Jim Wright, the Texas Democrat elected the 49th speaker of the House of Representatives Jan. 6, 1987, was only midway through his first term when ethics questions began casting a cloud over his office.
By June 1988 the House ethics committee agreed to launch a 'preliminary inquiry' into allegations raised by Republicans and by Common Cause, the self-styled citizens lobby, that Wright had violated chamber rules.
That announcement came one month before Wright had to preside over the Democratic presidential convention in Atlanta, and it cast a pall over what had been expected to be a high point for the veteran politician.
Wright said the complaints were 'politically motivated' and voiced confidence he would be vindicated by the committee. Supporters charged the allegations were an election-year effort to divert attention from ethics questions raised about Reagan administration officials such as Attorney General Edwin Meese.
But the inquiry turned into a nine-month investigation that probed several years of Wright's life at a cost of more than $1.2 million.
As a result of the massive report filed by attorney Richard Phelan, the Chicago Democrat hired by the ethics panel to conduct the probe, lawmakers decided to charge their speaker formally with several rules violations. Wright thus became the first speaker in the history of the House to be so charged.
The former amateur boxer vowed to fight the charges, saying he would 'fight to the last ounce of conviction and energy that I possess' to prove he had not violated any rules 'nor any commonly accepted standard of ethical conduct.' At stake was nothing less than his speakership and his political reputation.
Wright took over the post that placed him second in the line of presidential succession after the 1987 retirement of Rep. Thomas 'Tip' O'Neill, D-Mass., who was speaker for 10 years. When Wright assumed the rostrum, escorted by O'Neill, he raised a new, larger gavel given him by the speaker of the Texas House, who declared the old gavel too 'wimpy' to control raucous congressmen.
Then 64, Wright had represented the Fort Worth area in Congress for more than three decades. He said, 'To be speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is the greatest responsibility that can come to a lawmaker anywhere in the world.'
Declaring the 100th Congress should do more to cut the record budget deficit built under President Reagan, Wright warned, 'Unless we make dramatic changes, the public's debt will triple in the short span of thisone decade. The American people want better than that. Future generations deserve better than that. We can do better than that.'
Subsequently, despite some complaints about his leadership style, Wright and fellow Democrats were able to point to an impressive record of accomplishment at the end of the historic 100th Congress.
Fluent in Spanish, Wright is knowledgeable about Latin America matters. His interest in resolving the conflict in Central America brought criticism from Reagan's administration that he was improperly involved in U.S. diplomacy.
But while Wright was not nationally well known when he became speaker, he was liked and respected within his own party circles -- and in 1984, while majority leader, he was among those considered for the vice presidential nomination.
Two other Texans in recent history went on the national ticket as vice presidential candidates -- Speaker John Nance Garner in 1932 and Senate Democratic leader Lyndon Johnson in 1960.
Wright was first elected to the House in 1954. In 1961 he ran unsuccessfully in a special election to fill the Senate seat vacated when Johnson became vice president. Since then he contented himself with gaining power in the House.
Wright was born in Fort Worth Dec. 22, 1922. He attended Weatherford College and the University of Texas but held no degree. Serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, he flew combat missions over the South Pacific for which he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Legion of Merit.
His political career began in 1946 with election to the Texas Legislature, and after failing to win a second term he was elected in 1950 to the first of two terms as mayor of Weatherford.
During that time, he earned a reputation as a liberal for his support of anti-lynching laws and federal school aid. He also worked as a partner in a trade extension and advertising firm.
Wright, whose style is often compared to politicians of the past, has inspired critics such as former Reagan budget director David Stockman to denounce him as 'a snake oil salesman' and 'one of the premier practitioners of demagoguery on the American political scene.'
Wright and his first wife had four children before their divorce. He married his second wife, Betty, in 1972, when she was a staffer for the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, of which Wright was a member.