RALEIGH, N.C – At the age of 86, former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) passed away at 1:15 a.m. on July 4, according to John Dodd, president of the Jesse Helms Center.
During his three decades of service in the U.S. Senate, Helms quickly attained the moniker of “Senator No,” because of his history of opposing almost every proposal sent to him. Helms was a staunch, anti-gay opponent of LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS funding. He retired from the public service in 2003.
“I had sought election in 1972 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,” wrote Helms, in his 2005 memoir, “Here’s Where I Stand.”
“My goal, when my wife, Dot, and I decided I would run, was to stick to my principles and stand up for conservative ideals.”
Helms was raised in Monroe, N.C., near Charlotte, in a conservative and traditional Southern family. He entered public life in 1950, volunteering for the U.S. Senate campaign of segregationist Democratic candidate Willis Smith against moderate Democrat Franklin Porter Graham. In the 1960s he became a conservative commentator for WRAL, once suggesting that a wall should be built around the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican two years before his 1972 bid for the Senate.
“Jesse Helms’ legacy is one of hatred, homophobia and racism. Although not its intent, that legacy has made our community stronger and more able to forcefully respond to bigotry and prejudice. As a community, we are more committed than ever to securing full equality for all GLBT people,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.
Helms joins the ranks of other legendary U.S. politicians who died on the Fourth of July, including Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
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