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Remembering NC Rep. Walter Jones: The Gentle Dissenter

Remembering NC Rep. Walter Jones: The Gentle Dissenter
Rep. Walter Jones (Getty Images)

Monday, 11 February 2019 06:08 AM Current | Bio | Archive

“I saw you on television at [President Barack] Obama’s news conference with [Afghanistan’s President Hamid] Karzai,” is how Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C. began a phone call to me shortly after I returned from the news conference on Jan. 11, 2013.

Then, as Jones almost always did with me, he got immediately to the point: “Why didn’t you ask that crook Karzai why he’s spending the millions we send him in tax dollars every year on getting Americans hooked on dope?”

When Jones died on his 76th birthday, Feb. 10, after a long illness, his words of six years ago came back to me. During a quarter century in Congress, Jones always said precisely what was on his mind and never felt he had to clear things with a press secretary to communicate with reporters he trusted.

But in speaking his mind, Jones was unfailingly pleasant. With his deep eastern North Carolina drawl, booming laugh, and sense of self-deprecation, he embodied the old adage of disagreeing without being disagreeable.

Small wonder that in a survey of congressional staffers conducted by Washingtonian Magazine, Jones was voted the kindest member of Congress.

Commencing a 2013 interview on foreign policy with Jones, Laure Mandeville of the venerable French publication Le Figaro asked him to pardon her accent.

“No problem at all,” the North Carolinian replied with a laugh, “Just as long as you pardon my accent!”

Jones then went on to explain to his French interviewer how he came around to opposing fellow Republican and President George W. Bush on U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As to whether he represented an “isolationist” branch of the Republican Party, he gently corrected Mandeville that the term was incorrect, that he and Republicans like him were “non-interventionists.”

Reached in Toulouse, France, Mandeville told Newsmax she remembered Jones “caring a lot about the soldiers and keeping a list of all the military families in his district who lost sons and fathers in foreign wars. He would call them and console them.”

The son of Democrat Rep. Walter Jones, Sr., who served from 1965-92, the younger Jones was graduated from Barton College in North Carolina, and spent four years in the North Carolina National Guard. He also worked as an executive for the business supply company owned by his family.

Jones was elected as a Democrat to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1982. Ten years later, when the elder Jones announced his retirement from Congress, Walter, Jr. led in the Democratic primary in the Tar Heel State’s 1st District to succeed him. But in the resulting runoff, all of his opponents lined up behind the more liberal Eva Clayton and she won the nomination convincingly.

Jones later explained he could see the Democratic Party moving left and how his father told him he was increasingly forced by Democrat leadership in the House to vote against his conservative conscience. So the younger Jones became a Republican.

By 1994, he had moved to the neighboring 3rd District, where redistricting had placed the bulk of his father’s old district. In a heated race focused on the record of President Bill Clinton, Jones unseated Democrat Rep. Martin Lancaster with 53 percent of the vote.

For his first few terms, there was little to distinguish Jones from the seventy-plus GOP freshmen in the first Republican-majority House in four decades, He supported the “Contract With America” conservative agenda of Speaker Newt Gingrich. He was also solidly pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, and pro-traditional marriage.

Like most of his fellow House Republicans, Jones supported the U.S. strike against Iraq in ’03 and voted to authorize military action. Two years later, however, he announced he disillusionment with the strike and his gradual evolution to a firm belief the Bush administration did not have evidence of weapons of mass destruction against Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein.

Jones would eventually grow estranged from fellow Republican Bush over Iraq and later Afghanistan. He also grew increasingly critical of the House Republican leadership and voted against John Boehner in his final bid for speaker in 2015.

A maverick to the end, the North Carolinian opposed the Trump tax cut package in 2017 because he felt it would increase the deficit. Like former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Jones felt the biggest threat to national security was debt.

Jones paid a price for his iconoclastic nature. He faced strong primary challenges almost every two years since 2008 and in ’12, was stripped of his seat on the powerful House Financial Services Committee.

None of this bothered Jones much. He once shared with me that his conversion to Roman Catholicism gave him strength to deal with any problems he faced personally or politically.

Recalling his years at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, Jones freely admitted that “I was not well-grounded in any faith. I had a roommate who was a serious Roman Catholic, and I remember him saying his prayers every night and how it gave him such calm and inner peace. And that’s how I decided to follow the same path. And I never doubted my Catholic faith—not ever. If you understand that, you’ll understand me.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

© 2019 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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"I saw you on television at [President Barack] Obama's news conference with [Afghanistan's President Hamid] Karzai," is how Rep. Walter B. Jones, R.-N.C. began a phone call to me shortly after I returned from the news conference on Jan. 11, 2013.
jones, afghanistan, obama, bush, gingrich, iraq, obituary
Monday, 11 February 2019 06:08 AM
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