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Jim Wright

In office
January 6, 1987 – June 6, 1989
President Ronald Reagan
George H. W. Bush
Majority Leader Tom Foley
Preceded by Tip O'Neill
Succeeded by Tom Foley

In office
January 3, 1977 – January 3, 1987
Deputy John W. Brademas
Tom Foley
Preceded by Tip O'Neill
Succeeded by Tom Foley

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 12th district
In office
January 3, 1955 – June 30, 1989
Preceded by Wingate H. Lucas
Succeeded by Pete Geren

Mayor of Weatherford, Texas
In office

In office

Born December 22, 1922 (1922-12-22) (age 87)
Fort Worth, Texas
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Weatherford College
University of Texas at Austin

James Claude Wright, Jr. (born December 22, 1922), usually known as Jim Wright, is a former Democratic U.S. Congressman from Texas who served 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and was the Speaker of the House from 1987 to 1989.


Early life

Wright was born in Fort Worth. Because his father was a traveling salesman, Wright and his two sisters were reared in numerous communities in Texas and Oklahoma. He mostly attended Fort Worth and Dallas public schools, eventually graduating from Oak Cliff High School, then studied at Weatherford College in his mother's hometown of Weatherford, the seat of Parker County west of Fort Worth and then at the University of Texas at Austin, but he never received a bachelor's degree.[1] In December 1941, Wright enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces, and after training was commissioned as a U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. as a bombardier in 1942. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross flying combat with the 380th Bomb Group (Heavy) in the South Pacific during World War II. His retelling of his wartime exploits is contained in his 2005 book The Flying Circus: Pacific War — 1943 — As Seen through A Bombsight.

After the war, he made his home in Weatherford, where he joined partners in forming a Trade Show exhibition and marketing firm. As a Democrat, he won his first election without opposition in 1946 to the Texas House of Representatives, where he served from 1947 to 1949. He was defeated in his bid for legislative reelection in 1948, after a rival claimed that Wright was weak in opposing both communism and interracial marriage.[1] He was the mayor of Weatherford from 1950-1954. In 1953, he served as president of the League of Texas Municipalities.

Career in Congress

In 1954, he was elected to Congress from Texas's 12th congressional district, based in Fort Worth but also including Weatherford. He won despite the fervid opposition of Amon G. Carter, publisher of the Fort Worth Star Telegram newspaper and later the benefactor of the Amon Carter Museum. Carter supported the incumbent Democrat Wingate Lucas. Wright would be re-elected fourteen times, gradually rising in prominence in the party and in Congress. He developed a close relationship thereafter with Amon G. Carter, Jr. Wright often said that the easiest way to "defeat an enemy is to make him your friend."[1] In 1956, Wright refused to join most of his regional colleagues in signing the segregationist Southern Manifesto.[2] In 1957, he voted for the Civil Rights Act, which created the Division of Civil Rights within the U.S. Justice Department and the investigatory Civil Rights Commission. Signed by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, the law was pushed through Congress by U.S. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and Speaker Sam Rayburn. However, Wright refused to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which authorized desegregation of public accommodations and established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It was signed into law by Wright's friend, President Johnson.[1]

In 1961, Wright finished in third place in the special election called to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then Vice President Lyndon Johnson.[1] Two finalists for the Senate emerged from a field of seventy-one candidates. College professor John G. Tower, then of Wichita Falls, narrowly defeated the interim appointee William Blakley, a Dallas industrialist, in a runoff election. Tower hence became the first Republican senator from Texas since Reconstruction.

Wright continued his House serve and was elected House Majority Leader by one vote in December 1976. He defeated Richard Bolling of Missouri and Phillip Burton of California. To win the majority leadership position, Wright had the support of all but two Democrats from the large Texas delegation, all party members of the Public Works Committee, and virtually all other southern representatives members as well.[1] In 1987, he was elected the Speaker of the House. In 1988, he chaired the party's convention that nominated Michael Dukakis for president. During that convention, he introduced John F. Kennedy, Jr, for Kennedy's first televised speech.

In the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, Jim Wright is known[citation needed] for the Wright Amendment, a contentious law he sponsored that restricts air travel from Dallas's secondary airport, Love Field.

Wright strongly supported the Superconducting Super Collider project in Waxahachie in Ellis County,[1] but the work was halted by the Bill Clinton administration in 1993.

Ethics investigation and resignation

Wright became the target of an inquiry by the House Ethics Committee. Their report in early 1989 implied that he had used bulk purchases of his book, Reflections of a Public Man, to earn speaking fees in excess of the allowed maximum, and that his wife, Betty, was given a job and perks to avoid the limit on gifts. Faced with an increasing loss of effectiveness, he resigned as Speaker on May 31, 1989, effective upon the selection of a successor. On June 6, the Democratic Caucus brought his Speakership to an end by selecting his replacement, Tom Foley of Washington, and on June 30 he resigned his seat in Congress.

The incident itself was controversial and was a part of the increasing partisan infighting that has plagued the Congress ever since. The original charges were filed by Newt Gingrich in 1988 and their effect propelled Gingrich's own career advancement to the Speaker's chair itself. Seven years later, Gingrich would himself face eighty-four charges of ethics violations, all but one of which were dropped.

Critics of the national security state attributed Wright's forced resignation to the critical questions he was raising in the late 1980s with regard to CIA covert actions in Nicaragua.[3]

After his resignation from the House, Wright retired to Fort Worth. He serves as a professor at Texas Christian University there, teaching a course titled "Congress and the Presidents". He has also written several books since his retirement. He is an avid reader but has been stricken with macular degeneration.[1]

In 2004, Wright was inducted into the Texas Trail Hall of Fame in the Fort Worth Stockyards. His exhibit says "Fort Worth Loves Him!"


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Jim Riddlesperger of Texas Christian University, "Jim Wright", West Texas Historical Association and East Texas Historical Association, joint meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, February 26, 2010
  2. ^
  3. ^ Michael Parenti, "State vs. Government," in Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader [San Francisco: City Lights, 2007], p. 203.

External links

Further reading

  • Barry, John. The Ambition and the Power: The Fall of Jim Wright: A True Story of Washington. New York : Viking Press, 1989. ISBN 0-8317-8302-8. (Paperback: Penguin, 1992. ISBN 0-14-010488-7)
  • Wright, Jim. Balance of Power: Presidents and Congress from the Era of McCarthy to the Age of Gingrich. Turner Publications, 1996. ISBN 1-57036-278-5.
  • Wright, Jim. Reflections of a Public Man. Fort Worth, TX : Madison Publishing Company, 1984.
  • Wright, Jim. The Flying Circus: Pacific War — 1943 — As Seen Through A Bombsight. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2005. ISBN 1-59228-656-9.
  • Wright, Jim. The Coming Water Famine. New York: Coward-McCann, 1966.
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Wingate H. Lucas
Member from Texas's 12th congressional district
1954 – 1989
Succeeded by
Pete Geren
Preceded by
Tip O'Neill
House Majority Leader
House Democratic Leader

1977 – 1987
Succeeded by
Tom Foley
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
January 6, 1987 – June 6, 1989
Party political offices
Preceded by
Martha Layne Collins
Permanent Chairman of the Democratic National Convention
Succeeded by
Ann Richards


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