On Tuesday, June 7, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC, 3rd) trounced his competition to win reelection in North Carolina’s third Congressional district. I was delighted with the result so let’s get this out of the way…
Full disclosure: Walter Jones is my favorite member of Congress. Full stop. I recognize there isn’t a lot of competition, but I regularly donate to his cause whenever I feel compelled by world events or a couple beers. To the best of my knowledge, he’s the only candidate I contributed to in any recent election cycle.
In a town long on politics and short on principle, it feels good to support a man of such extraordinary conviction. I certainly don’t agree with him on everything—I’m neither conservative nor Republican—but the good-natured contrarian in me adores his maverick streak and longstanding reputation as one of the kindest members of the House.
But what I really appreciate about Jones is his uncommon ability to admit when he’s wrong. As Jim Antle recalls in a superb 2014 piece anointing Jones the conscience of conservatism:
Jones might be best known for his strong turn against the foreign policy of George W. Bush. Representing a military-heavy district that includes the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune, Jones voted for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. When France opposed the Iraq War, he led the crusade to rename french fries “freedom fries” on congressional menus in protest.
What followed was a complete one-eighty. As “Mission Accomplished” sank into sectarian conflict in Iraq, Jones grew to regret his support for the war and resent the false pretense upon which it was declared. In 2005, Jones famously broke ranks with GOP partisans to become one of America’s staunchest critics. Antle continues:
The congressman’s first act of penance was to begin a letter-writing campaign to the families of military personnel killed in Iraq, a practice that continues to this day. “My heart aches as I write this letter as I realize you are suffering a great loss,” reads one. “I know that these words are inadequate in trying to express my deep sympathy to you and your family at the death of your loved one.”
Other members who reversed course—and I’m looking at you John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, and Hillary Clinton—did so out of necessity. Can you imagine any of them standing with the Bush administration after an initial assurance of victory slipped into an exhausting and bloody quagmire? It would have been career suicide.
Jones’ repentance was more personal than political. It also informed his efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan, oppose action in Libya, and reject “red line” nonsense in Syria. (Again, in stark contrast to Madam Secretary.) Naturally, taking a principled stand against Republican leadership doesn’t do you any favors at party headquarters. Having been snubbed on Armed Services Committee and booted from the Banking Committee, Jones has faced a primary challenger in every election since 2008.
The past two cycles, the Beltway industrial complex bankrolled lobbyist Taylor Griffin, who moved back to North Carolina from Washington D.C. in a futile effort to dislodge the veteran congressman. Jones’ campaign dismissed Griffin as a carpet-bagging, K Street sock-puppet. They may have been on to something. As Tim Carney reported in 2014:
Cash from lobbyists makes up less than 3 percent of all donations to House and Senate races this year, judging by data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Incumbents rake in more than 90 percent of that money.
So it’s jaw-dropping that nearly 20 percent of Griffin’s individual donations come from K Street, by my count.
Ultimately, outside groups poured close to $1 million into the race to portray Jones as a soft-on-terror liberal. He narrowly prevailed by a slim six point margin.
In 2016, Jones beat his opponent like a drum. Despite outraising the incumbent by nearly $150,000, Griffin failed to place, showing a distant third behind Marine Corps veteran Phil Law. With victory in hand, Jones is favored to secure reelection in November’s general and preserve his place in the Congress.
I’m thankful for that. In DC, most politicians tend to relish hubris over humility—unless they’re literally caught with their pants down. Walter Jones is a rare exception.
Think about it. When was the last time you heard a Congressman, unprompted by political expedience, say “I was wrong…I’m so sorry” and really mean it?