Former Rep. James R. Jones, D-Okla., concluded his work in the House in 1987, but he continues to call Capitol Hill home, even as he has spent the time since in positions as varied as ambassador to Mexico, chairman of the American Stock Exchange and, for the past several years, a lobbyist for various industries around North America.
Now the chairman of ManattJones Global Strategies and a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, Jones came to Washington in the early 1960s from his hometown of Muskogee, Okla. His networking was part of the reason he ended up in D.C. right out of college.
“When I was 11, I worked for our local county attorney when he first ran for Congress. Later in my senior year of college, he contacted me and asked me to join his staff in Washington, where I could also attend law school. So I worked during the day as his legislative assistant and then attended Georgetown Law School in the evening division,” Jones said.
From 1961 through 1964, he worked for that local county attorney, Rep. Ed Edmondson, D-Okla., in his Washington office, while studying at Georgetown University Law Center.
“My best friend in law school was Tommy Boggs. We both worked on the Hill and went to law school at night,” Jones said. Other classmates included Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., the late Sen. John Durkin, D-N.H., and John Dean, White House counsel under President Richard Nixon.
Following graduation, he handled the advance work for the Lady Bird Special campaign train tour that was part of President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 campaign tour. The four-day trip included about 20 stops in Southern states. First lady Lady Bird Johnson was the featured speaker onboard and first interacted with Jones while on this trip. Shortly after, as Jones prepared to ship out to Vietnam as an Army officer, he received a call from the White House, asking to set up an interview.
Lady Bird had thought he was the type of young man her husband needed on his staff.
He became a special assistant to the president before becoming, at 28, the appointments secretary in April 1968, the de facto chief of staff position. He held the position until Johnson left office in January 1969.
In his nine months as Johnson’s top staffer, the country endured some of the toughest events in its history, including the Democratic National Convention protests in Chicago and the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, D-N.Y.
“I left the White House at 29, but I felt at least 59,” Jones said.
In 1970, he took on 10-term incumbent Republican Rep. Page Belcher but was defeated. Two years later, he won the seat that he would hold for seven terms.