My first paying job in politics was working for Jesse Helms' U.S. Senate campaign in 1972. Helms, who died on July 4 at 86, was a classic populist--he presented his conservative agenda in plain terms that the average person could relate to. And he made history as the first Republican elected to the Senate from North Carolina after Reconstruction. Of course, during his 30-year political career, he was considered controversial; he always thought his job was not to be popular but to do the right thing. I must have heard him quote his father a thousand times: "The Lord does not require you to win, but he does require you to try."
During his first decade in the Senate, he didn't win much. But after Ronald Reagan was elected, he was able to get a lot of bills signed into law with Reagan's help. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was there every step of the way as Reagan worked to end the cold war.
He is known as an unwavering conservative, but he often worked across the aisle. In the 1990s, he and Senator Joe Biden collaborated on significant U.N. reform, and at the end of the Clinton presidency, Helms and his fellow Republicans achieved a balanced-budget agreement, something he had fought for since his first day on Capitol Hill in 1973.
His conservative principles were matched by his compassion. Originally, he didn't think there should be a big government role in combating AIDS. So Bono, who is an advocate for the cause, asked to see him. Bono convinced him, and they worked together--eventually securing some $200 million to fight AIDS in Africa. In a message to the Helms family this week, Bono said that thanks to Jesse Helms' efforts, 2 million lives were saved.
Black is chief political strategist to Senator John McCain