Touted ‘free­dom fries,’ then op­posed Iraq war

Chicago Sun-Times - - OBITUARIES - BY GARY D. ROBERT­SON As­so­ci­ated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — Repub­li­can U.S. Rep. Wal­ter B. Jones Jr. of North Carolina, a on­ce­fer­vent sup­porter of the 2003 in­va­sion of Iraq who later be­came an equally out­spo­ken critic of the war, died Sun­day on his 76th birth­day.

The con­gress­man’s of­fice con­firmed his death in a state­ment, say­ing Mr. Jones died in Greenville, North Carolina. His health de­clin­ing in re­cent months, Mr. Jones en­tered hospice care in Jan­uary af­ter break­ing his hip. He had been granted a leave of ab­sence from Con­gress in late 2018 and was sworn in for his last term back home.

Mr. Jones was a po­lit­i­cal mav­er­ick un­afraid to buck his own party. He was one of the first Repub­li­cans to re­verse di­rec­tion on the war in Iraq, even as his North Carolina dis­trict in­cluded the sprawl­ing Marine in­stal­la­tion Camp Le­je­une.

His ul­ti­mate op­po­si­tion to the Iraq war came with the irony that he in­sti­gated a sym­bolic slap against the French when their coun­try early on op­posed U.S. mil­i­tary ac­tion. Mr. Jones was among the House mem­bers who led a cam­paign that re­sulted in the cham­ber’s cafe­te­ria of­fer­ing “free­dom fries” and “free­dom toast” — in­stead of french fries and french toast.

Mr. Jones said he in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion that would have re­quired Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion to be­gin with­draw­ing troops in 2006 be­cause the rea­son given for in­vad­ing Iraq, weapons of mass de­struc­tion, had proved false.

“If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have supported the res­o­lu­tion” to go to war, Mr. Jones said in 2005. Mr. Jones took heat for his re­ver­sal from GOP col­leagues. He ul­ti­mately signed well over 11,000 let­ters to the fam­i­lies of dead troops, de­scrib­ing that as a penance of sorts.

“For me, it’s a sa­cred re­spon­si­bil­ity that I have to com­mu­ni­cate my con­do­lences to a fam­ily,” Mr. Jones said in a 2017 in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press. “And it’s very spe­cial to me be­cause it goes back to my re­gret­ting that I voted to go into the Iraq war.”

Mr. Jones, who had served in Con­gress since 1995, had al­ready an­nounced his 2018 cam­paign would be his last. His death means Demo­cratic Gov. Roy Cooper will sched­ule a spe­cial elec­tion for some­one to com­plete Mr. Jones’ two-year term in the coastal 3rd Con­gres­sional Dis­trict.

Mr. Jones also was a re­lent­less ad­vo­cate for cam­paign fi­nance re­form and con­trol­ling the na­tional debt. The fis­cal and so­cial con­ser­va­tive won un­op­posed in last Novem­ber’s gen­eral elec­tion af­ter fend­ing off Repub­li­can pri­mary chal­lengers stoked partly by Mr. Jones’ will­ing­ness to dis­sent from the Washington lead­ers of his party. For ex­am­ple, he voted against the tax over­haul pro­moted by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and a “re­peal and re­place” plan for Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care law.

In a 2018 AP in­ter­view, Mr. Jones said that he wasn’t afraid to op­pose GOP lead­ers “when I don’t think they’re right.”

“It’s ab­so­lutely about prin­ci­ple,” he said. “When I leave Con­gress, I would rather have one thing said about me: ‘I will never question Wal­ter Jones’ in­tegrity.’”

Ei­ther Mr. Jones or his father, Wal­ter Jones Sr., rep­re­sented east­ern North Carolina in Con­gress for five decades. The el­der Jones, a Demo­crat, rep­re­sented the re­gion from 1966 un­til his death in 1992. Wal­ter Jones Jr., then also a Demo­crat, lost the party pri­mary to suc­ceed him. He be­came a Repub­li­can and was sent to Washington two years later.

Wal­ter Bea­mon Jones Jr. was born in Far­mville in 1943. He at­tended Har­grave Mil­i­tary Academy in Vir­ginia dur­ing high school and then grad­u­ated with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree from At­lantic Chris­tian Col­lege — now known as Bar­ton Col­lege — in 1966.

J. SCOTT AP­PLE­WHITE/AP

U.S. Rep. Wal­ter B. Jones Jr., R-N.C., holds a copy of the Con­sti­tu­tion while talk­ing to re­porters in 2015.

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