Never mind the Republican Party’s faltering efforts to attract minority voters, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has a better idea: Fill the Senate with 100 more members just like Jesse Helms, the late congressman known for ardently opposing major civil rights measures.
During a Heritage Foundation lecture series dedicated to Helms, Cruz shared a story to the crowd of conservatives gathered at the event Wednesday about how as a kid, he took a liking to Helm’s outspoken candor and made his first political donation to the North Carolina senator.
“The willingness to say all those crazy things is a rare, rare characteristic, and you know what? It’s every bit as true now as it was then,” Cruz said. “We need 100 more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate.”
Cruz is right about Helms’ habit of making blunt statements. Helms was described as “last prominent unabashed white racist politician in this country” when he passed away in 2008, and was also known as as homophobic too—labels that today’s Republican Party is desperate to shake.
In his early career he was known to rail against both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and “negro hoodlums,” but his racially charged tendencies extended long past the height of the Jim Crow era in the South.
He filibustered the 1983 bill to see Dr. King’s birthday turned into a national holiday. While seeking reelection in 1990 he ran what’s known as the “Hands” ad, in which railed against the unfairness of “racial quotas” while his challenger, Harvey Gantt, was running a campaign to become the nation’s only black senator. Just a few years later when Carol Moseley Braun joined the Senate, she found herself in a Capitol elevator with Helms and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, prompting Helms to turn to Hatch and say, “Watch me make her cry. I’m going to make her cry. I’m going to sing ‘Dixie’ until she cries.”
And don’t forget what Helms used to say about the gay community.
“Think about it,” he said in a 1990 campaign speech. “Homosexuals and lesbians, disgusting people marching in our streets demanding all sorts of things, including the right to marry each other. How do you like them apples?”
When President Clinton nominated Roberta Achtenberg, a gay rights activist, for a job at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Helms came out strongly against her.
“She’s not your garden-variety lesbian. She’s a militant-activist-mean lesbian, working her whole career to advance the homosexual agenda,” he said. “Now you think I’m going to sit still and let her be confirmed by the Senate? … If you want to call me a bigot, go ahead.”
He’s also a strong opponent of women’s reproductive rights rights, as the namesake behind a law that’s been in place for four decades that has kept U.S. aid from supporting any programs that provide abortions abroad.