Year-by-year: Jesse Helms

Youth: 1921-1939
1921 — Helms is born in Monroe, N.C.
1938 — Helms graduates from high school and decides to attend Wingate Junior College.
1930 — He is forced to get a job sweeping at the local newspaper to help his family during the Great Depression. His exposure here has been credited with sparking his interest in journalism.
1939 — After leaving Wingate, Helms enrolls at Wake Forest College. He begins working for the (later named) Raleigh News & Observer in the sports department and drops out of Wake Forest to pursue a full-time career in journalism.

Adulthood: 1940-1969
1942 — During World War II Helms enlists in the Navy, but never experiences combat action due to pre-existing ear damage caused by a childhood illness. While working as a recruiter he marries Dorothy Coble.
1945 — At the end of the war Helms becomes an editor at the News & Observer, but leaves this position in favor of radio correspondence.
1948 — Helms returns to Raleigh to work at WRAL-AM where he is the news director.
1950 — After Willis Smith wins a racially divisive U.S. Senate campaign with assistance from Helms, Jesse becomes an aide to Smith in D.C.
1953 — Smith dies in office and Helms returns to Raleigh. He becomes the Director of the State Banking Association.
1957 — Elected to the Raleigh City Council, Helms serves until 1961.
1960 — WRAL-TV and the Tobacco Radio Network make Helms the executive director of their operations. Helms is now in a position of municipal authority and media oversight while also maintaining connections within the banking association. He is positioned to exert great pressure across the state.

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Rising Senate Career: 1970-1979
1970 — Helms switches from Democrat to Republican because of disagreements with party leadership and policy.
1972 — First election to U.S. Senate (54 percent). Helms is the first Republican senator from N.C. since Reconstruction.
1976 — Helms is nominated to be Gerald Ford’s running mate. He declines the nomination but receives nearly 100 votes despite his refusal to accept.
1978 — Second election to U.S. Senate (55 percent).

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Ascent to Greatest Prominence: 1980-1999
1981 — After assuming the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee Helms makes defending the tobacco industry and blocking the food stamp program his highest priorities.
1982 — Helms tries to pass a permanent ban that will block federal money from being used to pay for abortions. He also seeks to prevent lawsuits against school prayer from ever reaching courts. Both attempts fail. Helms then delays the entire Senate from leaving for Christmas by filibustering as a form of protest. Other Republicans refuse to shake his hand.
1983 — After another unsuccessful filibuster by Helms, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is declared a national holiday. Helms claims King was a Marxist.
1984 — Third election to U.S. Senate in a heated campaign (52 percent).
1986 — Permanent price-support for tobacco is pushed through Congress by Helms. He accuses the Mexican government of drug trafficking and stealing U.S. elections.
1989 — The National Endowment for the Arts is attacked by Helms for a variety of works of art, photography and theater that the senator claims are pornographic. Works by Serrano, Maplethorp and the so-called NEA-4 are defunded, leading to a persistent trend in defunding of the arts.
1990 — Fourth election to U.S Senate (52.5 percent). Helms defeats former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, an African-American politician. Helms uses racist ads attacking affirmative action to win the campaign. He then goes on to campaign against $600 million in AIDS relief.
1993 — Helms gets onto an elevator with Carol Moseley-Braun, the first black female U.S. Senator, and begins to sing “Dixie” while reminiscing about “the good old days.” Moseley-Braun responds, “Sen. Helms, your singing would make me cry if you sang ‘Rock of Ages.’”
1994 — A library devoted to Helms’ letters is opened with funding from the Kuwaiti government and Philip Morris Tobacco. Helms states that President Clinton is so unpopular in North Carolina that he “better have a bodyguard” if he visits the military bases in the state.
1995 — Helms becomes chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, promoting him to a position of international diplomacy leadership. He will go on to cast aspersions on the United Nations and many of its member countries.
1996 — Fifth election to U.S. Senate (53 percent) and his second defeat of Harvey Gantt. The Helms-Burton Act is passed, which strengthens sanctions against Cuba after Fidel Castro shoots down two Brothers to the Rescue planes.
1999 — Helms blocks passage of an international ban on nuclear weapons. In his victory speech he simulates a conversation between President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair in which Blair says, “My regards to Monica.” He works with Democratic Sen. John Edwards to secure $131 million in extra aid for victims of Hurricane Floyd in Eastern North Carolina.

Declining Years: 2000-2008
2000 — Becoming the first lawmaker from any country to ever address the U.N., Helms tells the organization to recreate its internal structures or the U.S. will leave the institution.
2001 — Helms acknowledges “significant progress” at the U.N. and votes that the U.S. catch up its dues to the organization. Health concerns begin to dog the senator. He prepares to run one last time, but leaves the Senate in 2003. He also reverses his opposition to liberalized immigration laws after visiting Mexico. He loses chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee when Democrats retake the majority in the Senate. Helms softens his stance on AIDS funding after meeting with U2’s Bono. He says he regrets blocking past efforts to curb the disease now that it is ravaging heterosexual populations as well.
2003 — Helms leaves the Senate at the end of his fifth term due to declining health.
2005 — Helms’ memoir “Here’s Where I Stand” is published. He does not speak at his book-signing engagements.
2008 — On the Fourth of July, Helms dies from vascular dementia.

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