Politics & Government

Recovering from illness, congressman sworn in at home in Eastern North Carolina

Rep. Walter Jones, who is battling an undisclosed illness, has not cast a vote in the new Congress, extending an absence that began in late September.

Jones, who turns 76 in February, was sworn-in at his Farmville home on Jan. 4 — one day after the newly elected Congress started work — by fellow North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield.

“It was one of the greatest honors of my life for my friend Walter Jones to ask me to administer his oath,” said Butterfield, a Wilson Democrat who said he has known Jones for more than 40 years.

Jones, a Republican, won re-election to his 12th term in November. He said it would be his final term in Congress.

Jones was granted a leave of absence by the House on Dec. 11. He hasn’t voted since late September. His office has not disclosed the nature of his illness. A spokesman said in an email last week that Jones “continues to deal with a medical issue.”

Butterfield made the 20-minute drive from his home in Wilson to Jones’ Farmville home, outside Greenville, to administer the oath. He said Jones met him at the front door without assistance, and they chatted for several minutes before Jones took the oath of office. Butterfield said Jones’ appearance was fine, though he’d lost some weight.

“He’s got some health challenges, but it appears he’s on the road to recovery,” Butterfield said. “I fully expect him to return within the next several weeks.”

Jones’ 3rd Congressional District encompasses much of Eastern North Carolina, including the northern half of of the coast. Butterfield’s 1st Congressional District is next to it, stretching from Durham and covering much of the northeastern part of the state.

With Jones’ absence, North Carolina has two vacancies in the U.S. House. The results from November’s election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, which runs from Charlotte to Fayetteville along the southern border of the state, have not been certified as the state board of elections investigates accusations of election fraud.

When the new Congress was sworn in — and votes for speaker cast — 433 members were present. The only two districts not represented were both from North Carolina.

In 1992, Jones ran in the Democratic primary to replace his retiring father in the 1st district. Jones placed first in the primary, but lost a primary runoff to Eva Clayton. Jones’ father, a Democrat, died several months before completing his term.

In 1994, Jones ran as a Republican in the 3rd district, which included large parts of his dad’s old district. Jones won election and has served ever since.

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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.