Farmville, North Carolina
The reason the man of the house—Republican Congressman Walter Jones Jr.—was not home on a recent Sunday was that his conscience was bothering him. So he went to his 3rd Congressional District office in nearby Greenville, North Carolina, to add handwritten notes of condolence to the form letters he sends to every family who loses a son or daughter in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During an interview in their comfortable but not palatial home here, Jones’s feisty wife of forty-five years, JoeAnne, described his laserlike focus on getting those letters written on weekends. “You can’t reach him,” she said. “He doesn’t answer his phone. I had to reach him one Sunday for something. So I drove into Greenville and tapped on his office window. The man never stops.”
With one painful exception, the devout Jones, who grew up in this sparsely populated part of the tobacco belt and seems to know everyone in Farmville (population 4,615), votes the way God and his conscience tell him to. Jones considers himself a conservative on most issues, including abortion. “A child is a gift from God,” he argued. “No baby should be aborted unless a mother has been raped, impregnated by incest or would risk her life by giving birth. Even in those three cases it should be the mother’s choice.”
Sometimes his conscience tells him to vote differently from the way House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican Party operatives ask him to. This drives party leaders nuts. Jones’s independence has probably kept him from rising to a committee chairmanship as his Democratic dad did before him. The elder Jones, who died in 1992, was chair of the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee from 1981 to 1992.
Even though more retired military people live in Jones’s district than in most other districts in the country, he has discovered that many marines who served in Afghanistan agree with him that the United States is fighting a hopeless, never-ending war for a corrupt government. Jones, who gets down on his knees every night to pray for God’s guidance on the issues he will be voting on in the House of Representatives, is conscience-stricken about all the American lives being lost or ruined in Afghanistan and Iraq. His conscience, laminated to his guilt for voting to invade Iraq in 2002, has radicalized this conservative Republican from rural North Carolina into doing everything he can to get the roughly 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan the hell out of there.
Jones is seeking co-sponsors on a bill that would force President Obama to send a plan to Congress to pull all our troops out of Afghanistan. Jones is especially eager to win over Republicans to his side in hopes of compelling Boehner to become more flexible on the pullout. As of the May Congressional recess, Jones had forty-one co-sponsors signed up, including seven Republicans.
Jones has allied himself with liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich on many issues raised by the “war on terror” and Obama’s decision in late March to go to war against the Libyan government without bothering to get Congressional authorization. “We must not let any war continue absent legal authorization by Congress,” Kucinich said. He contends that Obama not only violated the War Powers Act of 1973 but also the Constitution, which empowers Congress, not the president, to declare war and provide for the common defense, in Arti- cle 1, Section 8. Kucinich has vowed to force a vote in the House “to end US military operations in Libya.” Jones and Kucinich are discussing filing suit in federal court to force a judicial ruling on whether Obama overstepped his constitutional bounds regarding Libya.