Congressman Walter Jones, Jr. died yesterday. He’s been absent from the House since the fall and his family announced that Jones was in hospice care last week. His death is a loss for people who believe politics should be based on principle.
Jones spent the last 25 years as a Republican but spent the first 50 years of his life as a Democrat, the son of Walter Jones, who served in Congress for 25 years. In a lot of ways, Jones fit the profile of the now-extinct Southern Democrat. Consequently, he never had much of a political home.
He held conservative views but believed in the power of the government to offer protection and do good. He supported government intervention to protect the wild horses on the Outer Banks and he opposed off-shore oil drilling. Jones was anathema to the GOP leadership in Washington. He didn’t toe the party line and he often found himself in opposition to the House leaders. Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) kicked Jones off the Financial Services Committee in 2012 and Jones was part of the coup that led to Boehner stepping down a few years later.
The conservative Washington Times once described him as “a rare Republican moderate.” He was a staunchly anti-abortion Catholic who believed in fiscal responsibility. He voted against any bill that added to the national debt. Republicans spent the last ten years trying to remove him through primaries but nobody got close despite their support from GOP leaders.
Jones dedicated the last decade of his career to making up for what he considered his worst vote—support for the Iraq War. Jones came to believe the war was based on faulty information and needlessly cost the lives American men and women. His district included large military installations and he kept photos of every servicemember killed in action on a wall in his office. He personally wrote notes to the families of those killed.
As politician, Jones couldn’t move as far left as the national Democrats wanted or as far right as Republicans desired. Instead, he stayed true to his beliefs and found himself comfortable as a politician without much of a political home. In many ways, Jones was the last of the Southern Democrats.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >