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Dead, Jesse Alexander Helms, Jr. July 4, 2008 at the age of 86, he was an American politician and a leader in the conservative movement.
He was elected five times as a Republican to the United States Senate from North Carolina.
Born in 1921 in Monroe, North Carolina, where his father, nicknamed “Big Jesse”, served as both fire chief and chief of police; his mother, Ethel Mae Helms, was a homemaker.
Helms was of English ancestry on both sides, he was elected five times as a Republican to the United States Senate from North Carolina.
As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1995 to 2001 he had a major voice in foreign policy.
Helms was credited by even his most critical opponents with providing excellent constituent services through his Senate office.
As long-time chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he demanded a staunchly anti-communist foreign policy that would reward America’s friends abroad, and punish its enemies.
His relations with the State Department were often acrimonious, and he blocked numerous presidential appointees.
However, he worked smoothly with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
In 1950, Helms played a critical role as campaign publicity director for Willis Smith in the U.S. Senate campaign against a prominent liberal, Frank Porter Graham.
Smith (a conservative Democratic lawyer and former president of the American Bar Association) portrayed Graham, who supported school desegregation, as a “dupe of communists” and a proponent of the “mingling of the races.” Smith’s fliers said, “Wake Up, White People,” in the campaign for the virtually all-white primaries.
Blacks were still mostly disfranchised in the state, since its 1899 constitution was passed by white Democrats with restrictive voter registration and electoral provisions that effectively excluded them from politics.
Serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms pushed his anti-communist and anti-arms control agenda.
To fight communism, he supported a number of restrictive regimes, including Chile’s Augusto Pinochet.
Helms also opposed the United Nations and successfully blocked the ratification of the UN Treaty Against Genocide in 1984.
In 1989, he started a firestorm of debate over funding for the arts.
His ire was provoked by photographs by controversial artists Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano were displayed in exhibits funded by National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a federal agency.
Not long after being elected to his fifth consecutive term in 1996, Helms began to experience some health problems.
He had knee replacement surgery in 1998 and successfully battled prostate cancer as well as a rare bone disease.
In January 2002, Helms announced his retirement from the Senate and had surgery to replace a valve in his heart a few months later.
The strategy that helped Republicans sweep to power last November is one that Jesse Helms perfected decades ago.
“Jesse Helms understood before anyone else that the proverbial angry white male feels the most aggrieved, and is therefore the most likely to vote,” says Larry Sabato, a professor of government at the University of Virginia.
“Jesse Helms was an angry white male before most of his compatriots were.
He should have been lucky enough to be on the ballot in ’94. He would have won easily.”