Jim Wright, former House speaker who resigned amid ethics controversy, dies at 92

Former Rep. Jim Wright of Texas, who served two years as House speaker, has died

Former Rep. Jim Wright of Texas, who served two years as House speaker, died Wednesday at a nursing facility in Fort Worth, according to a local funeral home. He was 92.

Wright, a Democrat, served more than three decades in the House, where he represented a district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. 

The end of his tenure was shrouded in controversy over an ethics investigation surrounding his investments and a decision to accept royalties from a book deal.

At the time, Republican Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who would later become House speaker, helped lead the ethics investigation against Wright.

Wright vehemently defended himself, calling the accusations against him baseless, but once it was clear he had lost support from members of his own caucus, he gave up his leadership post.

He resigned from Congress in June 1989, shortly after stepping down as speaker.

Wright, speaking to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2014, expressed regrets about resigning from office.

"I think I probably would not have retired," Wright told the Star-Telegram. "I think I would have seen it through and gone through the ignominy of having it [the charges against him] heard and addressed."

That wasn’t Wright’s first taste of controversy. Earlier that year, John Mack, a senior aide, was accused of beating a woman decades earlier. Mack eventually resigned.

A former mayor in Texas and member of the state's legislature, Wright was elected to Congress in 1954. Over the next several decades he earned a reputation as a pork-barrel politician, going to great lengths to cater to his district's needs, often steering defense contracts to Texas.

In 1999, one local labor leader told the Los Angeles Times that he had called Wright half a dozen times over three decades and asked him to "do something for someone" from Texas.

Yet it was Wright's attentiveness to his home district that sometimes drew the ire of fellow legislators. In 1986, Wright took up the causes of Don Dixon and Tom Gaubert, the heads of local loan companies that had come under federal investigation. Gaubert was later revealed to be a political supporter of Wright.

Wright also, at one point, pleaded with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on behalf of the owner of a Texas oil firm that wanted to operate in Egypt. The company operated a well that Wright had invested in.

Wright's decision to publish a 117-page book, "Reflections of a Public Man," ultimately led to the ethics investigation that ended his career. Wright, who reportedly had money troubles after a divorce in the 1970s, cut a publishing deal with the former political director of the Teamsters Union in 1984. 

Wright was given 55% royalties on each copy sold, an unusually high figure in the publishing world, and critics quickly blasted the arrangement as a kickback scheme. Wright previously had given the publisher, William Carlos Moore, more than $600,000 in campaign funds.

Despite the controversial ending to his time in Congress, Wright also was remembered for a signature foreign policy achievement. He helped arrange a bipartisan Central American peace plan with President George H.W. Bush, ending a decade of turbulence in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Wright was born in Fort Worth and attended the University of Texas at Austin. He left school early to volunteer for military service after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. During World War II, he was a bombardier in the U.S. Army and earned a Distinguished Flying Cross while serving in the South Pacific.

Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

12:25 p.m. This post was updated with additional information on Wright.

10:03 a.m. This post was updated with additional information on Wright. 

This post was orginally published at 9:03 a.m.

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