BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — 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 U.S. senator.
Here are some facts about Jones:
CLOSE TO HOME
Jones, 63, grew up in the working-class city of Fairfield, just west of Birmingham, an area where steel mills once belched smoke that left a rust-colored haze hanging over the metro area. His father was a steelworker and so was one of his grandfathers; the other worked in a coal mine. Jones spent time working in a mill when not in school.
Now an attorney in private practice, Jones lives just a few miles from his hometown in the hilly suburb of Mountain Brook, Alabama’s richest locale with an average family income estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau at $225,000 annually.
Jones got his start in government as an aide to the last Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama, the late Howell Heflin.
After graduating from Samford University’s law school in 1979, Jones worked as staff counsel to the Judiciary Committee for Heflin, and Jones still considers Heflin a role model.
Heflin cited his health in retiring from the Senate, and Republican Jeff Sessions was elected to replace him in 1996. Jones will now assume the seat vacated by Sessions when he was nominated as U.S. attorney general by President Donald Trump. Republican appointee Luther Strange has held the seat in the interim.
Years before running for Senate, 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 U.S. attorney in Birmingham in 1997. 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, Jones was among the speakers who urged Alabama’s parole board to refuse an early release for Blanton. The board agreed, and Blanton remains in prison serving life for murder.
Alabama’s Democratic Party has been on life support since Republicans gained ascendency years ago, holding no statewide offices and a minority in each legislative chamber, but Jones supported an effort to revive the organization in 2013.
A former party chairman formed the Alabama Democratic Majority to raise money and recruit candidates, and Jones was among those publicly supportive of the effort. The foundation was dormant by 2014, but Trump’s victory has helped breathe new life into local organizations, 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.
Jones’ victory can only help re-energize the party even more.