Rep. Walter Jones Jr., a Farmville Republican first elected to Congress in 1994, died Sunday on his 76th birthday. He entered hospice care roughly two weeks ago after breaking his hip.
Jones’ health had declined for the past several months. He missed time in the last session of Congress to be with his ailing wife. Because of his own health troubles, he hadn’t cast a vote since September.
He ran unopposed in the general election for his 13th term in Congress. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-1st District, issued the oath of office last month to Jones at his home.
Jones gained national attention for allegedly coining the term “freedom fries” when France opposed joining the Iraq War coalition. Though he voted in 2002 to authorize the war, he later said he regretted his vote and has made several unsuccessful attempts to force a vote reauthorizing the use of force in the region.
Jones also was known for his opposition to deficit spending and the national debt, voting against spending plans from Democratic and Republican presidents. He voted against President Trump’s tax-cut bill and voted no on a series of measures increasing the federal debt ceiling.
He’s also a long-time advocate of limiting campaign spending and reforming ethics rules — causes he first championed as a Democratic member of the General Assembly from 1983-92.
He ran in 1992 to succeed his father, Walter Jones Sr., in the 1st Congressional District, a House seat the elder Jones first won in 1966. Jones Sr. passed away before the end of the 1992 session. Jones Jr. lost a Democratic primary to Eva Clayton, who won a special election and served the final two months of the term. [See editor’s note at the end of this story.]
In 1994, Jones Jr. ran as a Republican and defeated Democratic incumbent Rep. Martin Lancaster 53 percent to 47 percent in a newly constituted 3rd Congressional District.
Jones wrote more than 11,000 letters over the past 14 years to the surviving families of military members killed in action. Most of them lived and served outside the 3rd Congressional District. Even though he opposed the Iraq War and other recent overseas interventions by U.S. forces, Jones fought to protect Camp Lejeune, which is in the district, from downsizing.
N.C. Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes, who served in Congress with Jones, expressed his condolences in a statement: “Jones’ legacy will undoubtedly be the unequivocal advocacy he put forth for the men and women who serve in this country’s armed forces, and not just those who lived in his district, but across the nation. There was no better champion for eastern North Carolina than Walter Jones.”
[Editor’s Note: This story was corrected after initial publication to clarify Walter Jones Jr.’s history in the 1992 and 1994 election cycles. CJ regrets the error.]