North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones Dies At 76

18 hours ago
Originally published on February 11, 2019 10:07 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Congressman Walter Jones has died. The North Carolina Republican was first elected to the U.S. House in 1994 and was well-known for his independent streak. He originally voted to go to war in Iraq but later became an outspoken critic. From member station WUNC, Jeff Tiberii has this remembrance.

JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: Walter Jones was part libertarian, part populist, a small-government religious conservative who went with his conscience even when that meant going against his own leadership. In 2002, he initially supported military authorization in the Middle East. It was a decision he would later regret. He tried to atone for his vote by writing thousands of letters to families who lost loved ones in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

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WALTER JONES: I do that every weekend so I can be reminded of my mistake of voting to give President Bush the authority to go into Iraq, a war we never had to fight. It was manipulated by those within the administration, and it never had to be.

TIBERII: In a rare act in today's political world, Jones took responsibility for what he called his biggest mistake. Outside of Jones' congressional office, pictures of military members line the walls. It was a dramatic reversal for Jones. Shortly before the invasion of Iraq, Jones had called for the French fries in the House cafeteria to be renamed freedom fries after France voted against supporting the U.S. military action. He later said he regretted that stance as well. He spoke with an eastern North Carolina brogue and a passion for his constituents. He was a deficit hawk, voting against budgets that were projected to increase the national debt, much to the ire of Republican leaders who never rewarded him with a committee chairmanship.

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JONES: I just would rather have my independence and not be beholden to leadership. My responsibility and my obligation is to the people of the 3rd District, not to the leadership.

TIBERII: On Monday, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was among those offering condolences, saying in part that Jones treated his colleagues on both sides of the aisle with kindness, decency and compassion. Jones was the first Republican to call for an independent investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 election. Joe Mavretic first served with Jones more than 35 years ago in the North Carolina legislature.

JOE MAVRETIC: He votes his conscience. He votes what he believes is in the best interest of his constituents. And he's not afraid to do that. Walter's political life at the national level is really a case study in what's wrong with Washington today.

TIBERII: Jones was considered a gentleman by his colleagues and was once voted the nicest member of Congress. He started his political life as a Democrat but switched parties in 1994, before arriving in Washington. Jones' father was a congressman, too. Both were elected to 13 terms in the U.S. House, and each died while in office. Walter Jones Junior was 76. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Tiberii in Raleigh, N.C.

KELLY: And North Carolina's 3rd Congressional District seat will remain vacant until the state holds a special election to find Jones' replacement.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLEN PORTER'S "TRANSIENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.