- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2001

Sen. Jesse Helms told the people of North Carolina last night that he will not seek re-election next year, lengthening the odds against Republicans in their effort to recapture the closely divided Senate in the 2002 elections.
In a statewide television broadcast, Mr. Helms cited poor health and advancing age as reasons for his decisoin.
"Not in my wildest imagination did it ever occur to me that such a privilege would ever be mine," the 79-year old Republican said of his five terms in the Senate.
Republicans hold 20 of the 34 Senate seats up for election next year. Mr. Helms' decision to retire, coupled with the expected retirement of Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican, deprives the party of two incumbents who have been proven winners.
Republicans point out, however, that both North Carolina and South Carolina were carried handily in last year's election by George W. Bush, who also won most of the other sates where Republicans are defending Senate seats in 2002.
Democrats have controlled the Senate 50-49 since May, when Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont left the Republican Party to become an independent.
Mr. Helms' announcement last night prompted tributes from allies and antagonists in both parties. One liberal activist called Mr. Helms "the father of the modern right-wing Republican movement," while Mr. Bush louded him as "a true gentleman."
"The Senate is losing an institution," the president said in a statement, calling Mr. Helms "a tireless defender of our nation's freedom and a champion of democracy abroad."
In a speech telivised from the studios of WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C. — part of a regional network where Mr. Helms worked for years as a commentator and broadcast executive — the conservative stalwart thanked his supporters and staff.
"I can assure you that the future leadership of this state and our nation is in good hands," Mr. Helms told North Carolinians.
Mr. Helms' departure will have a major impact in the Senate, said one former colleague.
"It will make an amazing difference," said former Sen. Malcolm Wallop, Wyoming Republican. "It will uncomplicate the lives of some leaders but also take the salt off the conservative potatoes.
"Jesse is what adds flavor to conviction of all sorts of people who don't have his courage but are willing to follow him," said Mr. Wallop. "If he doesn't believe in something, whether it's Republicans or Democrats behind it, he doesn't mind being the lone opposition — or one of the two or three votes on the losing side."
Ralph Neas, executive director of the liberal People for the American Way and a former aide to the late liberal Republican Sen.. Edward Brooks of Massachusetts, said Mr. Helms' influence will remain after he leaves the Senate.
"I tangled with Helms from the time I served on Brooks' staff in 1972, and I know Helms is the father of the modern right-wing Republican movement," said Mr. Neas. "Helms may be leaving, but his idealogical proteges now lead the Republicans in the House and Senate — Tome DeLay, Dick Armey and Trent Lott."
Republicans who may seek Mr. Helms' seat include former Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole — a North Carolina native popular in her home state — and former Sen. Lauch Faircloth, who served one term before being defeated in 1998 by Democratic Sen. John Edwards, a wealthy lawyer.
Since his election to the Senate in 1972, Mr. Helms has made himself a powerful force in U.S. foreign policy, opposing communism and supporting a strong defense.
After Republicans captured the Senate in 1994, Mr. Helms served as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee until earlier this year, when Mr. Jeffords' defection returned the chamber to Democrats' control.
"During his 30 years in the Senate, Jesse was its most consistently conservative member," said David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which publishes annual ratings of Senate and House members.
Mr. Keene cited the key role played by Mr. Helms in Ronald Reagan's career. After several resounding defeats in Mr. Reagan's 1976 challenge of Presidnet Ford for the Republican nomination, Mr. Reagan was negotiating to get out of the race when Mr. Helms rallied his forces in North Caronlina, Mr. Keene said.
"That gave Reagan a win in the state and put him in a position to run in 1980 not just as a viable candidate, but the favored candidate," Mr. Keene said.
During his years in the Senate — including many years when Democrats were in the majority — Mr. Helms became an expert in defensive tactics, which he has used to block what he regarded as dangerously liberal appointments or legislation.
"He has always had the capacity to keep bad things from happening," said former Republican National Committee Charirman Haley Barbour. "I didn't agree with him on everything, but thank goodness he was willing to throw tacks in the road to stop something that was injurous to our freedom or that conflicted with the concept of our limited, republican form of government."
Mr. Neas said, "No one has used the fillibuster more often and effectively than he has over the last three decatedes."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide