It is with the greatest sadness that I have to post the death of Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., died Sunday in Greenville, N.C., Jones was one of my former clients when I represented Democratic and Republican members challenging the Libyan war. I spent many lunches and conversations with Walter through the years. I have never met a member of Congress who was more honest and earnest in trying to serve the public. He was an incredibly self-effacing man who felt guilt for not being able to stop the many foreign wars. As a representative with a large military district, Jones was crushed by the deaths or wounding of young men and women in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots. He was 76.
Walter fell at home on January 14th and broke his hip. He underwent surgery in Greenville but was in hospice after the surgery.
Jones was the son of former U.S. representative Walter B. Jones Sr. (1913–1992). He served in the North Carolina National Guard and served five terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives as a Democrat. He followed his father in winning a seat in Congress as a Democrat in 1992. He actually ran for Congress as a Democrat but lost in the primary to Eva Clayton. He then switched parties and ran as a Republican in the 3rd District. He beat the incumbent 53%–47%.
Jones had a change of heart over the Iraq War (which he voted for) and would often speak to me about his sense of guilt in voting for the war. He felt betrayed by the Bush Administration and regularly spent time at VA hospitals and with returning wounded military personnel. He became a leading anti-war voice in Congress and a stalwart advocate for Congress to carry out its constitutional authority in declaring wars (rather than approve open-ended authorizations).
He increasingly confronted the Republican leadership, particularly on its blind support for wars. Jones called on President Bush to apologize for “lying” to the public and Congress to secure the authorization for the Iraq War.
He repeatedly tried to withdraw the authorization and stop new authorizations for foreign wars. His office entrance showed the pictures of the fallen soldiers.
In a city that where hypocrisy and duplicity are the norm, Jones was an exception. He was genuine in his desire to do good for people. In private conversations, he would often get emotional about the guilt that he felt for young men and women lost in the Iraq War. He was deeply religious and sought redemption in fighting against our acceptance perpetual wars and interventions. He was a good man and, even more rare in this town, an honest man.
Most people were not familiar with Walter Jones but they just lost one of a small minority of members with a true conscience. He was not able to rein in our expansive military operations abroad, but he tried. He tried harder than any member I have ever seen. He did everything he could to force the Executive Branch to be accountable to the public and to Congress. He fought against his own party in seeking reforms and faced primary opponents sent against him to silence his voice.
There is an old expression that nothing is rarer “than an honest man in Congress.” Jones was that rarity and the Congress is poorer for his passing.
I can only imagine the pride of his father if he saw the courage and principle that defined his son’s tenure in Congress. He saw lies and confronted them. He saw suffering and tried to relieve it. He saw a flawed world and tried to make it better. He was often a lone voice in an indifferent Congress but his voice to true and strong and unafraid.
Rest in peace Walter.