United States Representative Walter B. Jones (R–North Carolina, District 3), a staunch supporter of the rent-to-own industry for over a decade in Washington D.C., died peacefully at his home surrounded by family on February 10, 2019, at the age of 76. The RTO industry never had a better friend and supporter than Jones in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Representative Jones was the lead sponsor on RTO bills that the industry supported in the U.S. House five different times. In 1997, he sponsored the first RTO bill in the 105th Congress, H.R. 2019 – Consumer Disclosure and Rental Purchase Agreement Act. The bill failed to gain traction, so he then introduced H.R. 1634 in the following 106th Congress. H.R. 1634 garnered 51 co-sponsors, more than the previous bill, but still did not make it out of committee before Congress adjourned. Together, Jones and the RTO industry came closest to seeing an RTO law enacted at the federal level in the 107th Congress in 2001 when he introduced H.R. 1701 and shepherded that bill through various committees and finally saw it narrowly passed out of the full House in 2001. Unfortunately, H.R. 1701 was sent to the Senate late in the legislative session, and Congress adjourned before that body could give its full attention to the House’s RTO bill.
In 2003, Jones remained vigilant and loyal to the industry and introduced H.R. 996 in the next Congress. That bill died in committee as the makeup of the Congress was shifting and the Bush administration was coming under increasing criticism over the war efforts. Undaunted, Jones introduced a fifth RTO bill, H.R. 1651, a couple of years later in the 109th Congress in 2005. H.R. 1651, like its predecessors, was fully supported by the industry, but also like its predecessors, failed to make it into law. Once the Obama administration came into power, Jones and the industry both recognized that further legislative efforts for a stand-alone RTO bill would not likely be successful during that administration.
Jones had followed his father’s footsteps into politics early on. His father, Walter B. Jones Sr., was an American Democratic politician from the state of North Carolina who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1966 until his death from natural causes in 1992. Jones Jr. was first elected to the North Carolina statehouse in 1982 and served five terms in Raleigh, representing Pitt County. In 1991, when his father retired, he ran for this father’s seat in the U.S. House and lost. In 1994 he switched parties, ran as a Republican, and won. His district included the Camp Lejeune Marine base, and Jones was always a vocal supporter of the U.S. military.
After 9/11 in 2001, he came out strong with support for the Iraq invasion and came up with the effort to rebrand “French fries” as “freedom fries” because of that country’s refusal to support the U.S. military efforts. However, soon after the invasion, Jones concluded that the Bush administration had been less than candid with him and with the American public about the reasons for the attack. He then turned against the effort and became one of the Congress’ most vocal critics on the Right. Over the next several years, he wrote personal notes to some 12,500 service members and their families who had taken part in the conflict.
Jones was always a man of conscience both in his personal and his political life. He converted from Southern Baptist to Catholicism in mid-life, and his religious convictions were always an essential part of who he was. His unwavering support for the military and the RTO industry as well came from his deep personal convictions about those issues.
The rent-to-own industry owes Jones a great debt for his support in D.C. over the years. Rental dealers can only hope that in time they will be able to find another champion worthy of filling Jones’ very big shoes. Today those shoes are, sadly, empty.