LENOIR – North Carolina needs “an upbeat and a can-do governor, instead of a vacant governor,” says former Republican GOP Chairman Bill Cobey.
Cobey, now a candidate for governor, stopped in Lenoir Friday morning to meet with key leaders of the Caldwell County Republican Party. Caldwell County was one of 15 counties in the state that Cobey visited in three days to meet with Republican party leaders.
Cobey was introduced by former N.C. Senator Ken Moore of Lenoir. Moore said all the GOP candidates for governor “are fantastic and are our friends.” However, Moore said Cobey “stands out” as a Republican candidate for governor. Cobey resigned on July 21 as chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party in order to run as a Republican candidate for governor, Moore said.
Cobey served two terms as state chairman of the party. Under his leadership, the party got on a sound financial base for the first time in its history, purchased a new headquarters buildings, recruited candidates and engineered Republican victories in 2000 and 2002.
Cobey, 64, is a former congressman and athletics director at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a graduate of Emory University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He also earned a master’s degree in marketing from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and an master’s degree in education from the University of Pittsburgh. He lives in Durham with his wife, Nancy. They have two children and three grandchildren.
Other GOP gubernatorial candidates include state Senate Minority Leader Patrick Ballantine of Wilmington, Davie County Commissioner Dan Barrett of Mocksville, Southern Pines insurance executive George Little and former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot.
Cobey was elected to congress in 1984 to represent the Fourth District in U.S. Congress. He then served in the administration of Governor Jim Martin, first as deputy secretary of transportation and then as secretary of the department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources.
Cobey’s past experience includes management consulting and municipal management. Since 1997, he has worked with local governments in North Carolina, helping them to compete for and receive grants from the federal government.
Cobey commended Moore for his work in the State Senate and N.C. Rep. Edgar Starnes for his work in the State House.
Cobey said he decided to run for a second term as state party chairman because the job of building the party had not been completed. However, Cobey said he decided to run for governor after being asked to run by numerous people to help the Republican Party. As state chairman of the party, Cobey said, “I never worked so hard in a volunteer job. We were able to build up the party despite having no governor in the mansion. We need a Republican running for governor who understands the Republican Party. I learned about the party while serving as state party chairman.”
North Carolina needs a governor “who is upbeat and a can do governor.” Democratic Governor Mike Easley “doesn’t show up anywhere – even for his own party. Where was he at when Pillowtex when down and when people in western North Carolina lost their jobs.”
North Carolina is giving multimillion tax credits to industries to locate in the state, Cobey said. “A study found that 96 percent of those industries would come to North Carolina without those tax credits,” he said. “And we are doing nothing for existing industries in North Carolina. That’s immoral.”
U.S. Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-Catawba, and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina are contacting President George Bush and expressing concern about jobs North Carolina has lost, Cobey said. “Gov. Easley sent the president a video tape,” he said. “I doubt that he has ever met President Bush. I know President Bush and could call him. I love the people of this state and I know we need more and better jobs.”
Most new jobs are created by small business, Cobey said. “We have to create a climate where small business can thrive,” he said. “We have to reduce the tax burden and the regulatory requirements.”
If elected governor, Cobey said he will work to get “a level playing field” for North Carolina’s textile and furniture industries. “I believe in free trade, but we have to get a level playing field with China,” he said. “We stood up for the steel industry. It’s time we stood up for textile and furniture.”
North Carolina also needs “an educated workforce,” Cobey said. “We have a good community college system, but we can do better. I admit I do not know all the answers, but I am uniquely qualified to be governor. I have been a town manager, a cabinet secretary and chairman of the state Republican Party. I can see the big picture.”
Cobey said Easley “does not recruit industries or meet with industries. He has made no calls to industries while he has been CEO (chief executive office). He doesn’t interact with the Legislature and then he pouts when they don’t do what he wants them to do. I don’t know what he does with his time.”
North Carolina has the highest taxes in the Southeast, Cobey said. “That’s because of tax hike Mike (Governor Easley),” he said. “We have to reduce taxes. While he was in office he implemented the highest tax increase in dollars in the history of the state.”
Cobey said North Carolina “also has to cut back on spending. We need a Taxpayers Protection Act that is part of the Constitution.” He credited conservative Democrats in the 1970s with placing the requirement for the state to have a balanced budget in the Constitution.
Caldwell County Commission Chairman Herb Greene said the state for the past couple of years has balanced the state budget on the backs of local governments. Caldwell County is a partner in a lawsuit against the state keeping local government reimbursement funds, Greene noted. He said the governor this year also may keep E911 funds to balance the state budget.
North Carolina has suffered because “of no leadership,” Cobey said. “We have a vacant governor.”
State government has to be cut, Cobey said. “Governor Easley had a hiring freeze and state employment has grown,” he said. “He has three chiefs of staff when Governor Martin had one chief of staff. He pays them outrageous salaries while state employees get no raises. If you are governor, budget cuts should start in your own office. We also have to streamline and make state government more efficient.”
Some people attending asked why Easley continues to have a fairly high approval rating. Cobey said the governor’s recent popularity rating is 59 percent. “Because he has done nothing he has done nothing to upset people,” Cobey said. “When we tell people what it has cost the state they will be mad. Easley has a 39 percent negative rating, which is the real killer in politics.”
Some people attending expressed concern about Attorney General Roy Cooper running ads on television about telemarketing calls when he is running for governor. “We need to draw the line on political ads that abuse public funds,” Cobey said.
Cobey said he had “a good mentor in Jim Martin. When he was governor he focused on the one thing most important to North Carolina – economic development.” While governor, Martin also was responsible for the construction of Interstate-40 to Wilmington. “If he was governor, then the proposed intrastate system of limited access – would be built,” Cobey said.
North Carolina’s highway division system was developed in 1931 and has not changed since then, Cobey said. “It makes no sense,” he said. “It should be organized around urban centers with connections to rural areas.”
If elected governor, Cobey said he will work to improve public education. “We need to pay our teachers more money and take the disruptive students out of the classroom,” he said. “They need to be put in alternative classes or schools. We can’t expect our teachers to be able to teach when they have disruptive students.”
There needs to be “an accountability system for our public schools,” Cobey said. “The way schools operate needs to be decided locally. One size doesn’t fit all.”
All students should be taught the basics, Cobey said. However, he said vocational programs should be available in high schools for students who do not plan on going to college. “Why should they have to wait and go to a community college?” he asked.
As governor, Cobey said he will work to make sure North Carolina gets its share of federal dollars and to ensure that special appropriation (pork barrel) money is distributed fairly throughout the state. When he was in the Martin administration, Cobey said he and others in the transportation department saved the railroad from Murphy to Dillsboro. The Great Smokey Railway trip on that line generates $50 million a year for the local economy, he said.
Cobey also said he will work to reform the Medicaid system. “North Carolina is one of seven states in the nation that requires local governments to pay a portion of Medicaid,” he said. “People are receiving Medicaid in this state who are twice the poverty rate. In most states, people get Medicaid if they are one and a half times the poverty rate.”
If elected, Cobey said he will work for Republicans to be on the Council of State, to have a bigger majority in the State House and to take control of the State Senate. “I am a team player,” he said. “It’s not about Bill Cobey. It’s about the Republican Party.”