Jim Wright Says Right Wing, Not Ethical Lapses, Ended Political Career : Politics: Former House Speaker contends his defiance of the Ronald Reagan Administration's policy on Central America led to his downfall.


Four years have passed since Jim Wright stood before a hushed House on a late spring day and announced he was resigning as Speaker.

Then, the reason seemed obvious: A series of ethical lapses uncovered by House investigators had left him no choice.

But the Texas Democrat, now 70, contends there were hidden forces behind his resignation that were far more damaging.

Specifically, Wright says in a new book, he was the target of a two-year campaign waged by a "right-wing cabal" that was infuriated by his high-profile defiance of the Ronald Reagan Administration's policy toward Central America.

"Without intending to do so, I became a focal point of controversy and the target of vicious attacks when I undertook to help end the Central American wars," Wright says. "That struggle ended my 34-year career, but from my perspective it was worth it all."

And that phrase, "Worth It All," is the title of Wright's book, published by Brassey's.

It is true that the Reagan Administration was perplexed by Wright's activities, insisting he tried to usurp duties reserved by the Constitution for the executive branch.

The inquiry into Wright's financial activities was launched by Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who said through spokesman Tony Blankley the probe was prompted solely by perceived ethical violations, not "partisanship, ideology or political philosophy."

The House ethics committee investigation led to formal charges accusing the Speaker of 69 violations of House rules. One of the principal allegations was that he used bulk sales of an earlier book, "Reflections of a Public Man," to hide contributions from groups to which he had spoken.

In his new book, Wright traces his efforts for a negotiated settlement in Central America. He and most other Democrats strongly disagreed with the Reagan Administration's emphasis on opposing Marxism in Central America through military pressure.

In an interview, Wright insisted that events in Central America have vindicated his position, particularly the February, 1990, elections in Nicaragua in which the leftist Sandinista government lost.

Wright thought the Sandinista government could be trusted to hold a fair election; the Reagan Administration thought otherwise.

Six years have passed since the Speaker and the Administration went to the mat over the issue, but the subject still brings out his combative instincts.

"How did it (the election) turn out?" he asked. "Weren't they fair and free elections? Didn't the people vote them (the Sandinistas) out of power? Reagan didn't believe they would give up power if they were voted out. I did. Who was right?"

Wright's allegations that he was felled by the hard right is alluded to only briefly in the book, and he was asked during the interview for further evidence. Wright smiled, went to a briefcase and pulled out an old copy of the "Liberty Report," a publication of the conservative Moral Majority.

On the cover is a caricature of Wright disguised as Dracula, with fangs dripping blood. In one hand, he is portrayed as strangling democracy in Central America. In the other, he is stifling freedom. One foot is shown trampling on a figure bearing the sign "Contra aid."

"The cartoon, while recognizable, is scarcely flattering," Wright said.

He also showed a copy of an ad taken out in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, his hometown newspaper in 1988. The ad, paid for by the conservative Inter-American Security Council, asks: "Who does he speak for? Communist dictator Daniel Ortega or the people of Texas and the United States?"

When a reporter expressed skepticism that such ads could have led to his downfall, Wright insisted the Central American zealots were to blame.

"I don't think there's any question about that," he said.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World