Wilbur Jefferson Davis Helms (Born January 22nd, 1895) is a United States Senator from the state of South Carolina. He has spent sixty years in Congress, forty-eight in the Senate. Helms leads the powerful Southern Caucus faction of the Senate, a group of conservative Democrats that do not follow the mainstream Democratic Party's growing liberal prinicpals. Together with Republican Senator William Robert Dixon of Oklahoma, Helms is a major member of the conservative coalition of Democrat and Republican senators that seek to block passage of any progressive legislation that reach the upper chamber of Congress.
Early Life and State Politics Edit
Wilbur Helms was born in Edgefield, South Carolina at the tail end of the 19th century. His father and mother were the children of poor, white sharecroppers who straddled the poverty line. Wilbur and his family straddled that line as well but managed to send Wilbur to the local school where he graduated high school in 1913 and began to consider college at the University of South Carolina. It was while a student at USC that he began an interest in politics. In his sophomore year, he worked at the South Carolina statehouse in Columbia and began to work as a runner for the State House of Representatives. He caught the eye of a first-term State Rep, William White, who took Helms under his wing and taught the young man about state politics.
Helms went back to Edgefield and ran for a seat in the SC House of Representatives at the age of twenty-one. He won the election and went to work in Columbia while continuing his education. He earned a bachelor's degree and then a law degree and ran for an open congressional seat in his district at the age of twenty-five. He won a tight Democratic primary against three challengers before he won the general election in a landslide.
Mr. Helms Goes to WashingtonEdit
Wilbur Helms was sworn in as South Carolina's Third District Congressman in January of 1921. He went to work as a capable and competent legislator in the House. Congressman Helms served on the Agricultural and Interstate Commerce Committees and helped passed legislation that eased the problems rural farmers were having as the war in Europe ended and crop prices began to fall.
In 1932, Senator Robert Maybank announced he would not seek a second term. With an open seat, Helms announced his intention to fill that vacancy. The announcement caused a stir in state politics. Helms was from the upper state, as was the other South Carolina Senator Sam Johnston, and Maybank had been a Charleston aristocrat from the lower state. Tradition dictated that Maybank's seat always went to someone from the lower state while Johnston's seat was given to an upper state politician. Helms again fought a tough battle, this one against the lower state aristocracy, and the wealthy elite that his opponents represented. In the midst of a depression, this rhetoric worked and Helms won both the Democratic primary and the general election by overwhelming margins.
Senator Helms came to the Senate and stayed there. As a democrat from a blue state that always voted democrat, Helms was returned to congress year after year after year. Even through the chaos in the South and temporary secession, Helms stayed in power. The years that passed made his power grow, as he became one of the most senior senators in Congress thanks the seniority rules that controlled the Senate. By the 1970's. Helms was into his fourth decade in the Senate and was chairman of the Appropriations and Defense committees, two very powerful committees that controlled much key legislation vital to other senators. He was an institution that nobody could touch or stop. Under Helms' command, the twenty-two senators from the eleven Southern states formed a powerful bloc, the Southern Caucus, that could kill legislation at a whim. Anyone who wanted anything done in the Senate had to have Helms' approval.
Majority Leader Russell Reed Edit
In 1970, new Senator Russell Reed came to Helms asking advice. The younger man knew that Helms was the power in the Senate and that if he wanted the same power he would have to get on his good side. Reed flattered, cajoled, and acted like the son Helms never had in an effort to woo the man and draw him closer. It worked. With the Southern Caucus' backing, Reed was appointed Senate Majority Leader in 1972. The mostly powerless, obscure leadership position was transformed by Reed. With his Southern Caucus allies, Reed turned the majority leader position into one of power. Reed was the Master of the Senate, but it was only through Wilbur Helms' good graces that he carried that title. Working with Reed and Senator William Dixon, Helms defeated many of President Fernandez's radical legislation and helped stem back the tide of socialism that had gripped the United States.
Declining Health and The Norman Administration Edit
In 1978, Helms suffered a series of strokes that paralyzed him from below the waist. Confined to a wheelchair, the tall and powerful Helms was a shell of his former self. His lifelong habit of smoking forty cigarettes a day had developed into a bad case of emphysema that required the use of an oxygen tank.
Though physically incapacitated, the old man was as mentally sharp as ever. He eyed the election of 1980 and seeing that his protegee Reed was named the Democratic nominee. But, after armed chaos with soldiers caused turmoil in the capital, General Michael Norman emerged as the nominee. Against Helms' wishes, Reed took the spot of Norman's running mate. Working for the Norman/Reed ticket, Helms made sure that South Carolina and the rest of the south went to Norman.
But after learning of Norman's progressive wishes, the senator recoiled in shock. He felt betrayed by now Vice President Reed's actions as well. Fighting back, Helms and the Southern Caucus allied themselves with a bloc of western and northern Republican senators in a conservative coalition that now stands to block any measures the White House tries to see passed.