And now there are two
by Tom Sullivan
Congressman Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) died on Sunday after serving North Carolina’s 3rd district since 1995. He entered Congress as part of the Gingrich revolution. He died on his 76th birthday.
Jones, you may remember, was congressman “freedom fries” early in the Iraq War. But the war changed him, reports NPR:
Jones was originally a strong proponent of the Iraq war, but after attending the funeral of a Marine sergeant killed by a rocket-propelled grenade, Jones came to believe the human cost was too great. He spent the rest of his days writing letters to the family of almost every fallen soldier — an attempt not just to comfort the families, but also to atone for his 2002 vote in favor of the invasion, which he deeply regretted.
“I have signed over 12,000 letters to families and extended families who’ve lost loved ones in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and that was for me asking God to forgive me for my mistake,” he told NPR in 2017. He spent the last several years as a lonely Republican voice urging Congress to bring American troops home.
His district includes the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
Jones’s passing makes 2 vacancies to fill among North Carolina’s 13-member U.S. House delegation. NC-3 (Cook R+12) covers most of the coast north of Wilmington to the Virginia border, including the Outer Banks. It is substantially rural. The governor will have to call a special election to fill the vacancy.
Complicating matters (this is, after all, the newly insane state of North Carolina) is the ongoing investigation into election rigging in NC-9 (Cook R+8). That seat remains vacant after absentee ballot discrepancies after the election gave rise to election fraud charges. The district stretches east along the South Carolina border from downtown Charlotte to east of Fayetteville. The fate of the NC-9 election may not be determined until late spring.
Both districts are about 20 percent African American.
The Charlotte Observer summarizes the controversy:
The bitterly fought race was thrown into disarray in November, when the previous board (which was dissolved in an unrelated legal dispute) refused to certify the results in the 9th District. Allegations of illegal absentee ballot-harvesting by McCrae Dowless, a Bladen County political operative working for the [Mark] Harris campaign, soon surfaced, with some voters saying they had turned over their ballots to people they didn’t know.
The new State Board of Elections will hold two days of hearings on investigators’ findings beginning on February 18 after a month’s delay in the original hearing date. The Board will have to decide whether the election malfeasance occurred and was significant enough to require a new election. Anticipating that, the Republican-controlled legislature in December passed a law over Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s veto that would require any new election in NC-9 to include a new primary. Republicans want the chance to replace their fall candidate, Harris, now considered toxic. At the end of ballot counting, Harris led by 905 votes, but that margin alone may not determine the board’s decision.
Now Cooper faces trying to coordinate two off-year congressional elections, and to expedite them as well. A million and a half of his constituents are unrepresented in Congress. I already anticipate a new NC-9 race to be a four-ring media circus.
Whoever wins each of those districts late this spring could find themselves drawn out of them almost immediately. The Supreme Court hears arguments in Rucho v. Common Cause on March 26. The court will decide whether North Carolina’s 2016 congressional maps are unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. The court has kicked this issue down the road before. But this might be the best-case scenario for a ruling against partisan gerrymanders, and NC plaintiffs have a strong case. If the Supreme Court upholds the August ruling, North Carolina could be redrawing their districts again about the time new NC-3 and NC-9 congresspersons take office.
Oh, yes. The state’s House and Senate districts are under challenge as well, only that case will wind up in the state Supreme Court which has a 5-2 progressive tilt. That case will be heard later this year.