Josiah “Jo” Robins Bonner Jr. (1959- ) served six terms in the U.S. Congress, representing Alabama’s First Congressional District from 2003 to 2013 and held several leadership positions. A member of the Republican Party, he was known during his tenure for his conservative positions, including lower taxes, less government spending, and opposition to gay marriage. He resigned from office to take the position of vice chancellor for government relations and economic development for the University of Alabama (UA) System. He was named an “Outstanding Alumnus in Public Relations” by UA’s College of Communications in 2000.
Bonner was born on November 19, 1959, in Selma, Dallas County, to Josiah Robins Bonner Sr. and Imogene Virginia Lyons. His father was a judge in Wilcox County in the 1960s and 1970s; his mother had been a nurse during World War II. He has two siblings: an older brother, James Bonner, and a sister, Judy Bonner, who served as president of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, from 2012 to 2015. Bonner was raised in Camden, Wilcox County, and attended the Fort Dale Academy in Greenville, Butler County. He then earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Alabama in 1982. He entered the University of Alabama School of Law but left before completing his degree.
In 1982, Bonner began his political career as a field representative for the gubernatorial campaign of Lt. Gov. George McMillan, who lost a very close race in the Democratic primary to George C. Wallace. Bonner then joined Republican congressman Sonny Callahan‘s staff, serving as press secretary from 1984 to 1989, then as chief-of-staff from 1989 to 2002. Bonner married Janée Lambert in 1990; they have two children. Callahan declined to run for reelection in 2002, and Bonner ran as a Republican for the open seat; the district is located in southwest Alabama. He defeated Democrat Judy McCain-Belk, 60.5 percent to 37.8 percent. After taking office, he became the Assistant Republican Whip for the U.S. House of Representatives. Bonner defeated Belk again in 2004 and Vivian Sheffield Beckerle in 2006. After that, he largely ran unopposed or faced only marginal opposition in his next three races.
Like many of his fellow House Republicans, Bonner pledged to lower taxes, cut government spending, oppose same-sex marriage and abortion, and supported the Iraq War. He voted against the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” and voted for its repeal. Bonner also opposed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which aimed to mandate equal pay for equal work regardless of gender. The law was named for the Alabama native who was lead plaintiff in a 2007 Supreme Court decision. Bonner broke with the majority of his party, however, to vote for boosting the minimum wage in 2007.
Relating to Alabama, in 2011 Bonner introduced a bill that would have extended federal recognition to the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians of Alabama. This bill failed to garner support and died in the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. In response to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, 2010, Bonner introduced legislation in 2012 calling for a Gulf Coast Restoration Fund and a Gulf Coast Restoration Task Force. The fund would have been financed by monies paid out under violations of the Clean Water Act and would have been distributed by the task for economic development and ecosystem restoration. That bill also died in committee. In his ten-year career as a legislator, no bill that he introduced was ever passed into law.
Bonner was named chairman of the Committee on Ethics in 2011 for the 112th Congress in which Republicans held the majority of seats in the House of Representative. It was the highest position of authority Bonner held in Congress. He had served on the committee since 2007 and as ranking member beginning in 2009. That panel oversaw the investigation of ethics violations by New York representative Charles Rangel, an inquiry that resulted in Rangel being found guilty of 11 of 12 ethics violations and receiving a public censure in Congress. The body also investigated California congresswoman Maxine Waters, but she was cleared of charges. Bonner stepped down as chair soon thereafter, in November 2012. In his last two terms, Bonner served on the powerful Appropriations Committee, with additional service on subcommittees dealing with defense, financial services, commerce, justice, and science. He became known for securing earmarks for his district, earning him criticism from conservatives.
During his congressional career, Bonner was a close ally of Alabama governor Bob Riley. They helped bring to his district a subsidiary of the French aircraft manufacturer Airbus and a subsidiary of ThyssenKrupp, a German steel company that was later sold and is known as AM/NS Calvert. For these efforts, he earned an award from the Business Council of Alabama in 2012, presented by Riley. In addition, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of South Alabama. On May 23, 2013, Bonner announced he would resign after ten years in office to take the position of vice chancellor of the University of Alabama System in Tuscaloosa on August 15, 2013. His open seat was won by Republican Bradley Byrne, a former state senator and chancellor of the Alabama Community College System, in a special election in 2013. Bonner is a member of the Rotary Club of Mobile, the Mobile Lions Club, Mobile United, and the Mobile Touchdown Club.