Democratic Alabama Senator-elect Doug Jones was largely overshadowed during his successful Senate run due to salacious media reports detailing his opponent’s allegedly sexually predatory behavior, but the lack of coverage betrays Jones’ past at the center of Alabama’s racially tinged politics.
Jones, 63, was named U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama in Birmingham by then President Bill Clinton in 1997. Four years later, he made his name prosecuting two Klansmen responsible for the 1963 16th street church bombing, both of whom had alluded justice for the intervening four decades. Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry were found guilty and sentenced to four consecutive life sentences for a crime that Martin Luther King Jr. called “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.”
The son of a steel worker in the suburbs of Birmingham, Ala., Jones developed his political sensibilities as a teenager during the precipice of the civil rights movement, establishing a reputation as a friend to black students when his high school first integrated.
“He kind of befriended me first,” Darnell Gardner, one of the first black students to attend Jones’ high school, told The New York Times. “He was someone I could go to and say, ‘Hey Doug, I got this problem, can you help me?'”
Jones won the 1972 Kiwanis Club Youth of the Year for his efforts to smooth racial tensions in the wake of integration.
As a young law student at Cumberland Law School in Birmingham, Jones routinely skipped class to watch to watch what the trial of Robert Chambliss, the third and only 16th street church bomber, and the only one who was initially brought to justice. The experience cemented Jones desire to bring the remaining bombers to justice when the FBI reopened the case years later.
After law school Jones worked for former Sen. Howell Heflin, the last Democrat to hold a seat in the upper chamber in Alabama. He then went on to become a federal prosecutor – during which time he prosecuted the 16th street bombers and Eric Rudolph, who bombed an abortion clinic in 1997 – before finally pursuing a career as a defense attorney.
Jones sought to distance himself from the national democratic party until very late in the campaign but his stance on most social issues is in keeping with the party line. He is pro-choice, telling AL.com “I fully support a woman’s freedom to choose what happens to her own body. That is an intensely, intensely personal decision that only she, in consultation with her god, her doctor, her partner or family, that’s her choice.”
Similarly, Jones supports Obamacare and has said he is “disturbed” by Republican attempts to repeal the legislation.
“I would adamantly oppose any proposal that does not protect Alabamians from rising health care costs, higher premiums and out-of-pocket expenses while ensuring those with preexisting conditions cannot be denied coverage or charged more,” he wrote on his campaign website.
Jones also opposed the Trump administration’s efforts to rollback protections for LGBTQ students and those serving in the military.
On the issues of gun rights, Republicans may be able to negotiate with Jones, who has called himself a “Second Amendment guy” but stipulates he is in favor of increased background checks for gun owners. Jones is also relatively moderate on immigration, conceding that he would like to see increased border security measures, though he’s maintained that Trump’s wall would be too expensive.
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