Death will trigger a special election in the state’s 3rd U.S. House district
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
GREENVILLE, North Carolina (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a libertarian maverick who frequently bucked his party’s leadership and became a vocal opponent of sending U.S. troops into foreign wars, has died at the age of 76.
Jones, who had been granted a leave of absence from the House in December due to ill health, died on his birthday Sunday at a hospice in Greenville, according to his office. He had entered the hospice in late January when he health took a downward turn after breaking a hip.
“Congressman Jones will long be remembered for his honesty, faith and integrity. He was never afraid to take a principled stand.” said a statement from his office issued upon his death. “Some may not have agreed with him, but all recognized that he did what he thought was right.”
His funeral is scheduled for Thursday afternoon in Greenville.
Jones’s death will trigger a special election in North Carolina’s 3rd District, which takes in a wide swath of the eastern part of the state along the Atlantic Coast, including the Outer Banks.
After serving a decade in the North Carolina House as a Democrat, Jones was elected to Congress in 1994 as a Republican. His father, Walter Jones Sr., served as a Democratic member of Congress for 26 years before his death in 1992.
Together, father and son served a total of 50 years in the House, starting in 1967.
In 2003, the younger Jones, a strong supporter of the Iraq War, famously introduced a resolution to change the name of French fries to “freedom fries” in the House cafeteria after the French government voted against the U.S. invasion at the United Nations.
But as casualties mounted and no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, Jones became a vocal critic of the war, saying Congress had been misled by faulty intelligence.
He then introduced legislation to try to force the Bush administration to bring the troops home — a stance that went down less than well in a district that is home to both the Fort Bragg Army base and Camp Lejeune Marine base.
But Jones saw off a primary challenge in 2008 and continued to be a frequent thorn in the side of Republican leaders. In 2011, Jones was stripped of his seat on the House Financial Services Committee after voting against a budget proposal pushed by his party leadership.
More recently, Jones signed on to a letter calling on Congress to obtain and examine President Donald Trump’s income tax returns, and he called for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election after Nunes discussed the investigation with White House officials.
Due to his health issues, Jones had already announced that he would not seek re-election in 2020, opening up the 3rd District seat, which leans Republican. He did not face Democratic opposition in 2018.
Governor Roy Cooper has not yet set the date of the special election to fill the vacancy. Each party will hold a primary, followed by a general election between the two winners.
The 3rd District seat is one of two North Carolina seats that are now open. In the 9th District, state elections officials have refused to certify the results in the November race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready because of allegations of absentee ballot fraud.
The State Board of Elections will convene February 18 to hear evidence in the case, which could lead to a new election.