Produced by the National Education Radio and Television Center, The Changing Congress is a nine-part television series looking at the issues confronting federal legislators. Part 3, entitled "The Rules of the Game," focuses on the long and sometimes informal process of passing legislation through the houses of Congress. To do so, the broadcast follows Congressman Jim Wright as he attempts to push a bill on water pollution. Wright meets with other members of the House Committee on Public Works and hosts a dinner at his home in Washington, D.C., before finally getting his bill to be put to a vote on the House floor.
Congressman James Claude Wright Jr.—better known as Jim Wright—was born on December 22, 1922, in Fort Worth. Due to his father's job as a traveling salesman, Wright moved frequently, eventually graduating from Oak Cliff High School in Dallas. He studied at Weatherford College and the University of Texas at Austin, but never received a bachelor's degree.
Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Wright enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces, ultimately serving as a bombardier in the South Pacific. After the war, Wright returned to Weatherford, where he formed a Trade Show exhibition and marketing firm.
Wright began his career in politics in 1946 when he was elected without opposition to the Texas House of Representatives. After losing his reelection campaign in 1948, he served as the mayor of Weatherford from 1950 to 1954.
In 1954, Wright was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat from Texas' 12th congressional district. Holding the seat for 34 years, he gradually rose in prominence in both the party and Congress. Wright became the House Majority Leader in 1976, and Speaker of the House in 1986. During his time as a legislator, Wright served as a senior member of the Public Works Committee and promoted peace in Central America.
In 1988, the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into Wright, reporting in 1989 that he used bulk purchases of his book to earn speaking fees in excess of the allowed maximum. That same year, Wright also became the target of public criticism after media reports revealed that his main aide, John Mack, had violently attacked a woman 16 years earlier, and alleged that Wright (whose daughter was married to Mack's brother) had manipulated the legal system in order to release Mack from prison only 27 months into his 15-year sentence. The resulting scandal from both incidents led Wright to resign from his post as Speaker as well as his seat in Congress in May and June of 1989, respectively.
After leaving Congress, Wright retired to Fort Worth, teaching as a professor at Texas Christian University and writing several books. He passed away on May 6, 2015, at the age of 92. Upon his death, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stated, "Speaker Wright's strong, decisive leadership built an indelible legacy of progress, not only in his beloved state of Texas, but around the world."