by Lisa Sorg
Sen. Julia Boseman, a Democrat from New Hanover County and the only openly gay state lawmaker, was the lone holdout on Senate Joint Resolution 1103, which honored "the life and memory" of former North Carolina U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, who died last July. The bill passed the House yesterday 98-0 with 19 abstentions and the Senate 41-1 with seven abstentions.
To read the bill, you would not know that Helms was vehemently and cruelly anti-gay, or that he was a segregationist, or that he fomented racial hatred, or that he has the dubious distinction of pioneering fear-based politics. No, the bill's language lauds Helms with flowery testimonials from former President George W. Bush, the Rev. Billy Graham, and puzzlingly, Liu Chao-Shuian, the premier of China. Even U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, a Democrat representing the Second Congressional District, which includes parts of Chatham and Wake counties, lost his backbone: "Sen. Helms dedicated his life to serving the people of North Carolina. Whether people agreed or disagreed with him, Sen. Helms would always let his constituents know where he stood on the important issues of the day."
Sixteen of 20 African-American House members and five of nine Senators skipped the vote.
The seven non-voting senators included three from the Triangle area: Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange; Doug Berger, D-Granville; and Floyd McKissick, D-Durham. Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake, had an excused absence from the vote.
In the House, non-voting lawmakers from the Triangle were Larry Hall, D-Durham; Ty Harrell, D-Wake; Verla Insko, D-Orange; and Mickey Michaux, D-Durham. Rep. Becky Carney of Mecklenberg County, who is recovering from a heart attack, had an excused absence.
Read the Indy's coverage of Helms' death at the following links: