One week ago, I put up a post that enumerated much of the personal history, conservative credentials, and policy prescriptions of Taylor Griffin, who is one of the three candidates and a second challenger for North Carolina’s 3rd District Congressional seat currently held by Representative Walter B. Jones, Jr.
The third candidate (and second challenger) is Al Novenic. Although Novenic has appeared before our group and seems like a likable guy, he is a political novice, and his ideology, though basically conservative, is heavily tinged with Populism. For that reason, I believe him to be an unlikely contender and he will not be included in this assessment.
That leaves the incumbent, Walter B. Jones, Jr. As many readers know, Jones first ran for office as a Democrat, following in the footsteps of his father, Walter B. Jones, Sr. The younger Jones served in and was re-elected to Congress until he lost the 1992 Democratic primary election to Eva Clayton, who went on to win the general election, forcing Jones into a two-year hiatus. In the run-up to the 1994 mid-term elections, astutely assessing the rising Gingrich-engineered wave that swept so many conservatives into the House of Representatives, Jones switched parties. Running as a Republican, he was elected to the seat for North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, in which he will soon complete ten consecutive terms for a total of twenty years, and with no primary challenge in the first seven of those ten terms. In fact, he has had a primary challenger only twice before, by Joe McLaughlin in 2008 and by Frank Palombo in 2012. He is now, in 2014, being challenged for a third time by Griffin, who is Jones’ third primary challenger out of the last four election cycles.
Since Jones did not have any primary opposition in his first seven terms, and since primary challengers tend to appear when the voters are getting restless, it seems fair to ask why the Republican voters have become so dissatisfied with him in the last eight or so years. What is different?
I suggest that the answer lies in Jones’ shifting ideology. Although he seemed to be sufficiently conservative in the earlier years, he has gradually moved toward a more Libertarian view as opposed to a conservative Republican view. To examine that process, let’s look first at the voting records.
VOTE SCORING BY SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS
Project Vote Smart (PVS) maintains the ratings for a number of special interest groups that wish to track and score the congressional voting records of elected officials, and I looked at the PVS records for several of them. I looked first at the scoring of the National Rifle Association (NRA) from 1994 to the present, and found that Walter Jones had an overall lifetime rating of 92% on the issues that were scored by the NRA (see the NRA column in the table below). This sounds impressive, until you make comparisons to other members of congress. I picked 2004, the last year of lifetime ratings, and counted how many congressmen were rated in what brackets. Of the 209 incumbents that were rated, 90 (or 43%) were in the 92% bracket (including eight Democrats), which was by far the largest single grouping. There were only five that made the 100% bracket. Based on this, my assessment is that Congressman Jones is somewhat above average on Second Amendment issues, but not outstanding.
I next looked at the PVS records for the scoring of the National Journal (website is HERE), a non-partisan weekly magazine that reports on political events and trends, and one that, according to their WikiPedia page, HERE, is “mostly read by members of Congress, Capitol Hill staffers, the White House, Executive Branch agencies, the media, think tanks, corporations, associations, and lobbyists.” National Journal has been scoring Congressional voting for many years, but is has only been since 2005 that the vote scoring has been comprehensive and consistent. Since then, they have scored all members of Congress (House & Senate) in the three areas of economic, social, and foreign policy. In addition, they also compile a composite score that averages the scores from the three specific policy areas. I included these composite scores in the table below. Walter Jones’ scores for the nine years from 2005 to the present started out low, climbed to their zenith of 66% in 2008/2009, and have been low since. By comparison, Jones’ scores are considerably lower than the nine-year average scores for NC Republicans Richard Burr (81.5%), Howard Coble (74.1%), and Patrick McHenry (87.6).
Project Vote Smart also administers a Political Courage Test, derived from the public positions taken by elected officials on the key issues of the day. The test measures a candidates “… willingness to provide citizens with their positions on key issues.” When I looked up Walter Jones’ score, the page, HERE, said that “Walter Jones, Jr. refused to tell citizens where he stands on any of the issues addressed in the 2012 Political Courage Test, despite repeated requests from Vote Smart, national media, and prominent political leaders.”
Beginning in 2012, the Heritage Foundation has maintained voting records at their Heritage Action Scorecard site, measuring votes, co-sponsorships, and other legislative activity, and their composite scores are updated weekly when Congress is in session. The page for North Carolina congressional members, HERE, rates all fifteen members of the NC delegation, including the five Democrats. For 2013, of the ten Republicans, Walter Jones ranks sixth at 73%, roughly midway between Representative George Holdings’ 89% and Representative Howard Coble’s 51%. His two-year average is 67.5%, about the same as Burr (68.5%), better than Coble (57%), but worse than Patrick McHenry (74%). Not bad ratings, to be sure, but not particularly impressive.
The American Conservative Union (ACU) “… tracks a wide range of issues before Congress to determine which issues and votes serve as a dividing line to help separate those members of the U.S. House and Senate who protect liberty as conservatives and those who are truly liberal.” The overall ACU ratings are incorporated into the table below (below left, click to enlarge), but beginning in 2012, the ACU also began compiling a House Conservatives list each year that enumerates all the House members who have attained an average score of 80% or more. In the graphic at right (click to enlarge), the two most recent years are depicted. Note that Walter Jones made the 2013 list, but did not make the 2012 list. Jones’ nineteen year average (1995-2013) is a respectable 83.9%, but the most notable thing about the ACU ratings is how Jones has become progressively less conservative over the course of the nineteen year incumbency. For the first twelve years, his average score was 92.2%, but for the most recent seven years, his average score has been only 69.7%. This is plain evidence, I think, of Jones’ movement away from a strictly conservative ideology.
For the last several years, since 2005, the Club For Growth (C4G) has conducted “a comprehensive examination of each lawmaker’s record on pro-growth policies and computed an Economic Growth Score on a scale of 0 to 100.” Again, the scores for Walter Jones are incorporated into the table above, but C4G also ranks members of the House based on where they fall in the rankings. Jones lifetime ranking is 76, meaning that there were 75 members with better lifetime rankings, and 352 with rankings either equal to Jones’ or worse. His actual vote scoring by the C4G was consistently low for the first seven of the nine scored years, but have improved dramatically in 2012 and 2013.
FALTERING SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL
Many conservatives, myself included, would argue that President Obama has been the least supportive of Israel of any U.S. President since the nation of Israel was founded in the aftermath of the 1948 war with the Arab states in the Middle East. In a post from last week entitled “Ranking the RINOs”, the blog at OpenSecrets.org noted, HERE, the increased funding by Israel support groups of efforts to unseat members of Congress who are seen as being non-supportive of Israel. An excerpt:
Jones’ bid for reelection became a lot more competitive after he was hit by a $78,000 ad buy from the Ending Spending Fund, a super PAC backed by hedge fund multi-millionaire John Ricketts and mega-donor casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. In total, the fund has spent $197,230 in its efforts to toss Jones from office.
The Emergency Committee for Israel has also weighed in with a $151,075 ad hitting the congressman for being the only Republican to vote “present” on a 2012 resolution that reasserted the Obama administration would continue to furnish Israel with military supplies amid the American withdrawal from Iraq. It appears his offenses also include a vote against the Republican budget plan devised by Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
A few days earlier, Breitbart published an article, HERE, that also noted the new television ads paid for by the Emergency Committee for Israel, and elaborated on the disillusionment that many Israel supporters have experienced with Jones. Here are some excerpts from that article:
The Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) dropped a brutal new television ad against Representative Walter Jones (R-NC), the first time the group has waded into a primary that has become something of a proxy battle in the Tea Party war against the establishment.
The ad, backed by a “six figure” buy, takes Jones to task for his liberal views on foreign policy, including opposing sanctions on Iran and refusing to back a non-binding House resolution expressing support for Israel’s right to defend itself in 2012.
Jones has an unusual record in the House. A former Democrat, he is deeply conservative on spending issues but has veered far to the left on foreign policy in recent years, joining libertarians like former Representative Ron Paul and current Representative Justin Amash as part of a small group of dissidents on many votes.
Jones was removed from a plum committee assignment in late 2012 and participated in an ill-fated coup attempt against Speaker John Boehner.
In the vote against the Israel resolution, for example, Paul was the only Republican to vote no, while Jones was the only Republican to vote present. Democratic Representative John Dingell voted no and eight Democrats joined Jones in voting present.
JOINED THE DEMOCRATS IN URGING MORE NEGOTIATIONS WITH IRAN
In mid-February of 2012, Jones joined Muslim Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), along with three North Carolina Democratic representatives (G. K. Butterfield, David Price, and Melvin Watt) and thirty-two other congressmen as signatories to a letter sent to President Obama, which stated, in part:
We have supported your Administration’s efforts to unite the international community to bring about the strongest sanctions on Iran to date. Now, we must redouble our diplomatic efforts to achieve robust transparency measures that can verify Iran’s nuclear program is strictly a civilian one.
We strongly encourage your Administration to pursue bilateral and multilateral engagement with Iran. While we acknowledge that progress will be difficult, we believe that robust, sustained diplomacy is the best option to resolve our serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, and to prevent a costly war that would be devastating for the United States and our allies in the region.
While no sane person would want war when there is a alternative way to achieve a good outcome, the foolish persistence by the Obama administration in continuing these interminable negotiations with an Islamic state, Iran, that sees negotiations much like North Korea sees them, as only a tactic to forestall action on the part of it’s adversaries while it pursues it’s private goals, may come at a high cost to Israel if Iran succeeds in producing nuclear weapons.
On the Budget: On April 15, 2011, Jones was one of four Republican members of congress to vote against The Path to Prosperity, which was the Republican Party’s budget proposal for the United States federal government in the fiscal year 2012. In December 2012, Jones was one of four House Republicans removed from their committees by Speaker of the House John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor for defying party leadership. Jones was removed from the Financial Services Committee, a plum seat for fundraising, as reprisal for not raising money for the Republican Party. [Wikipedia, WBJ]
On the War In Iraq: He contends that the United States went to war “with no justification.” <snip> On June 16, 2005, he joined with three other members of Congress (Neil Abercrombie, Dennis Kucinich, and Ron Paul) in introducing a resolution calling for the start of a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq to begin by October 2006. [Wikipedia, WBJ]
Loss of Sub-Committee Assignment: Jones’ views on the war in Iraq did not ingratiate him to [President George W.] Bush or to the Republican leadership, which prevented him from succeeding the late Jo Ann Davis as ranking Republican on the Readiness Subcommittee of the Armed Forces Committee. He was passed over for Randy Forbes when the 110th Congress convened because the full committee’s ranking member, Duncan Hunter of California, didn’t agree with Jones’ change of heart on the war. He had been approached by some Democrats about bolting the GOP and either becoming an independent caucusing with the Democrats or switching back to the Democratic Party outright. [Wikipedia, WBJ]
Caucus Memberships: Jones serves on the Liberty Caucus, a group of libertarian-minded Republican representatives in the House. However, he never joined the Tea Party Caucus, first launched and chaired by Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann on July 16, 2010. The caucus was dedicated to promoting what it considered fiscal responsibility, adherence to the movement’s interpretation of the Constitution and limited government. The idea of a Tea Party Caucus originated from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul when he was campaigning for his current seat.
While it is true that Walter Jones served us well in his earlier years, his ideological drift has all to often put him at odds with conservatives in his recent terms. It is time, I think, to look for a more traditional conservative, a candidate who is willing to go out of his way to express his alignment with the values and ideology of the Crystal Coast Tea Party Patriots.