Walter Jones remembered for principle and independence

Among the many tributes that followed the Feb. 10 death of U.S. Congressman Walter Jones was this headline above a story posted on The Atlantic site. “Walter Jones Was the Real Maverick,” it declared, arguing that the Third District Republican from North Carolina, rather than the late Arizona Senator John McCain, was the true epitome of an independent-minded, vote-your-conscience lawmaker. 

      Those sentiments were echoed by mourners on both sides of the aisle in the hours after Jones’ passing. U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican, lauded Jones for “always following his convictions, no matter the political cost. He always did what he felt was right for his constituents, his district, and his country…”

      North Carolina’s Democratic Governor, Roy Cooper, struck a similar note, describing Jones as a “long-time friend” and “a public servant who was true to his convictions and who will be missed.”

      Jones, who first began serving in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1995, entered hospice care last month after his health declined in the wake of suffering a broken hip. In announcing his death, Jones’ office issued a statement saying that “he was never afraid to take a principled stand. He was known for his independence, and widely admired across the political spectrum.”

      Perhaps the best-known example of that independence, and his willingness to act on principle, began with a campaign that generated national, if not international, news coverage. An early supporter of George W. Bush’s decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003, Jones became famous for leading the effort to rename French fries as “freedom fries” as a way to signal displeasure at France’s opposition to that war.

      But Jones soon became a staunch and outspoken opponent of the Iraq conflict, who later, according to a Washington Post story, “renounced his vote [authorizing military action] and called on Bush to set a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq.”

      A devout Catholic, Jones, in many ways, fit the description of a classic social conservative, given his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. And he was, at heart, a conservative. But, as news accounts also pointed out, he willingly joined forces with those across the aisle to vote against President Trump’s tax plan and opposed the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare.”

      A resident of Farmville, N.C., Jones served first in the N.C. House of Representatives for 10 years before launching an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Congress in 1992 when he attempted to succeed his father, who had served in Congress for 26 years. Two years later, he did win election to the Congress.

      In what was perhaps a sign of some discontent with Jones from within his own party, he faced two GOP primary opponents in the last three election cycles — 2014, 2016 and 2018. He won each time, but by a fairly narrow margin in 2014. 

      It is worth noting, however, that after securing the nomination with 43% of the vote in 2018 (his two primary opponents basically divided the other 57%), Jones did not have an opponent in the general election.

      Jones will lie in repose at St. Peter Catholic Church in Greenville from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 13. All who wish to pay their respects are welcome. 

      The funeral will be held at St. Peter Catholic Church in Greenville on Thursday, Feb. 14, at 1:30 p.m. This event is open to the public. A private family interment will follow.

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