The new Republican majority has officially controlled the chamber for nearly month, and until Wednesday, not a single Republican House Member had broken ranks on any roll call vote. And the first defector is a maverick, but a character rarely assused of being a RINO (Republican in Name Only): Rep. Walter Jones, Jr. (R-NC).

 The roll call in question was a sensible measure that would abolish public financing for presidential campaigns and national party conventions.  These practices are unfair to political minorities (like Libertarians, Greens, etc. that were mostly unable to qualify) and force Americans to pony up for political speech anathema, and sometimes offensive, to their own beliefs.  The convention funding is a subsidy for the two big parties and undermines chances for more diversely competitive elections.  The anti-campaign regulation Center for Competitive Politics noted “opponents struggled to explain how democracy survived after President Obama's record-breaking $745 million 2008 campaign, during which he rejected taxpayer subsidies.”

That it took almost a month for the first chink in the GOP armor to show through can certainly be attributable to a cohesiveness borne of the excitement of drubbing the Democrats and winning back Majority status, but it is also evidence that congressional parties are entering an era of party unity on roll call votes that has not been seen for decades, maybe even a century.  Jones’ father, the late Rep. Walter Jones, Sr., had a long tenure as a conservative Southern Democratic Member from North Carolina and who chaired the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee that was abolished by 1994’s Republican Majority.  High party unity scores, especially among Southern Democrats, in Jones Sr.’s day was not so common.  Even a powerful committee chair like Jones Sr. could sometimes vote with Republicans.  Jones Jr. has roots across the aisle.  He made his first bid for Congress in 1992 and served in the state legislature as a Democrat.  Jones Jr. switched parties to ride 1994’s Republican wave to Washington.

The man responsible for the French-baiting “freedom fries” fiasco evolved into a thoughtful conservative critic of foreign warmongering, marking his most high profile departure from Republican orthodoxy.  It was notable because his Eastern North Carolina district has the largest number of active military family constituents in the nation.

Although no liberal, his stance on public funds for campaign finance clashes with the “strong philosophy” that he claims “guides” him: “Congressman Jones is dedicated to making the federal government smaller and more efficient.”  

But unlike his shift on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jones’ campaign finance “reform” record is goes back to his state legislative days.  Ironically, this stance helped bolster Jones’ party loyalty cred while he was still in the Democratic Party and taking some very conservative positions on social matters.