Former House Speaker Jim Wright Regrets Departure

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBC 5 News
    Jim Wright

    Former House Speaker Jim Wright says he regrets leaving Congress nearly 25 years ago as the first House Speaker in history to resign.

    Wright, 91, tells the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in a story published Sunday he believes he "may have made a gross misjudgment" when he left Washington in 1989 amid an ethics investigation.

    "Absolutely. I think I miscalculated," he said. "Maybe I was attributing to myself a greater influence than I had . that members would change their attitudes toward one another because of what I did."

    The Fort Worth Democrat quit May 31, 1989, despite insisting he had broken no House rules when he was accused of using his wife's employment and royalties from one of his books to circumvent House limits on outside earnings.

    House Republicans had targeted him in the weeks after Democrats in the Senate rejected former Sen. John Tower as then-newly elected President George H.W. Bush's choice for defense secretary.

    "It's useless. I can't go back and change it," Wright said.

    But if he could, "I think I probably would not have retired. I think I would have seen it through and gone through the ignominy of having it heard and addressed."

    Wright told House members in his resignation address that he hoped to see an end to when "vilification becomes an accepted form of political debate, when negative campaigning becomes a full-time occupation, when members of both parties become self-appointed vigilantes carrying out personal vendettas against members of the other party."

    "All of us in both political parties must resolve to bring this period of mindless cannibalism to an end," he said. "There has been enough of it."

    He received an ovation.

    The congressional rancor remains and Wright said he doesn't know what could change it.

    "Unless there is a widespread public outcry demanding a cessation of all this foolishness, trying to make bums out of one another's colleagues," Wright said. "I don't have high expectations, but I strongly wish it could, because it was a wonderful institution."

    Wright first was elected in 1954 and became a protege of House Speaker Sam Rayburn, another Texan.

    "He meant a great deal to me," Wright said. "His teaching was excellent. Rayburn was a real master in the use of words and language."

    After leaving Washington, Wright taught until three years ago at Texas Christian University, telling political science students American democracy "is the best form of self-government ever created by the mind and purpose of man."

    Wright also recalled how his predecessor, liberal Democrat House Speaker Tip O'Neill, and President Ronald Reagan, a conservative Republican, would regularly share drinks at the White House, an unlikely scenario now between President Barack Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

    "If you can accept the idea that your intellectual adversary is just as honorable and just as well-intentioned as you are, and he or she is equally entitled to respect, that's an important part of it," Wright said. "It's missing today."

    On Tuesday, Wright is to receive Fort Worth's most prestigious civic honor, the Golden Deeds Award given by the city's Exchange Club.