Democrat turned Republican Congressman Walter Jones has a challenger in November.  That would be Libertarian turned Democrat Johnny Rouse.  Both of these candidates are party switchers who did so in the hopes of winning elections.  Both consider themselves conservative.  Are they?  Let’s find out.

According to an article in Mother Jones magazine, Walter Jones grew up in a typical North Carolina Southern Baptist home.  His father was a popular U. S. Congressman who sent his son away to a military academy.  He was a star athlete there and went on to N. C. State and then later Atlantic Christian College.  Jones converted to Catholicism at age 31.  He served in the National Guard and later became a wine broker before he was drafted into politics. The local Democrat Party picked him to fulfill the term of a state assemblyman who had died.  Upon his father’s retirement from Congress, he ran as a Democrat for his father’s seat.  He lost.  Shortly thereafter he changed his party affiliation, allegedly due to his views on abortion, and won election to the US House in the 1994 Republican landslide.  He ran on term limits in 1994.  His six-term term-limit pledge was, he claims, a pledge to vote for term limits, which he has done.  However, he will not impose term limits on himself, saying it would ‘hurt the District.’  He’s now serving his eighth term.

After having transformed his life religious and political affiliations, Walter now seems to be undergoing yet another transformation.  Once a staunch conservative, Walter Jones seems to have lost the conservative fire.  His lifetime American Conservative Union rating from 1994-2003 was 97.  As of 2009 his lifetime rating is down to 87 and you can expect it to be even lower after 2010.   In 2008, he earned a rating of 58 out of 100.  That was the year he voted for a $60 Billion “Stimulus” Bill (which Bush vetoed), the Fannie and Freddie Bailout Bill and the bill to kill the investigation into Charlie Rangel’s unethical activities, among others.  He also accepted a $10,000 donation from the SEIU that year.  In 2009, he voted for the Mortgage Modification Bill which violated the sanctity of contracts.  This year he voted for the big government, small reform bill known as ‘Wall Street Reform’ which was supported by only three Republicans.  He was an original co-sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act which sought to limit free speech and was such a bad bill that even the ACLU opposed it.  On the other side of the coin, Walter did oppose the $787 billion Stimulus Bill, the financial bailout (TARP) and the auto industry bailout.   He did oppose Obamacare and has co-sponsored legislation to repeal it.  So what are his constituents to make of all this contradictory voting?

The way Walter sees things, he is a “leading conservative opponent of the expansion of the federal government and the explosion of deficit spending in Congress”.  The way I see it, Walter has been left unchecked for far too long.  It seems like he’s voting on some of these bad bills because they contain one or two provisions that he likes even though the aim, foundation and majority of the provisions of the bill are progressive in nature.  It’s like buying a house just because you like the color of the bathroom.  You have to look at the bill in its entirety and vote on the principle of the whole bill.  It’s up to us, his constituents, to tell Walter what we think of these bills before he votes.  We see what happens when he’s left to his own devices.

Now on to his opponent…

Johnny Rouse grew up the son of a single mom not far from Farmville.  He served in the Air Force out of high school, made a failed bid for NC House in 1996 as a Libertarian and then went on to major in political science at East Carolina University.  In 1998 he changed his party affiliation from Libertarian to Democrat, mainly because of his views on abortion and because he figured that in eastern North Carolina, he could be successful politically as a ‘pragmatic,’ conservative Democrat.  He served two terms and DNC Party Chair in Pitt County.

Johnny Rouse seems to be undergoing his own transformation.  In 1996, he outlined his Libertarian beliefs in a survey that was posted online until recently (ToD is grateful to Google for cached pages).  He tells ToD that many of his beliefs from 1996 remain ‘unchanged.’ Affirmative Action?  Get rid of it.  Guns?  Law abiding citizens should not be restricted in any way.  However, his overall view that “government was corrupt and that government charity was forced altruism,” is out the window.  He now calls Libertarian prescriptions destabilizing and not pragmatic (tell that to Ron Paul).  He has changed his mind on taxes, health care and welfare to name a few.  Take for instance his stand on health care.  In 1996, he didn’t consider healthcare a right.  Today, on Obamcare, he doesn’t say that he would have voted against it but rather that he “would have shied away from the bill that was passed,” saying that he is not a fan of “omnibus or comprehensive bills of any kind.”  He would have liked to have seen gradual changes including medical licensing and tort reform.  That being said, he is not in favor of repeal, saying that it would create too much instability.  He says he would, “work to identify problems that arise from the bill and mend those and strengthen the things that seem to work.”  On welfare, he was once in favor of eliminating it but now says “we cannot let children become homeless or starve.”  On taxes, once a supporter of a flat tax, he now supports graduated rates.

Here is someone who is looking at his future in the Democrat Party, to which he is now committed, and modifying his positions accordingly.  How can a man who, in his own recent words, believes in “limited and effective government, skepticism of bureaucracy and seeking answers in conjunction with the private sector” also accept nationalized health care?  Those are irreconcilable differences.  But you can’t divorce yourself from yourself so you do the next best thing:  pretend that the differences don’t exist and hope that no one looks too closely at your past.    Had the Republican Party in northeastern North Carolina been more prominent, Mr. Rouse may have become a Republican instead, which is the more natural home for Libertarians.  He would not have had to change his positions on much of anything.  And he could have saved himself the knots that he’s going to have to tie himself in to in order to be acceptable to the Democrats at the national level.

So here we are with our two ‘conservative’ candidates.  Which one will you vote for?  Take our poll below.