Resources for Students

Biography of Jesse Helms

Archives and Museum Page

Common Questions

Research Resources

Common Questions about Jesse Helms

What is a Senator & where do they work?

A Senator is a member of the Legislative Branch of Congress, the branch of government that makes laws (the other two branches or the Judicial and the Executive). The most important part of a senator’s job is to represent the people living in his or her state. They are also responsible for writing and voting on new laws, or bills. Before a bill becomes law and is signed by the President, it must be approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Additionally, Senators spend a lot of time meeting with people from their state to discuss ways to solve problems and make the government operate better.

All senators have an office in Washington, D.C. and usually have offices in their home state. Senator Helms had an office in the Dirksen Senate Office building in Washington, D.C. and other offices in Raleigh and Hickory, North Carolina.

How do people become Senators?

Senators must be at least 30 years old, be a citizen of the United States for at least 9 years and a resident of the state they want to represent. Senators are elected, which means people over the age of 18 can vote to select which candidate they think will do the best job. Voters elect two senators from each state, regardless of the state’s population. Senators serve six year terms and elections are staggered so that both senators are not running for election at the same time.

When did Jesse Helms become a Senator & how long did he serve as a Senator?

Jesse Helms was born and raised in the small town of Monroe, North Carolina. After attending college and working as a newspaper reporter, Helms decided to enter into broadcast journalism (radio and television). With the encouragement of his wife Dorothy, and other close family and friends, Helms decided to run for the United States Senate as a Republican and was elected to the United States Senate in 1972. He represented North Carolina as a U.S. Senator for 30 years, which means he was re-elected to his job 5 times. He retired from the United States Senate in 2001 and his last day in office was January 3, 2003.

What were some of Jesse Helms’ greatest accomplishments?

Jesse Helms was a great supporter of his friend Ronald Reagan during the 1976 presidential election. Even though Ronald Reagan did not become President that year, Reagan and others acknowledged that Jesse Helms’ support was critical in his eventual election to the White House.

Jesse Helms was a leading advocate for many important issues including the right to prayer in schools, the right to life, the need for a balanced budget and the fight to return democracy to communist nations. Also, Senator Helms was the first North Carolinian in 176 years to serve as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a position he held from 1995-2001.

Jesse Helms was the first legislator from any country to speak to the United Nations Security Council in January 2000. That same year, Helms co-authored and supported the funding of over $600 million for AIDS treatment and relief in Africa and other poor nations. Helms learned of the devastating effects AIDS had on the African people from Bono, the lead singer for U2, who approached Senator Helms to help raise money and awareness for the disease.

Why was Jesse Helms called “Senator No?”

Jesse Helms believed the Senate was created to ensure the voice of the American people could be heard and to help keep one of the three branches of government from gaining too much power. Therefore, it was often the Senate’s job to say no. He cared very deeply about doing what was honorable and right and never wanted go against his principles. Because he knew exactly what he believed, Senator Helms often voted against certain bills and ideas. This led newspaper reporters and newspaper cartoonists to jokingly call him “Senator No,” because to them, it seemed like he said “No” a lot. However, Helms wasn’t trying to be difficult when he said “No,” he just wanted what was best for his constituents and wanted to do what was right based on his principles.

Research Resources