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Will the backlash against "Congress" imperil Walter Jones?

Is the Super PAC a substitute for term limits?

March 30, 2012
There's a storm brewing in Eastern North Carolina. And Walter Jones may be in the eye of that storm. He has been targeted by the Campaign for Primary Accountability (CPA). And if recent results in Ohio, Illinois and Alabama are any indication of things to come, Jones may face the fight of his life in May. CPA has targeted him in the May primary.

Here's how CPA defines "the problem:"
There's one thing all Americans are fed up with: Trillion-dollar federal deficits. They destroy jobs, burden future generations with crushing debts and benefit only the corrupt, entrenched establishment in Washington, D.C., which wants ever-greater control over our lives.

We're also disgusted with a Congress that is, directly or indirectly, responsible for these problems. How disgusted? In November 2010, the approval rating of Congress was just 17%, which was the lowest in our history.

But in that same month–when the approval rate of Congress was at an all-time low–86% of incumbent members of the U.S. House of Representatives were re-elected! Imagine working for a company that is losing money, lays off half its workers, pollutes the river but then gives its top executives huge bonuses. Something clearly is wrong with such a system, and it's high time we did something about it.

More than 80% of congressional districts are controlled by one of the two political parties. Most general elections aren't even close. The incumbent wins in a landslide, with an average margin of victory of 26%. Most long-term incumbents–the ones who control Congress–come from one-party districts. The general elections in which they cruise to victory election after election are really fake fights, like the ones in pro wrestling.

But here's the killer. Primaries are far less competitive than the general elections. During the past decade, House incumbents were as likely to die in office as to lose a primary election. Incumbents enjoy other huge advantages. They write the rules by which elections are conducted, get favorable coverage from the media simply because they are in office and have lavish travel expenses and other perks of office. Lobbyists shower them with campaign funds.

It's just not right.

Driven by frustration with Washington, citizens are hungry for a way to regain control of a runaway federal government. We're desperate to end the fraud, mismanagement, corruption and crime. For far too long, Americans have mistakenly pinned their hopes on a political savior, a white knight, or some other figment of our imaginations, who will win the presidency, roll up his (or her) sleeves and "clean house." Others place their trust in a political party or ideological "movement." If bitter experience is any guide, we've been wasting our energy, money and time. The way to regain control of Washington is to regain control of Congress. Congress, after all, is the most powerful branch of government, and the most powerful members of Congress are entrenched House incumbents.

Primaries, remember, are where very few people bother to vote and where a small fraction of the electorate decides who will run in November and return to Washington. Remember that 10% of voters participate in the dominant primaries. This equates to an average of only 40,000-50,000 voters in each district. As pathetic as this seems, the low turnout in primaries represents a real opportunity. That's because just a small percentage of voters in any district can change the outcome of the primary and, therefore, change who will end up representing that district in Congress.
Jones has come under scrutiny as never before as a result of his voting record in recent years. He was elected, and touts himself, as a "conservative." Yet he has the most liberal voting record of any Republican in the North Carolina Delegation and one of the most liberal records of all Republicans in the House. Some have pointed out that he has been in Congress long enough that he should have risen to a leadership position but he does not chair any significant committees. His challenger in the Republican Primary, Frank Palombo, contends he has lost touch with the "people back home." Others contend it is not so much losing touch as it is "the arrogance of incumbency." That is where CPA comes in. It is their stated objective to make incumbents compete for their seats.

What compounds Jones' problem is a growing and intense negative reaction against incumbents. Congress itself has some of the lowest approval ratings in history, and it has not changed with the change in partisan control of the House in 2010. But in the past surveys have shown that while a heavy majority of people express frustration with "Congress" they still vote for their incumbent. Incumbents have seldom lost.

But that may be changing. The previous efforts to unseat incumbents has tended to focus on the General Election, where partisan politics played a key role. However, the approach CPA is using is to focus on the primary where viable candidates are challenging incumbents. That may change the End Game. Indications are that the popular backlash against "politics as usual" and the shift of attention to the primaries may portend trouble for Jones and other entrenched incumbents.

Jones is perceived by some observers as being especially vulnerable because of his positions on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He represents a heavy military oriented district. He has long called for pulling the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, a position that some consider surrender rather than insisting that our troops be given the support necessary to win. One retired Marine colonel told us: "Jones' position is dispicable. While our troops were in harm's way he advocated 'cut-n-run.' That does nothing but encourage the enemy. What we need are leaders in Washington that do not send our troops into battle unless they intend to let them win. War is hell, but once the President deploys our troops Congressmen should support whatever is necessary to get the mission accomplished." At a recent public meeting in the district that comment got a standing ovation. Jones has come under withering criticism for the following:

We shall see how it all plays out.

If you have read this far you will most likely be interested in this article that recently appeared in the National Journal.

  1. reply print email
    Walter Jones shafted our troops
    March 31, 2012 | 09:45 AM

    Sure, we ought to pull out of Afghanistan. But that is surrender. Jones is the modern-day Jane Fonda for our troops. He should be voted out and run out of the country. He is a traitor to America's best interests.
    It matters not whether Bush/Obama should have sent our troops to Iraq or Afghanistan. Once they were there Jones should have insisted they be given what they needed (Rules of Engagement) to win.

    Walter (but not Jones)
  2. reply print email
    Walter B. Jones
    March 31, 2012 | 09:49 AM

    As a Vietnam vet this is the one and only thing I agree with Mr. Jones on. As I have said many, many times before "We haven't learned a thing from Vietnam". We don't declare war as the Constitution requires, therefore the civilian side is not included in the effort. We attempt to "Democracize" a third world country without any consideration of their cultural history. We back/support a corrupt leadership who gives us lip service while undermining our efforts and we still keep looking for that light at the end of the tunnel. I was afforded the opportunity, prior to the Iraq conflict, to publicly offer my opinion on a Greenville TV station that we had no right to go into Iraq. Never in our history have we attacked another nation without first being attacked by them which would give us legal authority to respond.
    In almost everything else I feel Walter has become part of the problem in Washington. He goes along to get along and never once has he, or most of the other Congressman or women stood up in chambers and confronted the administration about the unconstitutionality of their actions. Walter must be retired this year and we must, must, keep a tight leash on his successor.

    George H. Schryer
  3. reply print email
    March 31, 2012 | 07:04 PM

    "Walter (but not Jones)"

    Walter Jones represents a district comprised of Camp Lejuene and Cherry Point, a district that has lost considerably more lives than any other district in the United States. You assert that withdrawal is surrender, but why would we stay? So that Karzai can demonize service members? The same service members that are dying or losing limbs for his country. So we can pour billions more into that country so that Afghan politicians can buy waterfront villas in Dubai? As a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom (yet another Islamic country that is inevitably falling a part), I can tell you that sending more troops to die so that they will not consider it 'surrender' is ignorant and does not fully understand the nature of Afghans.

    As for your Rules of Engagement statement, one of Jones' largest issues was the overly-strict rules of engagement. I encourage you to Google 'Walter Jones Rules of Engagement' an you will be presented with a whole host of articles where Rep. Jones goes after the absurdity of our current ROEs that are leading to more troop deaths. And, simply changing the ROEs will not fix the problem. U.S. soldiers are being killed by Afghan police officers, or in "secure" buildings now. To call Jones a "traitor" shows your lack of insight on principled stand of Jones.

    Bill Dewitt Bucater
  4. reply print email
    Response to Bill Dewitt Bucater
    April 02, 2012 | 09:57 AM

    Bill: You've had too much of WBJ's koolaid. As a Vietnam vet I can tell you that war is hell. The only viable choice once the politicians have started a war is to allow our troops to win it. We could have won in Nam and we could have won in Iraq and Afghanistan if the politicians had not prevented it. Jones comes late to the decision.
    I agree we need to bring our troops home, but we need to do so in victory. Think about this: There is no reason to ever fight a war unless you are going to win it. Jones' faux concern does nothing but make the loss of 4000 American lives be in vain. That is despicable.

    Walter (but not Jones)
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