1989: Wright’s Resignation Rocks House

Posted February 25, 2005 at 4:48pm

[IMGCAP(1)]In the summer of 1989, then-Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas) went down in the history books as “the first Speaker in the 200-year history of Congress to be forced out of office in mid-term.”

Wright’s fall from grace began in the summer of 1988 with a formal complaint from then-Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) about Wright’s abuse of office on many occasions.

Following Gingrich’s claims, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct began to look into Wright’s alleged unethical conduct.

In April 1989 the panel’s vote was unanimous in charging the Speaker with five counts of misconduct, including 69 violations of House rules. Wright denied all of the allegations.

The five counts included Wright’s alleged scheme to evade House limits on outside income with bulk sales of his 1984 book, “Reflections of a Public Man,” as well as his failure to report gifts from his friend and business partner George Mallick, which included free use of a car and condominium in Fort Worth, Texas, and an $18,000 salary to Wright’s wife, Betty, from “the small investment company Mallick and the Wrights formed [which] was ‘not in return for identifiable services or work products that she provided,’ but was in fact a gift over four years,” Roll Call wrote at the time.

Immediately prior to his resignation, Wright gave an hour-long speech before the House in which he “called for an end to the ‘mindless cannibalism’ that is tearing apart the institution” — a sound bite that was often quoted throughout that time.

Then-House Majority Leader Tom Foley (D-Wash.) replaced Wright as Speaker one week after his resignation.