All three candidates in the 13th U.S. Congressional District Republican primary hold the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms in high esteem, but each questions his opponents’ ability to maintain a conservative track record if given a chance to go to Washington.
Former Raleigh Mayor and current Wake County Commission Chairman Paul Coble is Helms’ nephew. Holding served on the senator’s staff in Washington before becoming a U.S. attorney. Navy veteran and businessman Bill Randall just agrees with Helms on a lot of issues. But that doesn’t mean the candidates speak with one voice as they seek election in the newly Republican-leaning 13th district.
The district, which previously stretched from Raleigh west to Greensboro, now stretches from Raleigh east to Rocky Mount. The Republican majority in the General Assembly redrew the district last year so that Democratic incumbent Brad Miller — who held the seat since its creation in 2002 — is no longer part of it.
Running in Miller’s place is a 79-year-old Baptist minister, Bernard Holliday, who has lost all of his four bids for a seat in the General Assembly. This, combined with the fact that the new district favors Republicans, makes it highly likely that it will swing into the GOP’s column this November.
Several issues the campaigns have highlighted are:
The three GOP candidates say they adamantly oppose the federal health reforms known as ObamaCare and would work to have it repealed.
Coble has created a website, George Holding Exposed, which criticizes Holding for benefiting from “dirty money” donated by trial lawyers, who Coble says support the federal healthcare law.
Holding responded that just because the trial lawyers’ association — North Carolina Advocates for Justice — supports ObamaCare doesn’t mean individual trial lawyers who have endorsed him through a “super” political action committee do.
Meantime, in a March debate, Randall questioned Coble’s loyalties. He pointed out that Coble endorsed a supporter of President Obama, Randall Williams, for mayor of Raleigh.
When Obama came to Raleigh in 2009, Randall said, Williams, a Republican physician, “was welcoming him to promote ObamaCare.”
Abortion, gay marriage, and guns
All three candidates say they are pro-life. However, on a Holding-funded website paulcobleexposed.net, Holding questions to what degree Coble respects life.
“In 1994 when Paul Coble was on the Raleigh City Council, Mayor Tom Fetzer proposed cutting the city’s tax funding of Planned Parenthood,” Holding’s website reads. “Paul Coble did not support Fetzer’s proposal. Coble supported giving Planned Parenthood $20,000 in taxpayer funds.”
“I’m not surprised George would misrepresent the facts,” Coble said. “It’s funny he’s got to dig up a $20,000 item in a $500 million budget from 18 years ago to try to prove I’m a left-wing abortionist.”
Coble says the spending in question was a continuing budget item for non-reproductive services including breast exams and wellness services. The following year, Coble voted to remove any funding to Planned Parenthood because of the position the organization took on abortion, he said.
He also voted to remove abortion coverage from the county Health Plan in 2011.
Holding’s site also notes that during Coble’s time on city council, he voted to prohibit carrying concealed weapons on city property and in parks.
Coble’s site notes that the trial lawyers’ associations to which two of his main financial supporters belong “have actively campaigned” against the proposed marriage amendment, which would define marriage as between one man and one woman in the North Carolina Constitution.
Holding responded as he did to the ObamaCare accusations — that just because trial lawyers’ organizations support gay marriage doesn’t mean all individual trial lawyers do.
Holding fired back at Coble, noting that some of his supporters are trial lawyers as well.
He cited Phillip Isley, “the registered lobbyist for the trial lawyer’s association. But I would never go say Paul agrees with everything the trial lawyers agree with.” Another of Coble’s large campaign donors is George Lennon, one of the most prominent trial lawyers in North Carolina, Holding said.
In the meantime, Randall takes an uncompromising stance on marriage, abortion, and guns on his website.
“I believe that marriage is a sacred covenant reserved exclusively for the union of one man and one woman,” Randall writes.
Randall writes at length about the right to life, sharing his personal family history and offering voters “the history of Planned Parenthood” on a website called blackgenocide.org.
Randall also calls himself voters’ “frontline advocate for the Second Amendment,” noting that a well-regulated militia is essential to “the security of a free state.”
Jobs and the economy
All three candidates say their top priority is to cut debt, spending, taxes, and regulations to stimulate the economy and create jobs.
Randall said the national debt is the “greatest threat to our security.”
“When the government borrows money, it prints more money,” Randall said. “When it prints more money, it devalues the currency.”
If this keeps up, he said, the United States “could become Greece to the 10th power.”
All candidates agreed that to reduce debt, the government needs to reduce spending and cut programs.
Holding said he’d employ a strategy similar to that laid out in Kentucky Republican U.S. Rand Paul’s proposed budget.
“There are a lot of things the federal government is doing that the Constitution doesn’t require it to,” Holding said. “I’d make a list of all those things, look at it, and ask what can the states, communities, or families do just as well, if not better, than the federal government. You’d come up with a whole host of things you can eliminate: the Department of Education, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency … I can go on…”
The federal government needs to get a handle on entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, Coble said. “If we don’t, there’s not much else we can do.”
The government must keep promises made to those who’ve already paid into the programs, Coble said, while making changes for those who are just now entering the system. Otherwise, the programs will be unable to provide benefits fully for anyone.
Holding said he doubts Coble could come up with a fair way to phase out the programs, saying that the Wake County employee health benefits program has “a big unfunded liability because of an accounting method like those used in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.”
Randall said while we need to be careful not to “turn our backs on people in dire straits,” the welfare state needs to come to an end gradually so that people can regain their independence from the government.
Since President Lyndon Johnson laid the foundations of his Great Society, he said, “we’ve had $40 trillion worth of domestic programs and nothing to show for it. The poverty rate is essentially the same today as it was back then.”
“And it has made generations dependent on government handouts, and that is criminal,” he continued. “It takes away people’s initiative, their desire to better themselves, and it makes them subservient to and dependent upon the government.”
Randall added that it is not the government’s role to take care of “the least of these.” It should be left to the church to take care of those who cannot work, he said.
Coble, an insurance broker, says he knows how to run a business and balance a government budget.
“I’m the only candidate in the race who’s been a small businessman for more than 30 years,” he said. “I know how the economy works. I know where profits come from. I know how jobs really get created.”
“As a former mayor and [current] county commissioner, I also understand how government works. I’ve actually cut taxes four times. I’m the only one in the running who’s actually cut a government budget. I’m the only one in the running who’s actually eliminated government departments and programs.”
As an example, Coble talked about how the Wake County Commission blocked a program that would have forced homeowners to have their septic systems dug up and inspected every year to prove they weren’t polluting the groundwater.
On the other hand, Holding said that he has not yet been a politician. “I’ve never run for political office before,” he said. “I’ve never served in elected office before. But I have, in my role as the United States attorney, prosecuted a lot of corrupt politicians.”
In addition to prosecuting drug traffickers, child pornographers, and would-be terrorists, Holding led the prosecution team that convicted for corrupt and unethical actions former agriculture commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, former U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance, former state Rep. Thomas Wright, and former House Speaker Jim Black, among others. He also worked closely with state prosecutors investigating former Gov. Mike Easley, who took a felony plea for campaign finance violations.
“I’ve seen what career politicians do,” Holding said. “Every single one of them wants to go to Washington to work the system. I want to go and bust the system.”
Randall calls himself the “Tea Party” candidate, saying he’s carried the Tea Party banner in his district since 2009. He suggested the other two candidates, whose campaigns have much more money behind them, are opportunists, saying he ran against Brad Miller in 2010, when District 13 was still an uphill battle for Republicans.
Randall noted that he’s the only veteran in the race. He served 27 years of active duty in the Navy and worked three years for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Randall also owns a small business consulting other small businesses in finance and management.
Sara Burrows is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.