Former U.S. Speaker of the House Jim Wright died last week. Raised in Weatherford, Texas, and serving in the U.S. House from a district centered around Dallas-Fort Worth from 1955 to 1989, his career was remarkable both for being the last in a line of Texas politicians from the Democratic party with out-sized influence in Washington, DC, and for a downfall over ethics now regarded as the opening salvo in a new era of partisan politics.
Given Jim Wright’s forceful personality and legislative achievements, both domestic and foreign, his death prompted a range of condolences from contemporary politicians, along with corresponding media coverage. Lengthy obituaries have run in publications with national reach, such as the Washington Post, as well as more local media, such as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. An obituary provides a chance for local media to shine–having covered Wright’s political career from his start in the Texas House in 1946, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram obituary provides unmatched depth and perspective. Indeed, it is after reading the Fort Worth Star-Telegram piece that one learns how the paper itself was nearly Jim Wright’s undoing when he first ran for the U.S. House in 1954. In the days since Wright’s death, more reflective pieces on his significance in American history have also appeared, from his unusual success in securing peace in Nicaragua via his platform as Speaker to his controversial role in unleashing a more politicized style of politics. He resigned from the Speakership in 1989, after a relatively brief tenure that started in 1987.
Tempted to dig deeper? For its part, the Tarlton Law Library contains various works authored by Jim Wright over the course of his career, including the 117 page piece, Reflections of a Public Man, that ultimately led to his resignation over corruption charges brought by then little known Newt Gingrich. Another notable work in Tarlton’s collection is The Ambition and The Power by John M. Barry. Wright had agreed that “writer John Barry could have inside access to chronicle his run” as Speaker, and the result “ran over 760 pages and became an intimate look at not just Wright’s triumphs but also his dramatic fall in June 1989.” Last week, author John M. Barry took to the website Politico to share his own postscript on Wright’s career.
Because Wright served in the Texas House before heading to Washington, DC, the Texas Legislative Reference Library also offers resources for tracing his political origins, including an impressive bibliography of news articles dating back to 1938. Not surprisingly, Wright had close connections to TCU, based in Fort Worth, and that library’s holdings include a digital archives. Quite the paper trail.