Ben "Cooter " Jones has been the subject line of quite a few articles on the upset loss of House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor . Prior to the election, Jones penned an article for Huffington Post asking Democrats in Cantor's district to vote for David Brat, the upset winner. Media and bloggers from Variety to the New York Times have tried to paint Jones as a gadfly factor in Cantor's demise.
Statistical analysis from the New York Times and Washington post wonks cast doubt on this storyline. However, Jones seems to be riding high from it. And he enjoys once again being in the limelight after being sent to political obscurity in 2002 after losing an election to Cantor.
Ben Jones is most known as an actor who played the mechanic Cooter on the TV show Dukes of Hazzard. He also served two terms as a Congressman from Georgia's 4th Congressional District from 1988 to 1992. He first ran in 1986 against right wing born again Pat Swindall.
In 1988, Jones defeated Swindall. At the time, Swindall was under indictment for perjury. In a classic moment in the Jones - Swindall debate, Swindall tried to deflect the perjury charges against him by pointing out Jones had an extensive misdeamnor record for assaults, drunkeness, domestic violence.
Jones freely admitted to the charges. He said he drank heavily at the time but had been sober for a very long time since those charges. The exchange made the born again Swindall look cheap and hypocritical.
Jones was re-elected narrowly in 1990. His district was re-done in 1992. Jones was defeated in a primary battle with Cynthia McKenney who held the seat 10 years.
His 4 years from 1988 to 1992 were probably his finest hours politically. After losing to McKenney, Jones went into political decline.
In 1994, he ran against then House Speaker, Newt Gingrich in Georgia's 6th District. He lost badly 65% to 35%. In 1998, Jones broke ranks with Democrats and called for Clinton's impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky affair.
After that, Jones moved to rural Virginia in Cantor's 7th District. Jones is a Virginia native. But he brought his fire in the belly political aspirations with him.
In 2002, he got the Democratic nod to run against Eric Cantor. Cantor had been elected in 2000. The 7th District was heavily conservative. Jones asked the Democratic Party for $500,000 to run against Cantor according to a former 7th District democratic leader. The party rejected this since they figured the district was too heavily conservative.
Jones problems with Democrats were as great as they were with Cantor. Not only money, but Jones drew the ire of former African American governor Douglas Wilder. Jones ran around the district with his Cootermobile, the General Lee, with its emblazoned Confederate flag.
In addition, Jones referred to himself as a "Byrd Democrat." A Byrd Democrat is a reference to former segregationist Democrat Harry F. Byrd, Sr. at this point in history, Democrats had moved to the leftward. They did not want one of their canidates reminding people of their former association with the tightly run , segregationist, Byrd Machine.
Jones defended his use of the Confederate flag. In Jones world, the Confederate flag is honorable. But Virginia has in many quarters become hostile territory for Robert E. Lee worship and certainly for Confederate flags. Jones did not seem to get it that a lot of Virginians did not hold those symbols or the legacy of Harry Byrd in high esteem as he did.
Jones was trounced in the election by Cantor. Jones called Cantor's campaign against him dishonorable. There are valid reasons for Jones feeling that way. In typical Cantor name calling , he said Jones was a "Holly wood liberal. "
It is doubtful whether a real Hollywood liberal, say Sean Penn, would call himself a Byrd democrat. Nor would he campaign in the General Lee. Cantor, very unfairly, questioned Jones' patriotism,also
No doubt, Jones nursed a grudge against Cantor. Whether the Huffington piece influnced any Democrat to vote for Brat is not proven. This tarnishes Jones as gadfly avenger. The 7ht District is hugely conservative. If Brat wins the general election and turns out to be worse than Cantor, will Jones be seen as hero then ?
But there is one similiarity between Jones and Cantor. They both dug their own political graves. In the final thoughts, Cantor tried to ride the T-party tiger and got mauled. Jones , after 1992, made quite a few questionable political moves.
Given their similiarities, maybe Jones should allow Cantor to ride shotgun in the General Lee.