I just retired after serving 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 16 years before that as a lawyer and Judge. I have to say, of all the great men and women with whom I have worked during my career, Walter Jones was one of the best.
There is greater turnover in elective office than ever before, and I served with almost 1500 other Members of the House during my years there. Walter was once rated as the kindest man in Congress, and he certainly was that to me.
He and I often sat together on the Floor of the House and talked over our votes. And many times we were among only three or four other Republicans voting the way we did. But make no mistake about it: Walter had not become a liberal by any stretch. It was really because he and I were more conservative than our leadership.
Once when Rep. Tom Delay of Texas was the most powerful Republican in Washington, he told me I shouldn’t vote against any of the appropriations bills, because, he said, “These are Republican bills now.” I said, “Yes, Tom, but you’re spending more than the Democrats did.” We disappointed our base by not doing more to curb federal spending.
But Walter was the ultimate fiscal conservative. He was the only Republican who voted against the Trump tax cut because he knew it was going to increase our deficits. And he was horrified by the trillions we have wasted on very unnecessary wars in the Middle East.
I was one of six Republicans who voted against going to war in Iraq and the only one left in the House when I retired. Walter told me many times how much he regretted voting for that war. But he more than made up for it by sending thousands of letters of condolence to family members who lost loved ones in Iraq and becoming the leader and most outspoken member of the very small band of anti-war Republicans.
Once again, it was not because he had gone Left. It was simply that he did not believe the U.S. should be the policeman of the world, or that we should keep giving mega billions to defense contractors. He was a conservative.
He never forgot where he came from and loved Farmville and Eastern North Carolina. He never became part of the Washington social set. Most people want to be liked and be popular with the “in group.” I know that it was personally very difficult for Walter to be as independent as he was.
But words written about a fictitious Congressman Zimmer in a 1930 novel called The Lion’s Den perfectly describe Walter better than anything I could write:
“No matter how the espousal of a lost cause might hurt his prestige in the House, Zimmer had never hesitated to identify himself with it if it seemed to him to be right. He knew only two ways: the right one and the wrong, and if he made a mistake, it was never one of honor; he voted as he believed he should, and although his voice was raised alone on one side of a question, it was never stilled.”
Walter Jones was a good and kind man, and he was my friend. This nation has lost one of the greatest men who ever served in the U.S. Congress.
John “Jimmy” Duncan recently retired after 30 years representing Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives.