An Icon in the conservative movement has passed away. I speak of former Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina.
Senator Helms was 86 years of age. Jesse spent 5 terms in the US Senate representing the people of his state, North Carolina. This writer grew up in a neighboring county to that of Senator Helms. In fact, our two counties shared a common border. That common border also happened to be the state line between the two Carolinas. We hail from the same part of the US, from the same part of the Carolinas, and we shared the same red clay stains on the knees of our “britches” (only high-class people wore trousers back then!) growing up as boys. Jesse’s father was a former Police Chief of Monroe, NC, in Union County. I know Jesse’s people and Jesse’s people know mine. In fact, my best friend is a relative of Jesse Helms.
I won’t pull any punches here about my view of Jesse Helms. I loved the man. He represented all the things the conservative movement was about. I mean the REAL conservative movement, not the conservative movement the GOP is trying to mold us into today.
The following is from Wikipedia at:
Helms's first full-time job after college was as a sports reporter with The News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina. There he met Dorothy Coble, who was the newspaper's society reporter. They married in 1942. During World War II, Helms served stateside as a recruiter in the United States Navy. After the war, he pursued his twin interests, journalism and politics (at this time, within the Democratic Party). Helms became the city news editor of the Raleigh Times, and later moved to radio and television.
Helms began his career in politics as an unofficial researcher for Willis Smith, a conservative Democratic lawyer and former president of the American Bar Association, who successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1950. Smith ran as a supporter of racial segregation. After the election, Senator Smith hired Helms to be his administrative assistant in Washington, D.C. In 1952, Helms worked on the presidential campaign of Senator Richard B. Russell, Jr., of Georgia, who was seeking the Democratic nomination. When Smith suddenly died in 1953, Helms left Washington and returned to Raleigh.
From 1953 through 1960, Helms was executive director of the North Carolina Bankers Association. He went on to become the executive vice-president, vice chairman of the board, and assistant chief executive officer of the Raleigh-based Capitol Broadcasting Company, from 1960 until his election to the Senate. During his time at CBC, he gained fame as a conservative commentator through his daily editorials on WRAL-TV in Raleigh. The editorials, which he gave at the end of each night's local news broadcast, made Helms famous throughout eastern North Carolina. The editorials featured folksy anecdotes interwoven with vivid right-wing viewpoints. He referred to The News and Observer, his former employer, as the "Nuisance and Disturber" for its promotion of liberal views. The University of North Carolina, which had a reputation as a bastion of liberalism in the state, was a frequent target of Helms' criticism: in one memorable editorial he suggested that a wall be erected around the campus to prevent the university's liberal views from "infecting" the rest of the state. Although his editorials created controversy, they also made him popular with conservative voters, and Helms won a seat on the Raleigh City Council in 1957. He served for four years.
Helms worked on the unsuccessful 1960 Democratic primary gubernatorial campaign of I. Beverly Lake, Sr., who ran as a supporter of racial segregation. Lake was defeated by Terry Sanford, who ran as a racial moderate willing to implement the federal government's policy of school integration.
In 1972, Helms announced his candidacy for a seat in the United States Senate. He won the Republican primary with 60.1 percent of the vote and eliminated two intraparty opponents. Meanwhile, the Democrats retired the ailing Senator B. Everett Jordan, who lost his primary, 55.3 percent to 44.6 percent, to Congressman Nick Galifianakis of Durham. Helms played upon Galifianakis' ethnicity during the campaign, running under the slogan "Vote for Helms—He's One of Us!". Benefiting from Richard Nixon's landslide re-election, Helms became the first Republican elected to the Senate from North Carolina in the 20th century. Helms polled 795,248 (54 percent) to Galifianakis' 677,293 (46 percent).
In 1978, Helms successfully defended his seat against state Insurance Commissioner John Ingram in a low-turnout, off-year election. Helms received 619,151 votes (54.5 percent) to Ingram's 516,663 (45.5 percent). Ingram carried the strong support of President Jimmy Carter. The 1978 election would give Helms his largest margin of victory in his five Senate campaigns.
In 1984, in the most expensive Senate campaign up to that time, Helms narrowly defeated powerful two-term Governor Jim Hunt, thanks in part to then-President Ronald Reagan's support and popularity in North Carolina. Helms polled 1,156,768 (51.7 percent) to Hunt's 1,070,488 (47.8 percent). Although this was a solid victory against a formidable opponent, it should be noted that President Reagan carried the state with 62 percent of the vote, and GOP gubernatorial candidate James G. Martin won with 54 percent.
In both 1990 and 1996, Helms won against Harvey Gantt, the former mayor of Charlotte. Both campaigns attracted major national attention not only because of Helms' national prominence and controversial positions on many issues, but also because Gantt was an African-American whose liberal political views provided a stark contrast to Helms. Helms' 1990 victory has been partially credited to a late-running television commercial that urged white voters to reject Gantt because of the Democratic candidate's support for affirmative action programs. The ad showed a white man's hands ripping up a rejection notice from a company that had not hired him due to affirmative action policies that had given the job to "less qualified minority". It was criticized for its perceived subliminal content; As the hands crumple it up, for a fraction of a second the letter fades to a picture of Mr.Gant and the hands appear to be crushing his head. The advert was produced by Alex Castellanos, who would in 2000 again come under fire for making an Bush campagin advert criticizing Al Gore's healthcare policies and flashing the word 'RATS' over the top of it. 
The ad was the brainchild of Dick Morris, who in the 1990s would become a key political adviser to President Bill Clinton. Helms won the 1990 election by 1,087,331 votes (52.5 percent) to Gantt's 981,573 (47.4 percent). In his 1990 victory statement, Helms mocked the major North Carolina newspapers for their unhappiness over his victory, quoting a line from "Casey at the Bat": "There's no joy in Mudville tonight."
In 1996, Helms drew 1,345,833 (52.6 percent) to Gantt's 1,173,875 (45.9 percent). Helms supported his former Senate colleague Bob Dole for president, while Gantt endorsed Bill Clinton.
Although Helms is generally credited with being the most successful Republican politician in North Carolina history, his largest proportion of the vote in any of his five elections was 54.5 percent.
In North Carolina Helms was a polarizing figure, and he freely admitted that many people in the state strongly disliked him: "They (the Democrats) could nominate Mortimer Snerd and he'd automatically get 45 percent of the vote." Helms was particularly popular among older, conservative constituents and was considered one of the last "Old South" politicians to have served in the Senate. However, he also considered himself a voice of conservative youth, whom he hailed in the dedication of his autobiography. He is widely credited with helping to move North Carolina from a one-party state dominated by the Democratic Party into a competitive two-party state that usually votes Republican in presidential elections. Under Helms' banner, many conservative Democrats in eastern North Carolina switched parties and began to vote increasingly Republican. (From wikipedia)
You should understand two things: If Jesse told you something… you could take it to the bank! Secondly: If you did not want his honest opinion… then you shouldn’t ask for it.
Over the years I have been in meetings with Senator Helms and NC democrats. It was like “Old Home Week”. There was a mutual respect between them that had to be witnessed to believe. They addressed him as “Jesse” … and he LIKED that.
You must understand the native North Carolinian’s approach to politics. Native North Carolinians are basically conservative. Even the democrats who, more often than not, “inherited” their democrat label at birth right (along with their names) are conservative. Conservative democrats, in both Carolinas, is/are "the norm". At least it was until the last 10 to 20 years. NC has had a great influx of “northern” democrats who tend to be more like, or at least relect, their sterotype… liberal. It created a huge culture shock for both the “transplants” as well as for native Tar Heels. This “spike” in liberalism in NC only increased the resolve of the native conservative democrats. It created a certain tension within the ranks of NC democrats that is very real and even palpable at times.
Jesse Helms understood that. As a former democrat, Jesse understood that the bulk of the “old line” NC democrats would support him… even when they wouldn’t publicly admit to it. His opponents, over the years, learned this, much to their chagrin, the “hard way”. No matter what THEY promised, the NC democrat voter BELIEVED Jesse Helms… and they voted for him.
The thing you must remember is… democrats elected Jesse Helms and kept Jesse in office until HE decided to step down. There are simply not enough registered conservative republicans in the state to do that.
We trusted Jesse. If Jesse said white was black, then damnit, white WAS black! Contrary to many reports you will hear over the next few days, Jesse represented the huge majority of North Carolinians … even those who never voted in their lives.
Jesse Helms was, first and foremost, unabashedly southern! He was the quenticential “Southern Gentleman”. Jesse was a member of the Monroe, NC camp of the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans... an organization, to which, this writer also belongs. He was proud of his home, his heritage, his family, his culture, his faith, --- and --- of course, his state and his nation. He was deeply, passionately, in love with his country.
Jesse Helms dispised the United Nations. He did not pretend to support the UN, as so many of our national leaders do, because they feel, publicly, the US must remain a part of the UN to protect US interests. Jesse felt that was pure hypocracy. He called them as he saw them and he allowed the cips to fall where they might. Had he the power, he would have pulled the US out of the UN in a flash!
Jesse Helms was one of a kind. It is simply not enough to say: “He will be missed.” Jesse was missed the very day he left Washington! He cannot be replaced. There is no one like him. There will never BE anyone like him.
NC has lost a treasure. America has lost one of it’s most dedicated and loving sons. A vast, unfillable, void has been left where Jesse existed. He was a force for good, for excellence, and for all things patriotic.
I am sure that Jesse Helms is delighted that his soul took flight on the anniversary of America’s Declaration of Indepenence. I expect that his “owlish” countenance is beaming in a broad smile of pure pleasure that his passing will be noted in the history books as having occurred on July 4th, 2008. ( I will not invite massive critcism here by noting that he will share the same “date of death” as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, two of our founding fathers. No, I won’t do that.)
As for me… I am proud to have known Jesse, to have been in the broadcasting industry, in NC, at the same time as Jesse --- and I feel priviledged to have had him represent me in the United States Senate.
Rest well, Jesse. You, sir, were a “good and faithful servant” to your God --- AND --- to your fellowman.
With deep respect, and an oath to always remember your service to your state and your country, I bid you fairwell and godspeed.
Longstreet’s commentaries can now be found at “The Conservative Voice” at:
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