Jim Wright, R.I.P.


It’s easy to forget that Texas used to have some very distinguished progressive Democrats in their Congressional delegation. Many Texans, in fact, declined to sign the infamous pro-segregation Southern Manifesto in 1956; one of them, Jim Wright, went on to become Speaker of the House. Speaker Wright has died at the age of 92.

Wright was driven from office by Newt Gingrich on a trumped up “ethics” charge involving book sales. Ironically Gingrich did essentially the same thing when he was Speaker. IOKIFYAR applied in the 1990’s as well. Before his fall, Wright was an outstanding Speaker who confronted the Reagan Administration over its overt support for the Nicarguan Contras, and covert support for the Salvadoran death squads.

I had the honor of meeting Mr. Wright when he was House Majority leader and I was a young Congressional staffer. He was warm, friendly, and courtly. He caught me looking at his large, bushy eyebrows and said: “They just look like caterpillars, son, they’re not going anywhere.” I was rewarded with a chuckle and a manhug, aka a light punch to the biceps.

Speaker Wright allowed John Barry to be a reportorial fly on the wall during his Speakership, which led to Barry’s *first* great book, The Ambition and the Power: The Fall of Jim Wright. But Barry was also present at many of the high points of Wright’s Speakership. It remains one of the best books ever written about the House of Representatives.

The news of Speaker Wright’s death came as Texas wingnuts are in a frenzy over military exercises that they decry as a guvmint takeover. Even Republicans who know better are afraid of calling a nut a nut or a loon a loon. The days of Sam Rayburn, Ralph Yarborough, Jack Brooks, Lyndon Johnson, Ann Richards, and Jim Wright are long gone. I don’t believe in the afterlife, but if there is one I suspect Speaker Wright and those other great Texans are drinking bourbon and mocking the fools who run their state in 2015.