby, you understand that most visits are with staff, and rarely with a member, especially when a constituent is not in the group.  The group couldn’t believe he would take so much time to talk to us, without an appointment or constituent.  Again, always the gentleman with a personal touch.

Of course, those in the franchise industry remember Rep. Coble for being the primary sponsor of the H.R. 3308, the Small Business Franchise Act of 1999.  Also known as the Coble/Conyers bill, this was a comprehensive and ambitious piece of legislation meant to protect franchisees.  Fifteen years later, this bill and the wording of the sections still provide a basis for new legislation.  Rep. Coble always appreciated the role of franchisees in business and employment growth, and felt they should have more protections.  While we are continuing the efforts, we will never forget the leadership he provided in working to advance our causes.

One measure of the Congressman is the quality and longevity of his staff. Ed McDonald, his Chief of Staff, and John Mautz, his Legislative Director, have been a pleasure to work with. They have been an extension of his credibility and accessibility.  Rep. Coble I’m sure would say that much of his effectiveness serving his constituents was made possible by Ed, John, and his entire staff. Personally, I thank Ed and John for their guidance and responsiveness, and hope our paths cross on future business.

Finally, I want to end this with stating that it has been my honor and privilege to have had the opportunity to get to know and work with Rep. Howard Coble.  Mr. Coble, your efforts on behalf of small business and especially franchisees will not be forgotten, and will remain part of your legacy. Thank you for your service.  But most of all, thank you for your kindness and openness. Enjoy your well-earned retirement, and wishing you many years of good health and happiness.

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