By Peter Vankevich
Congressman Walter B. Jones died today, his 76th birthday, according to a statement on his congressional website.
In failing health beginning last fall, he entered into hospice care in late January. His undisclosed illness kept him from voting in Congress since September. He was sworn in by fellow North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC 1st District) to the new Congress at his home in Farmville, Pitt County, on Jan. 4, the day after the newly elected Congress began its session.
Jones has represented North Carolina’s 3rd congressional district since 1995. Prior to that, he was first elected as a Democrat to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1982 and served for five terms until 1992.
His father, Walter B. Jones Sr., represented the 1st congressional district as a Democrat from 1966 to 1992. After his father retired, the younger Jones ran for that seat as a Democrat and lost.
He switched parties to run as a Republican and won the 1994 election in the newly configured 3rd congressional district, which includes the Outer Banks and areas near the Pamlico Sound and large portions of his father’s former territory. He has won all reelections, garnering at least 60 percent of the vote.
Jones announced last year that this would be his last term in Congress. He ran unopposed in the November election but had to win a primary challenge by Phil Law, who is expected to run for this seat in 2020.
Jones is known as an independent with libertarian leanings. He endorsed Ron Paul in the 2008 race for president. He has often broken with the Republican leadership, supporting raising the minimum wage, opposing offshore drilling, and he voted against the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.
He sided with Democrats in advocating for an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and signed a letter to urge Congress to request Donald Trump’s tax returns so that they can be reviewed in a closed session of Congress and determined whether the returns can be released to the public.
Beginning in his days in the General Assembly, he has advocated for campaign-finance and lobbying reform.
A fierce deficit hawk, he voted against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 due to the anticipated $2 trillion that would be added to the national debt. “I’m all for tax reform, but it must grow the economy, not the debt,” he stated.
On Dec. 28, Jones issued a press release stating as portions of the federal government remain shuttered over a standoff between the president and Congress regarding funding for the wall, all parties should be reminded that increases in federal spending, including expenditures for the wall, should not be paid for by raising the debt.
“America’s national debt is nearly $22 trillion,” he said. “Next year our annual deficit is projected to top $1 trillion. We can’t afford to keep financing the provision of government services by borrowing more and more money. It’s morally irresponsible and it’s got to stop.”
Jones is perhaps best known nationally for his turn against the Iraq War, which he voted for in 2002. “I will never forget my mistake because people died because of my mistake,” he told the AP. “I bought into believing that President (George W.) Bush didn’t really want to go to war. That’s how naive I was at the time. … I could have voted no, and I didn’t.”
He is a strong supporter of the War Powers Act, a post-Vietnam reform that requires the president to consult with Congress before sending U.S. troops into actual or imminent hostilities.
Raised as a Southern Baptist, he converted to Catholicism as an adult. He is a member of the Pro-Life Caucus and a staunch supporter of legislation to protect the rights of the unborn and on record that Planned Parenthood should no longer receive taxpayer money.
An animal lover, he was the author of the Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act that affects wild horses living in North Carolina.