- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Sen. Jesse Helms came to Washington 30 years ago with a personal goal to reverse the federal government's leftward direction and help stop the advance of Soviet-inspired totalitarian communism.
"I never had any trouble knowing where I was going to stand," Mr. Helms, North Carolina Republican, told The Washington Times as his Senate career draws to a close. "I've tried to be consistent with my conservatism."
His intention all along was to make others feel comfortable implementing the same agenda, he said in an interview. "A lot of people were afraid to acknowledge that they were conservative. And if I did anything, it was taking the apprehension out of it and letting them be what they wanted to be."
Just four years into his first term, the former television commentator directed organizers of his North Carolina fund-raising group, the Congressional Club, to pull out all the stops to help California Gov. Ronald Reagan in his 1976 Republican primary challenge against President Gerald Ford, who lost the White House to Democrat Jimmy Carter.
"The rest, of course, is history," said Thomas J. Ashcraft, a Charlotte, N.C., attorney who was Mr. Helms' legislative director in the 1980s. "Helms went out on a limb and supported Ronald Reagan over Ford. Reagan lost the Republican nomination, but his victory in the North Carolina primary helped maintain his viability for 1980."
Mr. Helms is modest about his role in the Reagan Revolution. "Ronald Reagan sold himself. I just helped give him an opportunity to do the salesmanship," he said.
Mr. Helms said he met Mr. Reagan in the early 1960s. He was executive vice president of WRAL-TV in Raleigh when Mr. Reagan was host of the "General Electric Theater" program. "I got to know him. He came by when he was advertising."
Both were conservative Democrats in a party that was moving to the left, bringing a complacent Republican Party along, he said. The two men discussed their hopes that the country would change direction and decided to wage the battle instead as Republicans.
"Ronald Reagan is a winner with that personality of his, and he was a constant conservative," Mr. Helms said. "He persuaded so many that they should be conservative, so I think he had a pronounced influence on the destiny of this country."
Mr. Helms said he grew up among people who emphasized working, saving and personal responsibility, and that he later wanted government policies that nurtured those values through lower taxes, tax incentives for business and welfare reform.
"Ultimately, the source of human liberty is almighty God, who endows each human being with free will," Mr. Helms wrote in his 1976 book, "When Free Men Shall Stand."
He wrote: "Atheism and socialism or liberalism, which tends in the same direction are inseparable entities. When you have men who no longer believe that God is in charge of human affairs, you have men attempting to take the place of God by means of the superstate."
Mr. Helms' plain-spoken Christianity as the basis for public service "may explain the recurrent vitriolic reaction Helms draws from the bastions of secular culture," said Mr. Ashcraft, who was U.S. attorney in Charlotte from 1987 to 1993.
"From the beginning, Helms was Mr. Conservative in the Senate. He favored a strong military but opposed foreign aid. He was an archenemy of communism, parting company with Nixon, Ford and [former Secretary of State] Henry Kissinger over their policy of detente [with the Soviet Union]. When Ford refused to meet in the White House with the exiled [Soviet dissident] Alexander Solzhenitsyn, it was Jesse Helms who rolled out the red carpet for this literary giant and hero of freedom."
Mr. Helms was re-elected in 1984 for his third Senate term in a hard-fought race against Democratic Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. Mr. Hunt and state news organizations played up the senator's 1982 vote to raise the cigarette tax, unpopular in his tobacco state, and his unsuccessful effort to block creation of a federal holiday for Martin Luther King.
Mr. Reagan stumped for Mr. Helms' re-election. The senator set a national record for a Senate candidate at the time by spending $16.5 million on the campaign. Mr. Helms got 52 percent of the vote that year, the narrowest win of his career.
In foreign affairs, Mr. Helms led efforts to contain Soviet expansionism in the Western hemisphere and to provide U.S. aid to anti-communist forces in Nicaragua, El Salvador and other Latin American countries.
On social and cultural issues, Mr. Helms has been an implacable foe of taxpayer funding for abortion. He called homosexuality "unnatural" and "disgusting," and fought increased funding to fight the AIDS epidemic on the grounds that federally supported programs fostered and subsidized homosexual behavior.
Mr. Helms was denounced by homosexual groups, which in 1991 floated a giant 15-foot condom balloon over his Arlington home to protest his stance against AIDS funding.
He waged a long campaign against the National Endowment for the Arts' support of "degenerate" projects, including NEA funding for an artist's immersion of a crucifix in a jar of urine.
His legislative record earned Mr. Helms a consistent 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union.
Called "Senator No" by liberal critics, he proudly displays a big "No" rubber stamp on his desk. But the label belies his ability to strike deals with opponents, said Mark P. Lagon, a State Department policy planning officer who worked for Mr. Helms when he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1995 to last year.
"It is little appreciated that he has been one of the most effective compromisers in the Senate," Mr. Lagon said, citing Mr. Helms' 1999 legislation co-written with the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, to pay more than $1 billion in U.S. arrears to the United Nations in exchange for a reform package to correct U.N. mismanagement abuses and provide more accountability to large contributor states.
"He elicited compromises with colleagues, and he took compromises to move the ball in the direction he wanted because he knew that in a legislative body that's what you do," Mr. Lagon said.
Mr. Helms "regularly gave us little life lessons, such as, 'Tell the truth and you won't have to remember what you said,'" recalls Patricia McNerney, minority staff director on the Foreign Relations Committee. "He is the only senator who, when hearing of a bad editorial in the New York Times would console staff saying, 'I don't care what the New York Times says about me, and anyone I care about doesn't care much either.'"
In a Senate tribute Oct. 2, Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said, "To many of us, Jesse Helms is a hero of almost mythic proportions."
Mr. Lott recalled that Mr. Helms told newly elected conservatives after the 1994 Republican electoral sweep, "Thank goodness the cavalry is coming," to which Mr. Lott responded, "Senator Helms, we will be glad to be the light cavalry for your heavy artillery any day."
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, said Mr. Helms epitomized North Carolina's state motto, "To be, rather than to seem."
"He was what he was. He was not a man to be intimidated. He took a stand. He was willing to take a stand even though he might stand alone," Mr. Byrd said. "And I have seen times when he stood alone, but it was without a tremor, without any indication that he would cut his sail."
Mr. Helms' reputation for personal integrity and consistent kindness binds him to friend and foe alike, Mr. Lott said. "To those of us from the South, he exemplifies what we were taught in Sunday school and aspired to be: the true gentleman, soft-spoken, innately fair, unfailingly courteous and a man to whom his word is his bond."
"Well, my father taught me that," Mr. Helms said in the interview. "He was a big man, and he could take care of himself if he needed to, but he was a very kind and gentle man. He would not tolerate any profanity."
Mr. Helms said he has signed a contract to write a book within the next year. "It will probably be about the lessons taught and learned from my father," he said.
Stories abound of Mr. Helms' thoughtfulness. Edwin J. Feulner Jr., longtime president of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said he told the senator in 1989 that his daughter, Emily, would be attending St. Mary's College in Raleigh, Mr. Helms' hometown.
The senator immediately sent a welcoming letter, "giving Emily the senator's private home phone and the phone number of his daughter if she ever needed a friend in Raleigh," Mr. Feulner said.
Mr. Helms was well-known in his Arlington neighborhood for morning and evening walks with his beloved "mostly beagle" dog, Patches, said Becky Norton Dunlop, whose husband, George, was once the senator's chief of staff.
"He walked Patches around the neighborhood early every morning and greeted or waved to the early risers on their way to work while often tossing others' newspapers up on their porch, making it easier for the older folks to get them," Mrs. Dunlop said.


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