A Conversation with Jesse Helms
By Mike Scruggs- In 1983, I was Director of Employee Relations for the Cooper Group in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Cooper Group was a collection of hand tool manufacturing companies acquired by Cooper Industries in Houston, Texas. The Group had seven plants in five Southeastern States, one in New York, and eight more overseas. It was a great job with additional responsibilities for industrial safety, public relations, and public affairs, but not all good things last forever. Unanticipated changes and stresses come flying into your life unbidden. Sometimes opportunity and blessing enter your life disguised as trouble.
As a long-time admirer of President Ronald Reagan, I decided to try for a position in the Reagan Administration. I was head of the Federal Government Committee of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and involved in organizing Republican precincts in Cary at the time and had gotten to know the late Senator John East. I had come to especially admire East for his brilliant mind, articulate advocacy of conservative principles, and solid Christian character. I still mourn his passing and the loss of his potential influence on American politics. Senator East suggested that I also secure the recommendation of North Carolina’s senior Senator, Jesse Helms. Senator Helms got me an interview for an opening position as a regional representative with the Department of Labor in Atlanta. But in the midst of that process, the 1984 Helms for Senate Campaign offered me a position as In-state Finance Director for the campaign, which I took instead and did a lot a traveling around North Carolina recruiting county finance committees and coordinating fundraising events.
Thus I frequently got to listen to Helms’ campaign pitch at small gatherings of financial supporters and larger $5 and $10 barbeque events. He rarely varied his basic message except to elaborate a bit on current or local news events and to adlib a few folksy stories, many of which I still remember fondly. Helms seldom missed an opportunity to share with these gatherings the importance of Biblical Christianity in America’s past and future. He had strong Christian support, especially in North Carolina’s many small towns and moderate sized cities. But because he sometimes quoted the Bible to support his points, many of his liberal critics increased their rage against him. From some he received virulent hatred. I remember taking a few phone calls on one of Helms’ Biblical quotes and receiving a blast of expletives heaped on Helms and the Bible. All I could say was that the verse quoted was indeed in the Bible and that Senator Helms believed the Bible to be morally authoritative.
Helms’ wife, “Dot,” was likeminded. She rarely interfered with political or campaign business, but if she felt Christian influence was somehow being weakened on some matter, she made sure the Senator knew about it, and on at least one occasion she personally delivered a corrective message to the offending campaign consultant.
Helms gained the reputation and nickname in the Senate as “Senator No,” because he did not succumb to popular compromises that might weaken Constitutional principles, damage the nation’s fiscal integrity, or threaten national security. Nor would he compromise his opposition to any legislation that he believed might weaken the nation morally or spiritually. No matter how popular, he would not go along with anything that did not honor what he believed to be essential truths and realism.
Sometime in 1984, I found myself alone with Helms on a small plane headed west from Raleigh to meet with key financial and organizational supporters. The pilot of the aircraft was separated from us by a partial partition of the cockpit and passenger cabin.
We had more than an hour to talk. After some campaign conversation, we began to talk about many of the issues and trends that were a concern to the nation and a mutual concern to us. I do not remember the exact conversation, but Helms agreed that most of America’s social, economic, and political problems were really spiritual problems, and that if Americans would quit their spiritual compromises with ungodly thinking, most of our self-created social and economic problems would melt away.
I do not recall that he directly quoted Scripture in anything but abbreviated forms, but much of what he said was a paraphrase of many verses in Romans 1 and 2. When men refuse to acknowledge God’s laws, he gives them up to their own delusions, so that their thinking becomes debased, and they practice and approve of evil, bringing calamity. It also recalled Isaiah 5: 20, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness…” and especially the more hopeful 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
If you look at our nation today and observe its moral tailspin, incredible fiscal and social irresponsibility, and the crushing disregard for the economic welfare of American workers, families, and taxpayers by corporate lobbyists and big government, you may with righteous fervor demand that our Senators and Representatives more often exercise the courage to say “No!” Like Calvin Coolidge, Jesse Helms thought it much more important to kill bad bills than to proliferate more government or more corporate favors.
Jesse Helms passed away on July 4, 2008, and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh. The Almanac of American Politics wrote that “No American politician was more controversial, beloved in some quarters and hated by others, than Jesse Helms.” I remain among those who prefer to honor the memory of his Bible-based courage and unswerving dedication to truth and right principles. His work will not be judged by those who hate the truth, but by the Author of Truth.