PAC Created to Unseat Helms Praises His Reversal on AIDS Funding
The founders of a political action committee created to unseat Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) have praised the senator for his recently announced commitment to HIV/AIDS funding, a "180-degree turn" from his previous stance, the Associated Press reports. North Carolina residents Patsy Clarke and Eloise Vaughn, both of whom lost sons to AIDS in the 1990s, formed "Mothers Against Jesse in Congress" in 1996 when Helms refused to support AIDS research and made statements blaming the spread of HIV on homosexuals. Helms on Wednesday told attendees at the "Prescription for Hope" conference that he had not done enough to fight the AIDS epidemic and would keep HIV/AIDS on his agenda until he retired next year. "I really never thought I would live to see this day," Clarke said, adding that she was "knocked off her seat" to hear Helms admit that he was "ashamed" of his past inaction. In 1995 Helms voiced opposition to HIV/AIDS funding because he said that HIV-positive people "got sick as a result of 'deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct'" (Waggoner, Associated Press, 2/22).
Response to Helms' Statement
Two North Carolina newspapers featured editorials commenting on Helms' announcement:
- Fayetteville Observer: Helms' announcement of his "new, compassionate" approach to HIV/AIDS was a "delightful surprise" after a career of "carry[ing] on about the AIDS epidemic, doing battle with gay activists over treatment programs and blaming the spread of AIDS on homosexuals," a Fayetteville Observer editorial says. Because Helms "didn't back away from his anti-homosexual stands" but used "far more compassionate language," Helms will receive "little argument" from his supporters and will gain "a lot of fans," the editorial concludes (Fayetteville Observer, 2/22).
- Raleigh News & Observer: Helms' stated commitment to HIV/AIDS funding and his admission that he has been "too lax too long" in the fight against HIV/AIDS indicates "a hopeful and compassionate step," a Raleigh News & Observer editorial says. His "extraordinary" comment represents a change in his previous "hard-bitten" view on AIDS and indicates that he has been listening to the people around him, the editorial concludes (Raleigh News & Observer, 2/22).