I know it’s not local, but worth a read anyway…..
By WHITNEY WOODWARD
Associated Press Writers
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — From his early days as television commentator and on through a three-decade career in Congress, former North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms never left any doubt about his beliefs.
“When he wrote his book, ‘Here’s Where I Stand,’ I felt no book was needed,” said North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who won Helms’ seat after he retired in 2002. “(My husband) Bob would say, ‘You don’t have to look under the table for Jesse. You always knew where Jesse is.’”
He was against civil rights and gay rights. Against abortion and communism. Against school busing and giving up the Panama Canal. He said “No!” so often that by the end of his first time, his hometown newspaper gave him the nickname “Senator No.” It wasn’t meant as a compliment — but Helms took it that way.
“There was plenty to stand up and say “No!” to during my first term in the U.S. Senate,” Helms wrote in “Here’s Where I Stand.” “In fact, that was why (I had) run for the U.S. Senate — to try to derail the freight train of liberalism that was gaining speed toward its destination of ‘government-run’ everything, paid for with big tax bills and record debt.”
Helms died early Friday at the age of 86, having spent the past few years out of the spotlight while in declining health at a Raleigh convalescent home. Funeral services are planned for Tuesday at Helms’ longtime church in Raleigh.
Friends remembered him as a patriot. Many noted with reverence that he died on the Fourth of July, as did Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, and praised his legacy as an unyielding conservative champion.
“When the Democratic Party sort of moved to the left in the 1960s, I think that a lot of conservative Democrats felt like they lost their voice, and eventually that lead to the realignment of the Republican Party,” said Carter Wrenn, who worked with Helms for 20 years as a leader of his political machine, the Congressional Club.
“That realignment during the time Reagan and Jesse were in office turned the Republican Party into a conservative party. Jesse was one of the main voices of that conservatism.”
But there were also reminders that as the caustic “Senator No,” Helms was a politician who delighted in forcing roll-call votes that required Democrats to take politically difficult votes on federal funding for art he deemed pornographic, school busing, flag-burning and other cultural issues. He was a standard-bearer for civil rights foes, opposing the 1964 Civil Rights Act as a commentator and voting against its reauthorization once in the Senate.
In his last two runs for Senate in 1990 and 1996, he defeated former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, who is black, by running racially tinged campaigns. In the first race, a Helms commercial showed a white fist crumpling up a job application, with these words underneath: “You needed that job … but they had to give it to a minority.”
“He’ll be remembered, in part, for the strong racist streak that articulated his politics and almost all of his political campaigns — they were racialized in the most negative ways,” said Kerry Haynie, a political science professor at Duke University, who noted that unlike George Wallace and Strom Thurmond, Helms never repented for such tactics.
“He was sort of unrepentant until the end,” Haynie said.
Helms was born in Monroe on Oct. 18, 1921. He attended both Wingate College and Wake Forest College, but never graduated and went on to serve in the Navy during World War II.
Among his first forays into politics was working in 1950 to elect segregationist candidate Willis Smith to the Senate. He worked as Smith’s top staff aide for a time after his election, then returned to Raleigh as executive director of the state bankers association.
Helms became a member of the Raleigh city council in 1957 and got his first public platform for espousing his conservative views when he became a television editorialist for WRAL in Raleigh in 1960. The commentaries were a harbinger of what was to come, as he won election to the Senate in 1972. He decided not to seek a sixth term in 2002.
Helms served as chairman of the Agriculture and Foreign Relations committees at times when the GOP held the Senate majority. He used the posts to protect his state’s tobacco growers and other farmers, and placed his stamp on foreign policy with a strident opposition to Communism.
“Under his leadership, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was a powerful force for freedom,” said President Bush. “And today, from Central America to Central Europe and beyond, people remember: in the dark days when the forces of tyranny seemed on the rise, Jesse Helms took their side.”
As Fidel Castro’s fierce critic, Helms helped create legislation in 1996 to strengthen U.S. restrictions against the Caribbean island’s communist government. The Helms-Burton law bars the United States from normalizing relations with Cuba as long as Castro or his brother Raul — who has been president since February — are involved in the island nation’s government.
In his later years in the Senate, Helms proved that he was wasn’t entirely inflexible. He worked with Democrats to restructure the foreign policy bureaucracy and pay back debts to the United Nations, an organization he disdained for most of his career. After years of clashes with gay activists, he softened his views on AIDS and advocated greater federal funding to fight the disease in Africa and elsewhere overseas, and in doing so, struck up an enduring and unlikely friendship with U2 frontman Bono.
But in his memoirs, Helms made clear that his opinions on other issues had hardly moderated since he left office. He likened abortion to the Holocaust and the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“I will never be silent about the death of those who cannot speak for themselves,” he wrote.
Helms and his wife, Dorothy, had two daughters and a son. They adopted the boy in 1962 after the child, 9 years old and suffering from cerebral palsy, said in a newspaper article that he wanted parents. That story stood out for Dole and others Friday, as they said that for all of Helms’ political bombast, he should be remembered first as a considerate and compassionate person.
“He stood by the things that he believed in, and the incredible thing (that) was so wonderful about him is that he never, whether you agreed with him or not on issues, it never affected his personal relationship with you,” said former GOP Rep. Bill Cobey. “He believed he had a right to stand for what he believed in, and he believed you did, too.”
AP Special Corespondent David Espo contributed to this story from Washington.