”The Republican establishment is ready to take another crack at unseating Rep. Walter Jones” the article in National Journal earlier this month began. A similar trial balloon was raised in the Raleigh, NC News and Observer at the same time.
[mc_name name=’Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’J000255′ ], one of the stalwarts who voted for a GOP alternative to [mc_name name=’Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B000589′ ] as Speaker, has apparently dodged the establishment attempt to primary him next year, however, as prospective opponent Tony Tata has backed off of the challenge. Tata, a registered Unaffiliated voter since he moved to North Carolina four years ago and who lives over a hundred miles from the district is a former public school district superintendent in Wake County and serves in Republican Governor Pat McCrory’s administration as Secretary of Transportation. Before moving to NC, he had served as finance officer of the District of Columbia public schools.
Jones survived a primary challenge in 2014 orchestrated by out of state establishment figures in the party who backed another carpetbagger, Washington, DC PR man and lobbyist and former George Bush aide Taylor Griffin who moved to the district to challenge Jones in the primary. Griffin had grown up in a neighboring district years earlier, but never lived in the 3rd district until he moved there shortly before he announced the challenge to Jones. Over a million dollars in outside PAC money was spent in independent expenditure ads in that effort against Jones. Both Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan highlighted Jones victory then as a major win for conservatives. Buchanan pointed out the involvement of establishment kingpin Haley Barbour in the challenge to Jones.
The Tata boomlet was orchestrated by two North Carolina consultants who worked some of the same Washington establishment sources who had pushed the Griffin challenge to line up backing for a Tata challenge One of them, Carter Wrenn, was the consultant behind the original election of [mc_name name=’Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’E000291′ ]. The other, Marc Rotterman, had been Jones own consultant in his first few races, until the Jones campaign let him go. Without the Jones campaign meal ticket, Rotterman went to work for a Raleigh think tank but has now left them to try to get back into consulting.
Rotterman took Tata to Washington twice to meet with establishment leaders before they raised the trial balloon. One of those who was involved in the project was neocon journalist Bill Kristol. Explaining their opposition to Jones, Kristol’s Weekly Standard pouted
Jones is a Pariah in the House Republican conference. When GOP leaders conduct a whip count in preparation for a vote, they no longer bother to check with him. He voted against John Boehner for Speaker in 2013 and again this year, and he was stripped of a seat on the House Financial Services Committee.
Walter Jones has been the fiercest budget hawk in the NC delegation, routinely voting against all debt ceiling increases for many years and voting consistently against John Boehner’s many cave-ins to Obama on spending resolutions and bills. He has also been one who realizes that it is important to vote against a bad bill on all votes, including the votes on the rule. On CRomnibus last winter, Jones was one of the two North Carolinians to vote ”no” on the final vote and the only North Carolinian to vote against the rule to put it on the floor. More recently, he was one of two North Carolinians to vote against ObamaTrade on both the rule and the final vote.
The climbdown for Tata was accomplished by a story in the NC establishment political blog ”Jones + Blount” in which Governor McCrory stated he had asked Tata to stay on as DOT Secretary in order to push some controversial roadbuilding bonds the governor favors. The real backstory is that Tata received almost no support within the district, and he found himself wound up in a controversy that caused the gutting of North Carolina’s Voter ID law, which resulted in huge heartburn among party activists. The voter ID law, which was under court challenge, required DOT to issue free state ID’s to those citizens who requested them. Due to poor department management of that program, some DOT offices had been charging some citizens for those free ID’s which created problems with the court case. To avoid the risk of losing the case, the legislature at the last minute amended the law to allow things like utility bills plus an affidavit in lieu of a photo ID for the 2016 election. Now DOT will be able to hopefully fix Tata’s bungling and get proper free ID’s issued for 2018 but the law is badly gutted for 2016.
With Tata out, there is speculation about whether the establishment will trot out Taylor Griffin again. Griffin some months ago relinquished the rented condo with rented furniture he had been maintaining in Craven County within the district and moved his voter registration to his parents home outside the district. He is back to working in PR and lobbying in Washington.