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Conservative stalwart Helms to retire after 5th term

WASHINGTON (BP)–Sen. Jesse Helms, R.-N.C., whose outspoken positions have brought him ardent friends and foes alike, confirmed Aug. 22 he would retire from the Senate when his term ends.

Helms, who is a Southern Baptist, will conclude his fifth six-year term in office in January 2003. He was first elected to the Senate in 1972. Helms has been a member of Hayes Barton Baptist Church in Raleigh since 1966.

Helms’ stalwart opposition to abortion and his defense of the family made him a hero to many pro-life, pro-family Americans during the 1970s and ’80s. He was a staunch opponent of communism and a proponent of America’s interests, especially in his role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His conservative positions, however, made him a target for defeat by abortion rights and homosexual rights advocates, among others. Helms’ positions also resulted in opposition from the civil rights establishment and critics of the tobacco industry.

President Bush said after Helms’ announcement, “Senator Helms went to Washington but never became a part of Washington. He has always remained true to his conservative principles… .” Bush also called him a “tireless defender of our nation’s freedom and a champion of democracy abroad.”

Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, described Helms as a “stalwart pro-lifer and a leading champion of American freedom against evil empires.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest homosexual political organization, called Helms the “most anti-gay member” in Congress. “It is our sincere hope that the retirement of Senator Helms marks the end of an era of anti-gay activism in the Senate,” said Winnie Stachelberg, HRC’s political director. “Suffice it to say, Senator Helms will not be missed.”

Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, called Helms the “father of the modern Republican right-wing movement. He may be leaving the Senate, but his ideological proteges now run the House of Representatives, lead the Republicans in the Senate and determine the legal policies of the Bush administration.”

In his announcement, Helms, 79, said he would be 88 if he were reelected in 2002 and finished a sixth term. “This, my family and I have decided, unanimously, I should not do, and I shall not.”

Among the possible candidates for Helms’ seat is Elizabeth Dole, former Republican presidential candidate and cabinet member.

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