Jim Wright, Former U.S. House Speaker, Dies At 92 | KERA News

Jim Wright, Former U.S. House Speaker, Dies At 92

May 6, 2015

Jim Wright, the Fort Worth congressman who became speaker of the U.S. House but then resigned under fire, has died. He was 92.

The Associated Press reports:

Jim Wright, a veteran Texas congressman who was the first House speaker in history to driven out of office in midterm, was 92.

The Harveson and Cole funeral home says Wright died early Wednesday morning. He'd been living at a nursing home in Fort Worth.

Wright represented the Fort Worth area for 34 years, beginning with his election in 1954. He was the Democratic majority leader in the House for a decade, rising to the speakership in January 1987, to replace Tip O'Neill.

But after about two years as House speaker, Wright was charged with 69 violations of House rules on reporting of gifts, accepting gifts from people with an interest in legislation, and limits on outside income. He left office in June 1989.

Watch "The Speaker From Texas"

In 1987, KERA-TV produced "The Speaker From Texas," a documentary about Wright and his career. 

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports:

Even after his career collapsed in 1989, when an ethics scandal forced him to become the first speaker in history to resign, Mr. Wright insistently portrayed himself as a lucky man. “I got to do in life what I set out to do,” he said repeatedly.

During his more than three decades as representative from the 12th District in Texas, Mr. Wright became as much a Fort Worth institution as the Stockyards and the pink granite courthouse. At the height of power, he fortified his hometown with millions of dollars in government pork, from defense jobs to water projects. President John F. Kennedy once called Fort Worth “the best represented city” in America.

Ever heard of the Wright Amendment? It was named for the former congressman. The Dallas Morning News reports:

He may be best known for the Wright Amendment, the law he sponsored that restricted air travel out of Dallas Love Field from 1979 to 2014. The law was designed to protect and encourage growth at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, which opened in 1973.

Following his 1989 resignation, Wright returned to Texas. The Star-Telegram reports:

Wright and his wife, Betty, returned to Fort Worth, emotionally stung from the ordeal. He said they rebounded and eventually came to consider the forced move from stress-filled Washington as a blessing in disguise.

The former speaker settled into what he said was a satisfying routine that included lectures, book-writing and teaching a government course at Texas Christian University. Betty Wright, a former professional dancer, took up tap dance lessons.

In 1991, Wright faced a life-threatening scare when he was diagnosed with mouth cancer. Doctors removed the tumor and later declared Wright fully recovered, although the operation left the former speaker with a slight slur in his speech. Wright sometimes joked that he sounded like a man who “had a drink or two.”

Wright appeared genuinely happy to be out of the Washington goldfish bowl, but he never completely severed his ties to the nation’s capital. In 1993, he returned to Washington to promote his book Worth It All, an autobiographical account detailing his peacemaking activities in Central America.

Remembering Jim Wright

Former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison talked with KERA’s Lauren Silverman:

“I certainly appreciated his always looking out for Texas, his love of Texas and he also had a strong view of what should be done in Congress," Hutchison said. "He rose to the level of speaker, which made Texans very proud.” 

“Anyone who rises to be the leader of the United States Congress is a strong figure and most certainly a strong leader and Jim Wright was that," Hutchison said. "The Wright Amendment was a signature of his that assured in our region that D/FW Airport would have the time to grow and become very strong.”

“He did bring home a lot for Fort Worth and certainly the Wright Amendment, for which he is famous, was to protect his constituents from D/FW being bled when [Dallas] Love Field opened back up and became a factor. He wanted to make sure D/FW would stay strong so his constituents would have a good access to national and international air service.”

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger released a statement about Wright:

“Speaker Jim Wright’s footprint in Fort Worth and North Texas is large," Granger said. "He was instrumental in projects that helped build this state and particularly North Texas to the prominent place it holds today. He helped save the Historic Stockyards District and authored the Wright Amendment which settled a bitter fight over DFW International Airport, allowing Fort Worth and Dallas to work together and share the economic growth largely credited to the success of the airport.”

Videos: Wright through the years

From C-SPAN: Wright's resignation speech in 1989

Wright talks about President Kennedy's visit to Fort Worth

Wright talks about the Wright Amendment

Tribute to Wright

Tribute to Wright: Ambassador Award

Selected photos: Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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