Doug Jones: ‘You can’t just wish for change’

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Asking former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones to be the keynote speaker at this year’s Truman Day Dinner is paying off for Knox County Democratic Party chair Matt Shears. Not only are the tickets sold out, but as of Wednesday, the Dems had hauled in a record $60,000-plus net profit, which tells me I’m not the only Jones fan in this low-rise burg.

But the senator and I have a history, of which he is totally unaware.

A couple of days before Thanksgiving 2017, I got stuck in the Atlanta airport long enough to talk to some fellow travelers, the most memorable of whom was a New Yorker who had transplanted herself to Eufaula, Alabama. Like me, she was on her way to California for the holiday.

I asked her what she thought about her adopted state’s upcoming special election to pick a replacement for longtime Sen. Jeff Sessions, whom President Donald Trump had plucked to serve as his attorney general.

Primary elections had concluded, and the former state Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore had won the GOP nod despite a growing list of accusations that he used to stalk teenaged girls in shopping centers. He’d inoculated himself against such allegations with gimmicks like hauling a “replica” of the Ten Commandments around like the Moses of the Bible Belt.

Moore was probably so busy measuring the drapes in his Senate office he wasn’t worrying about his general election opponent, former U.S. Atty. Doug Jones, a Democrat of impeccable reputation best known for bringing to justice two of the Klansmen responsible for the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four little girls as they were changing into their choir robes.

The world was watching, but Alabama hadn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since Richard Shelby in 1992, and he’d changed parties to run for re-election, so the smart money said Moore would win. I thought so, too.

But my new friend from Eufaula disagreed. Here’s why:

She’d planted a Doug Jones sign in her front yard before the primaries, and it was still there in the run-up to the general election. This sign was a good sign for Jones, because she lives just a few doors down from the Eufaula VFW, where guys in MAGA hats stage parades.

Sometimes a sign wasn’t just a sign, she said. Doug Jones was going to win.

Her confidence rubbed off on me and I spent the next week spreading the word from San Francisco to Portland. It got a little murky when I had to explain about the sign and the Eufaula VFW, but come election day, she was right.

So, when I heard that Jones was coming to Knoxville, I wanted to talk to him. But Truman Day got canceled because of Covid, and Jones promised to come to Knoxville when the dinner was rescheduled. And sure enough, the dinner is tomorrow (06/10), and Doug Jones is the speaker. He’s not even accepting a speaker’s fee, unlike radio shockjock Charlie Kirk, who collected $20,000 from the Knox County GOP to appear at the most recent Lincoln Day Dinner.

When I spoke to Jones this week, I didn’t ask him about the 2020 Senate race, which he lost to Republican Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn football coach who is carving out a reputation for saying stuff like, “My dad fought 76 years ago in Europe to free Europe of socialism.”

Alabama electing a Republican is a dog bites man story; it’s not news.

Ketanji Brown Jackson

Meanwhile, Jones hasn’t been sitting idle since leaving office just days ahead of the Jan. 6 insurrection. His most recent official job was acting as Ketanji Brown Jackson’s sherpa on Capitol Hill after President Joe Biden nominated her to fill the vacancy that will be left on the U.S. Supreme Court when Associate Justice Stephen Breyer retires this summer. Jones said that that helping Jackson was a high honor because she was an “inspirational” candidate with impeccable credentials and a spotless reputation.

But he was disappointed that she was confirmed by just a 53-47 vote:

“It is a sad state of affairs when someone like Ketanji Brown Jackson can only garner three votes from the opposing party.”

Jones has devoted a great deal of study to Supreme Court nominations. In 2018, he risked his reputation for bipartisan decision-making and probably damaged his re-election chances by voting against confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the high court, but he said there were stark differences between the scholarly, disciplined Jackson and the controversial Trump nominee whose emotional responses to critical questions made him a running joke on Saturday Night Live.

“I worked very hard on that (confirmation vote),” said Jones, who voted to approve 65 percent of Trump’s judicial nominees because he believes that every president is due a certain amount of deference in these matters. But Kavanaugh’s responses made Jones (and Republican Lisa Murkowski) vote against his confirmation.

“It was not the allegations against him that swayed me; it was his response. His temperament. The way he handled things. I put it like this to my business friends: ‘If you were interviewing a CFO and they did pretty well, but there are a whole bunch of people out there just as qualified, and when you wanted to talk to him again, he blew up on you, and knowing if you hired him, you couldn’t fire him, would you actually hire him?”

Democratic potential in the south

Jones has a longstanding relationship with Joe Biden and an abiding faith that Democrats can succeed in the South if they understand the region and adjust their expectations and their branding and stop saying stupid stuff like “defund the police.”

He believes in a strong two-party system, and he believes in working hard to keep it.

He also believes in staying busy. Here’s what he’s been up to recently: He taught a class on the U.S. Senate at Boston College Law School, is of counsel with the D.C. law firm ArentFox Schiff, is a distinguished senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and is the honorary chair of the Right Side of History PAC. He is also the honorary chair of Every Voice, a non-profit working to build voter participation in nine Southern states.

He hopes to inject a moderate voice in elections for years to come and considers himself “progressive, but not far left.” He believes Democrats need to work to save the planet from global warming, protect women’s reproductive rights, push for commonsense gun law reforms including getting a new ATF director confirmed (the nomination has been stalled for years). And he believes that Democrats must stop letting the likes of Donald Trump define them.

But he believes that the movement Trump put in motion is bigger than he is, and that Democrats must be vigilant.

“Trump started something that the GOP has let get out of control, and the more the Republican Party is held hostage by the MAGA faction, the more people must understand that our democracy is under siege and under assault. We can do this without compromising our principles at all.

“We can attract voters who are concerned about the future, people who want good health care and living wages. People who want to save democracy as we know it because it is still under siege. You can’t just wish for change. That is folly. You’ve got to help this process along.”

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for

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