Local Politics

Helms remembered as friend, mentor

Posted July 5, 2008
Updated July 6, 2008

Map Marker  Find News Near Me

— Throughout his 30-year career in the U.S. Senate, Jesse Helms earned the nickname “Senator No” from political foes.

Former U.S. Rep. Bill Cobey remembers Helms as a friend and “mentor.”

Helms, 86, died at 1:15 a.m. Friday in Raleigh. His cause of death was not released.

“He inspired me and inspired so many people,” Cobey said.

Helms served five terms in the U.S. Senate, retiring in 2003 because of his faltering health. During his 30 years in Capitol Hill, the North Carolina Republican became a powerful voice for a conservative movement that was growing both in Congress and across the country, and he used his position to speak out against issues like gay rights, federal funding for the arts and U.S. foreign aid.

Cobey, a former state GOP party chair, said he first met Helms in 1976 at a Chapel Hill fundraiser.

“I went out there to have breakfast and hear him in person and that’s where the relationship between the two of us started,” Cobey said.

Four years later, Cobey ran for Lieutenant Governor and joined Helms on the campaign trail during a time when the state's Republican Party was struggling.

“Registration was very low. I told people there was plenty of room at the front pew – the front row of the party. I mean, they were just desperate to have anybody who was involved,” Cobey said.

Though Cobey lost his bid for the position, Helms’ grassroots efforts paid off when Ronald Reagan won North Carolina and the presidency.

“He came along at the right time because he motivated so many people to become registered as Republicans – become Republican activists,” Cobey said.

In 1984, Cobey won a U.S. House seat.

State Sen. Harris Blake, who had just unsuccessfully run for Congress, said his campaign connected him to the man he admired as commentator on WRAL.

“Through Sen. Helms my whole political world was set based on what his philosophy was and the fact he could get so much done,” said Blake, R-Moore County.

Cobey ran for governor in 2004 with Helms’ endorsement, but did not survive the primary election. He said he never saw Helms’ support as a liability, although Helms would joke about it.

“One of the things he said to me a couple of times, he said, ‘I’ll be for you or against you, whatever will help you the most,’” Cobey said laughing.

Cobey currently serves as the board chairman of the Jesse Helms Center at Wingate University.

“The one thing about Sen. Helms he was always himself. I learned it was very important to me to try to be myself too,” Cobey said.

2 Comments

This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • edgar709 Jul 7, 2008

    I can not believe that on this and many other articles currently being written about Mr. Helms do not mention his views on civil rights. Let me remind everyone that in 1950 Helms helped create an ad that read, "White people, wake up before it is too late. Do you want Negroes working beside you, your wife and your daughters, in your mills and factories?"
    I guess it is now up to the higher power to deal with him. May God have mercy on his soul!

  • TheAdmiral Jul 7, 2008

    It is really too bad that the media vilifies Helms. Since Helms was a defender of the American way of life - none of this self-entitlement - self-richeous - and self-centered nonsense that has since become mainstream stupidity.

    You want to know what the problem with America is - Jessie Helms was very outspoken about it.