Doug Jones: Who is Alabama's new Democratic senator who beat Donald Trump-backed Roy Moore?

Jones is Alabama’s first Democratic Senator in 25 years 

Jay Reeves,Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
Wednesday 13 December 2017 09:01
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Doug Jones has won Alabama senate election

Doug Jones, a Democrat who once prosecuted two Ku Klux Klansmen in a deadly church bombing and has now broken the Republican lock grip on Alabama, is the state's new US senator.

Here we take a look at Mr Jones' life in Alabama before becoming the first state's first Democratic senator in 25 years.

Close to home

Mr Jones, 63, grew up in the working-class city of Fairfield, just west of Birmingham, Alabama, an area where steel mills once belched smoke that left a rust-coloured haze hanging over the city.

His father was a steelworker and so was one of his grandfathers; the other worked in a coal mine. Mr Jones spent time working in a mill when not in school.

Now an attorney in private practice, Mr Jones lives just a few miles from his hometown in the hilly suburb of Mountain Brook, Alabama's richest locale.

Pro-integration

Born in 1954, the Alabama Mr Jones grew up in was one that separated white and black people. “Everything was segregated, our churches, our schools, and our neighbourhoods,” he told Newsweek. “We lived in our own bubble in Fairfield. I remember discussions about the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing but it didn’t feel real to me.”

Schools began to integrate pupils while Mr Jones was at high school, which he took a role in promoting at his majority-white institution. Darnell Gardner, an African American classmate of Mr Jones in Fairfield, told the publication: “We had some guys who didn’t like integration, they called me names I’d rather not repeat.

Democratic roots

Mr Jones got his start in government as an aide to the last Democrat elected to the US Senate from Alabama, the late Howell Heflin.

After graduating from Samford University's law school in 1979, Mr Jones worked as staff counsel to the Judiciary Committee for Mr Heflin, and Mr Jones still considers Mr Heflin a role model.

Mr Heflin cited his health in retiring from the Senate, and Republican Jeff Sessions was elected to replace him in 1996. Mr Jones will now assume the seat vacated by Mr Sessions when he was nominated as US attorney general by President Donald Trump. Republican appointee Luther Strange has held the seat in the interim.

Church bombing

Years before running for Senate, Mr Jones made a name for himself prosecuting two KKK members for the bombing of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church, a brutal crime that killed four black girls in 1963.

One Klansman was convicted in the blast in 1977, and a renewed investigation was underway by the time President Bill Clinton appointed Jones as US attorney in Birmingham in 1997. Mr Jones led a team of federal and state attorneys during trials that resulted in the convictions of Thomas Blanton Jr in 2001 and Bobby Frank Cherry in 2002.

Last year, Mr Jones was among the speakers who urged Alabama's parole board to refuse an early release for Mr Blanton. The board agreed, and Mr Blanton remains in prison serving life for murder.

On abortion

Alabama has restrictive abortion laws and women reportedly have limited access to clinics. Mr Jones has said he supports the current law that generally restricts late-term procedures outside of medical emergencies, but supports women’s right to choose.

“To be clear, I fully support a women’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,” he told AL.com.

Party guy

Alabama's Democratic Party has been on life support since Republicans gained ascendancy years ago, holding no statewide offices and a minority in each legislative chamber, but Mr Jones supported an effort to revive the organisation in 2013.

A former party chairman formed the Alabama Democratic Majority to raise money and recruit candidates, and Mr Jones was among those publicly supportive of the effort.

The foundation was dormant by 2014, but Mr Trump's victory has helped breathe new life into local organisations, including the Democratic Party in Republican-heavy Shelby County, where officials say membership has jumped from around a dozen to more than 200 people since the 2016 election.

Mr Jones' victory can only help re-energise the party even more.

Additional reporting by PA

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