Challengers attack Jones' votes against party, Trump
By Jon Hawley
Thursday, April 19, 2018
U.S. Rep. Walter Jones is seeking his 13th and final term serving northeastern North Carolina's 3rd Congressional District, and one of the questions before Republican voters in next month’s primary is whether the congressman’s willingness to defy his party’s leaders is an asset or a liability.
His two opponents in the primary argue the latter.
Craven County Commissioner Scott Dacey, 55, and Marine veteran Phil Law, 36, say the 3rd Congressional District is overdue for change and needs a strong conservative who will also support Republicans’ top priorities, including tax and regulatory reform and border security.
Jones, 75, counters that he shares those goals, but the nation must pursue them without adding to a $20 trillion-plus national debt that he sees as both an economic and national security threat. Jones also argues he’s a proven, consistent champion on veterans' issues.
Voting in the GOP primary election starts Thursday with early voting. The GOP primary will likely decide the district's next congressman, as no Democrats have filed for the seat.
Law, 36, is a Marine veteran now working as an information technology manager in Raleigh. He ran in 2016, coming in a distant second place to Jones but beating Taylor Griffin, who himself nearly beat Jones in 2014. Law argues his military, managerial and technical experience make him the best choice for the district.
“Voters have a choice between a 34-year politician, a casino lobbyist, or a patriot,” Law said. “Casino lobbyist” is an allusion to Dacey's work for Native-American tribes.
Law said the country's top issue is border security, and he argues that makes construction of a border wall along the U.S.’ southern border a top priority. A U.S.-Mexican border wall is one of President Donald Trump's signature issues.
Trump also has announced an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an initiative under President Barack Obama that protects people brought into the U.S. illegally as children.
Law said he rejects simply giving DACA recipients citizenship, calling that unfair to legal immigrants. DACA recipients should pursue citizenship legally by returning to their home countries or, short of requiring all to leave the US, some should get green cards allowing them to work toward citizenship, he said.
Law also claims he’s better qualified than Jones to improve the U.S.' cyber-security, given his background in information technology and work as a Department of Defense security contractor.
Law also strongly supports the tax-cut package that President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress passed last year. He also said he will champion the region and investment in it, if elected.
“I can be that pro-business advocate for eastern North Carolina,” he said.
Law also said he would seek to partner with state lawmakers to support funding for interstate development, inlet jetties, port maintenance and other key needs. He stressed there needs to be strong oversight of that spending, however.
He criticized Jones for his hard-line stance on deficit spending. He also disagrees with Jones support of the Mueller investigation. He said he believes the special counsel has gone beyond his original commission, and that the probe should be closed because it no longer benefits taxpayers. Law agrees with Trump characterization of it as a “witch hunt.”
Dacey, 55, is a Craven County commissioner and, according to opensecrets.org, a federal lobbyist for Pace LLP. Among his listed clients in 2017 were the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, where he went to college.
Dacey, who declined to grant an interview for this story, explained his candidacy in a meeting with Pasquotank Republicans in Elizabeth City in February. He said he's running to strongly support Trump's agenda. As someone who's worked in local government and in the halls of Congress, he claims he's best qualified to serve the 3rd District.
After serving in the Small Business Administration under President George H.W. Bush, Dacey said he worked on “trying to bring economies to Indian reservations, trying to make certain they have opportunities on those reservations … a way to get off the public system of welfare.”
Dacey also called tribal governments “the most non-establishment entity” in Washington, D.C. People who condemn his work need to understand he's worked to bring free market ideas to overlooked, often impoverished areas, he said.
As for criticisms that he's a casino or “gambling lobbyist,” Dacey said he worked to defend tribes' property rights, including having casinos on their land. He also noted that Trump himself owns casinos, and argues no one who voted for Trump should have a problem voting for him.
Like Law, Dacey is running in strong support of Trump's agenda, including on taxes and the economy, as well as border security. In two differences with Trump, however, he said in February he favors tougher sanctions on Russia, and believes that Mueller's investigation should be allowed to run its course.
Dacey says Jones has proven ineffective as a congressman, pointing to poor relationships with congressional leaders and his failure to curb the national debt despite his hard-line stance against deficit spending. Rather than oppose tax reform or other Republican policies, Dacey said he would focus on pursuing entitlement reform. Those are the true causes of the national debt, he’s said.
Dacey's website also criticizes Jones for failing to support a recent defense spending bill, legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and legislation to combat opioid abuse and other legislation Dacey argues would benefit the district.
Jones, 75, has been an institution in eastern North Carolina, where he has served in either state or federal office for more than 30 years. The strong social conservative and deficit hawk is asking for voters' support one last time, his campaign's spokesman told The Raleigh News and Observer earlier this month.
“I think he desperately wants to have a final term,” Doug Raymond told the newspaper. “There are things he's very passionate about that he wants to see to fruition.”
Raymond said Jones' schedule has become too busy for interviews. However, he shared a list of Jones' legislative accomplishments, some of which include: successfully clearing the names of Marine pilots blamed for an Osprey aircraft crash more than 14 years ago; incorporating provisions in defense spending bills to help troops with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury; promoting enactment of legislation to improve access to Cape Hatteras' beaches; and seeking an end to an “explosion” in election spending due to “super political action committees.”
Raymond also said Jones has “sponsored or co-sponsored more veterans' legislation in the last three congressional terms than any other sitting member of Congress.”
Jones, who lives in Farmville, is known for putting his principles above his party. He famously expressed regret for his support for the Iraq War and suggested in 2013 that Republican Vice President Dick Cheney would go to hell for supporting the war.
Jones has continued to rankle Republican leaders since. The nonprofit investigative organization ProPublica has found that, in just the current congressional term, Jones has voted against the House majority 39 percent of the time.
“He ranks first among all representatives in voting against his party,” the website said.
Nevertheless, Jones maintains he is staunchly against big government, wasteful and deficit spending, and remains a strong social conservative.
Jones also put out statements explaining his votes against repealing the Affordable Care Act and the tax reform bill, two burning priorities for Republicans. Jones said the bill to repeal the ACA used a “shameful” closed-door process akin to how Democrats first passed the bill, and lacked needed healthcare reforms or clear cost estimates.
Similarly, on the tax reform bill, Jones said in December the bill will be financed by adding “$2 trillion to America's debt.” Projections from the Congressional Budget Office this month estimated the Republican tax reforms would raise the deficit by $1.9 trillion through 2028, even accounting for economic growth due to the tax cuts.
In one area where Jones agrees with Republican leaders, the congressman has put out a statement supporting Trump's recent decision to send National Guard troops to the southern border.
Jon Hawley writes for The Daily Advance of Elizabeth City.