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Don’t just praise Rep. Walter Jones; follow his example

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On Sunday, journalists’ inboxes overflowed with politicians’ statements of admiration for the late U.S. Rep. Walter Jones and his consistent independence from party.

On Monday, this headline topped Google News: “Another government shutdown looms” — as both parties dug in their heels on immigration.

The accolades for the Republican Jones, who died Sunday at age 76, centered around his dedication to principles and country over party. Jones, said senator and fellow North Carolinian Thom Tillis, will be remembered “for always following his convictions, no matter the political cost, and it was no wonder why he was so widely admired and trusted.”

Really? It seems Jones was more admired and trusted in death than in life — at least by Republican leaders in Washington. Jones, who represented eastern North Carolina in Congress for nearly a quarter-century, won few friends with his courageous stands. In fact, he was rewarded by being stripped of committee memberships, was never named a committee chairman and was banished to the Republicans’ back bench.

That’s the price to be paid these days by a politician, from either side, who does not come to attention and salute the party line. Independence should be a trait that is celebrated, not punished, but Jones knew that’s not the case in 21st-century America.

Jones’s colleagues could better honor him not by heaping praise on him but by emulating him. Where has their respect for his nonaligned nature been up to now?

We saw a similar phenomenon when former President George H.W. Bush died in November. Washington took a couple days off from its viciousness to applaud his integrity before launching the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

Jones was driven by his principles. He voted with Donald Trump only about 50 percent of the time. He spent much of the past 15 years trying to atone for his vote to send troops to Iraq. He voted against Trump’s tax cuts, recognizing the fuel they would provide for a rising deficit and debt. He voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act. He wanted to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which unleashed rivers of corporate money into political campaigns.

He called on Trump to release his tax returns and he supported an independent investigation into whether Russia influenced the 2016 election. But he was no Democrat, either; he held deeply conservative views on social issues, budgeting and other areas.

It all adds up to a model for other lawmakers, and perhaps for a post-Trump Republican Party.

We need more Walter Joneses in Congress. Such a body would see less gridlock.

Shortly before Jones died, Rob Christensen, a former political columnist for the (Raleigh) News & Observer, wrote: “The knock on Jones, of course, is that politics is a team sport, and legislative bodies could not function if every individual went off in their own direction. A Congress full of Walter Joneses would be chaos.”

Compared to what we have now, we’d take our chances.

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