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Jones Willing to Pay the Price for Independence

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Jones, center, initially voted to authorize the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he had a change of heart in 2005 and has been a critic ever since.

Instead, the North Carolina Republican concerns himself with issues closer to home.

“I’m working on a lot of things for the district that don’t require you to be a chairman,” he said.

The eastern North Carolina 3rd District is home to Camp Lejeune, the site of a major water contamination incident that may have caused thousands on the Marine Corps base to develop cancer and other ailments.

Jones is most comfortable when he’s working on those sorts of issues.

His grandfather was gassed in the Battle of the Argonne Forest during World War I, and he came back from France a sick man.

“And he actually committed suicide,” Jones said, visibly emotional. “In 1926, my grandfather took his own life.”

For years, Jones knew little about his grandfather. But after coming to Congress in 1995, he asked for his records.

“And I saw the pain of a veteran who could not adapt to the injuries of war,” Jones said. “And it plays on my mind, it really does.”

Jones has also made it his crusade to clear up a V-22 Osprey training accident in 2000 that killed 19 Marines.

“I’ve spent 10 years of my life trying to clear the names of two Marine pilots,” he said, noting that he’s now taken the issue all the way up to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “So my journey might be a little bit different.”

Jones, whose haircut seems to be straight out of the 1970s — mostly because it’s the same haircut he’s had since the 1970s — notes he is deeply religious and holds many starkly conservative positions.

He’s constantly shouting about the debt, he’s a fervent critic of a pathway to citizenship in an immigration overhaul and he’s one of the most anti-abortion lawmakers in Congress.

Jones points to campaign finance as the problem.

“The problem with this place is how we raise money,” he said. “The only way you’re going to change the system is to change the way we finance campaigns. As long as money drives Washington, money is power and power is money.”

As far as his power and money go, Jones isn’t doing too hot. His Sept. 30 filing showed that he had just more than $107,000 in cash on hand for his re-election.

Jones notes his vote isn’t bought.

“It’s all about fundraising,” he said. “Why are we still in Afghanistan? Probably, probably because the military-industrial complex is doing pretty well financially.”

Jones, who endorsed Ron Paul for president, complains about his party sending money to Afghan President Hamid Karzai while passing a bill cutting food stamps — another bill Jones opposed.

Indeed, his GOP dissent has largely come to define him. But Jones tends to think that reputation is unfair. Yes, he knows he’ll always be known as the Republican who changed his mind about the war, but he said when he voted to give that authority to the president, he thought it would be used responsibly.

“How naive, how naive I was,” he said.

Jones told CQ Roll Call that “this whole system up here needs to change,” but he said he doesn’t think it will happen in his lifetime.

What to do in the meantime?

“Just trying to clear the two pilots’ names,” he said.

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