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Wright, Renamed as House Speaker, Lists Party Goals

Times Staff Writer

Speaker Jim Wright of Texas was nominated unanimously Monday by House Democrats for another two-year term and declared that the new Congress will pass a clean air act and election reform legislation, including uniform poll-closing hours across the nation in presidential election years.

Wright, accused by Republicans of extreme partisanship in his first term as Speaker, pledged a bipartisan approach on foreign affairs and held out hope of agreement with President-elect George Bush to resolve the bitter dispute over aid to rebels in Nicaragua during the next Administration.

The Speaker also promised to focus congressional attention on the need for measures to prevent ever-greater “concentration of wealth” through leveraged buyouts, mergers and acquisitions in the corporate world. These financial strategies, he said, raise serious questions of public policy.

Seen as Vote of Confidence

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His selection by the Democratic Caucus--tantamount to election when the 101st Congress convenes Jan. 3--was seen as a vote of confidence by fellow Democrats for Wright when he is still under investigation by the House Ethics Committee.

Democratic Floor Leader Thomas F. Foley (D-Wash.) and Whip Tony Coelho (D-Merced) were reelected without opposition.

In a historic breakthrough, the Democrats elected Rep. William H. Gray III (D-Pa.) to the fourth-ranking leadership position of Caucus chairman, making him the first black ever to be elevated to such a high post.

Gray, a five-term congressman who won wide respect as chairman of the House Budget Committee, easily defeated Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio), vice chairman of the Caucus, and Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.) by garnering 56% of the vote on the first ballot. The vote was 146 for Gray, 80 for Oakar and 33 for Synar.

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Gray was chosen despite charges by Oakar and others that he obtained an unfair advantage by parceling out $152,000 in campaign donations to other Democrats from his own political fund.

Meantime, Republicans again chose Rep. Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) to be their House leader and elevated Rep. Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.), a close friend of Bush, to the No. 2 job of party whip.

‘National Disgrace’

Michel called for tougher enforcement of House ethics rules, declaring: “The record of enforcement in this House is a national disgrace.” He also backed reform of campaign financing laws and internal House procedures, proposing a bipartisan task force to recommend changes to the House.

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While he did not mention Wright by name, Michel said: “The reputation of this institution has been smeared by members who blatantly break our rules and mock the institution’s inability to enforce a penalty. We must find new mechanisms of enforcing our code of ethics.”

“We House Republicans should act in such a way that President George Bush can look at the (Capitol) Hill every day and hear the sweet sound of good, hard, political combat and know that his flank is well-covered--and advancing,” Michel said.

While Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev “is getting headlines all over the world for reforming the so-called Soviet parliament,” Michel said, “can we in this truly representative institution simply drift along while real reform is needed here?”

Wright, who will be 66 when the new Congress convenes Jan. 3, said that he has no wish to break the 10-year continuous service record set by his predecessor, Rep. Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., who retired in 1987.

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But he outlined an ambitious agenda, prophesying that a long-delayed bill to reduce air pollution will be approved by the new Congress.

Makes Predictions

“We’ll pass clean elections legislation, also, including a uniform poll-closing law,” Wright added, referring to complaints by West Coast residents that television networks have discouraged voter turnout by projecting winners of the presidential race on the basis of returns in the East and Midwest before polls have shut in the West.

Referring to a wave of corporate takeovers and mergers, Wright said: “We don’t want the great gamut of American free enterprises to be consolidated into 5 or 10 big banks, 5 or 10 big farms, 5 or 10 mammoth corporations and the rest of them dismantled and thrown to the wind.”

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Wright, however, gave no details of legislative proposals in his acceptance speech. He did say that the American people expect the Democrats to be “responsible” in their dealings with Bush, particularly in regard to international affairs.

“We are the loyal opposition,” he reminded them.


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