Ran Coble served public through private, nonpartisan research

March 10, 2014 

Ran Coble

Ran Coble is not, in the technical sense anyway, a public servant. He doesn’t work in government. But few have served the public interest better than he.

As head of the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, the soft-spoken Coble has maintained the respect of liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, a cross-section of North Carolinians from all stations in life. Now, he is retiring after 33 years with the center. A national search is on, but the best hope is that the center’s board will be able to find someone who can simply come close to doing what Coble has done, for it will not find anyone better.

Though his education might have sent him into any number of more lucrative fields, Coble has been a passionate and committed voice for the people of the state and for its institutions. A graduate of Davidson College and Duke University, where he got a law degree and a master’s degree in public policy, Coble brought the right credentials to the job. But he also brought a deep and abiding devotion to making North Carolina better.

Though many North Carolinians might be unaware of the center, those who have served in government over the last 37 years most emphatically are not.

It’s a curious organization in that it is entirely supported with private funds but has no ideological allegiances. Its board of directors is spread across the state; includes Republicans, Democrats and Independents; and reflects the state’s diversity in gender and race. Coble has walked a fine line over the years to ensure that the center would not be identified with one philosophy or another. His group seeks out the facts, taking on broad public policy issues, and turns out exhaustive reports that lawmakers study.

During Coble’s tenure, the center has had a hand in legislation to help poor school districts, to cut the high school dropout rate, to strengthen domestic violence laws, to lower credit insurance rates, to downsize government boards and commissions and to protect the rights of the disabled. It has also published directories of state government that have been used by everyone from classroom teachers to the media.

Here is a person who found his calling. Ran Coble didn’t get rich by serving the public interest, but his efforts earned him great gratitude from the state he improved.

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