District 7 Incumbent- Republican Paul Coble is a partner in an insurance brokerage firm. He has served as Raleigh’s mayor and on its city council.
Do you remember being inspired to be an elected official?
Coble: Yes. I was a new father and small businessman. Having grown up in Raleigh, I had watched Raleigh politics somewhat over the years and became very frustrated with the city’s tax increases, increased fees and increased cost of doing business. It’s very hard to watch money go out of your pocket, especially when you know you have two small mouths to feed. That’s when I realized I needed to be involved in how these decisions were being made.
What do you think of Wake County’s current tax policy? Is it better or do we need more tax cuts for small businesses?
Coble: We need to be more efficient with how we spend our money. Our processes have to be predictable, fair, and not too burdensome. The more I talk to businessmen throughout the county, the more I find that people are frustrated by the cost of doing business with government and the regulations involved. Most people do not deal with government everyday. So when they come to government and have to interact with it, well, that’s not something they’re used to. It becomes a governmental maze and I can see why they become frustrated. So any time we’re making changes or adding regulations, I try to look at it say, “How will the average person view this? How will the average business owner deal with this?”
Did your uncle, Senator Jesse Helms, inspire you in your political career?
Coble: It’s interesting. For a long time, I never could understand why he wanted to be in Washington, given the abuse he took from people. The man that was portrayed in the media was certainly not the man I ever knew. I certainly appreciated his service and his ability to put up with, what I thought, were unfair characterizations of him. The way he affected me the most was by telling me that “You have to be fair and honest and you have to be direct with the voting public.” And he said, “You’ve got to do what’s right.” He was always on the look-out for the taxpayer. In that regard, I learned a lot from him. He was always a gentlemen and he was a very gracious individual. I always admired that in him.
Everyone in Wake County is worried about job growth, but they are also worried about government services, like education and mental health care. How can Wake County manage to attract jobs and fund public services?
Coble: You’ve got to live with in your means. We’re in the middle of a recession and government cannot expect to spend beyond its means, when the people who pay taxes cannot expect to do that. Government has to learn to live within its means in order not to be too much of a burden on the taxpayers themselves. Government has to identify the most important services and fund those appropriately. But quite simply, there may have to be things you don’t do, things that are beyond the scope of what county government is supposed to do. But, the thing that government does do, it has to do well. In a year when every other county in the state cut funding to education, we fully funded education. At a time when the state is cutting back on the services at Dix, we negotiated a contract with Holly Hill and are opening two new mental health continuum of care facilities.
Do you think the county commissioners have done the best they can with what the state has given them, in regards to education and mental health care, two things which you’ve said need pretty major changes?
Coble: In my opinion, there is not an area of government that can not try to be more efficient and more effective with how it spends its money. We always have to be looking for ways to be more effective. One of our biggest problems is that we’ve got a Democratic governor and Democratic legislature that is passing $3 billion on to the cities and counties in this next year budgetary year, because they didn’t balance the budget. They used federal stimulus money to balance the budget, which many people think is unconstitutional.
Will you consider things like impact fees or transfer taxes?
Coble: Those are very narrow taxes, which are not effective. The only thing they will do is kick the industries that are hurting the most in the teeth in a time when they least need it. We need the economy to pick up. We need home market and the real estate market and the commercial market to make a comeback. They are not going to make a comeback if you are holding them back with additional fees and taxes, which will only get passed on to the consumer.
Do you think we could ever see another boom in development in Wake County like we did three or four years ago?
Coble: Absolutely. I think what we’re going through now is a course correction. I think what we’re seeing now is the result of a lot of bad decisions government made.
Do you mean state government or the federal government during the Bush years?
Coble: Oh no, it wasn’t under Bush. If you want to know the root of the problem, you have to go back to the Clinton years and decisions that were made related to banking in the mid- to late-nineties and the push to give people opportunities to be in debt that did not need to be in debt.
What do you think about Jack Nichols recent press release which said that you are unreachable online and chided you for not having a campaign website?
Coble: I think Jack’s grabbing at straws and I’m not surprised. Anyone who has run a campaign knows that you have limited dollars and you spend those dollars in the most efficient way possible. I chose to put my money into areas I thought would be more effective, into other types of advertising- a website is only a form of advertising- like TV.
In the press release Nichols says you’ve spent $70,000 in TV advertising. Would you say that’s about right?
Coble: I don’t remember appointing Jack my treasurer.
But is that the amount of money you’ve spent on advertising?
Coble: Gosh, I don’t remember. I’ll have to ask my real treasurer. Here’s the real difference between Jack and I. Go back and look at the campaign reports and see how much debt his campaigns are in, from his previous campaign and from this one. Then look at mine. I don’t have any debt. I don’t spend money that I don’t have. He obviously does. What that shows me is the difference between a conservative and a liberal.
Do you think Wake County will be ready for a referendum on the half-cent sales increase to fund public transportation in 2011?
Coble: The question is not “Will Wake County be ready?” I don’t think the transportation people are going to be ready. The legislation says that they have to present a plan that is financially responsible and feasible. I don’t think they can present that kind of a plan to us by that time.
So, it’s not the tax increase that is the problem, but the lack of a responsible plan?
Coble: Oh no, I got a real problem raising taxes on people when we’re in the middle of a recession.
But, as Tony Gurley has said, couldn’t light rail lead to high-density growth along its corridors?
Coble: One of the problems is that Wake County has been developed in a way that is not conducive to a fixed rail system. You don’t have a region like Mecklenburg where everything is feeding in to one central location. You’ve got a county with 12 different municipalities that are spread out all over and trying to bring an efficient transportation system to that is difficult.