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NEWLY RELAXED WRIGHT ADMITS TO NO WRONG
TANNED AND HAPPY, HE STILL MAINTAINS `ENEMIES' DID HIM IN

JIM WRIGHT expresses little bitterness or remorse over his downfall as House speaker after 34 years in Congress and spends his time a year later with gardening, lecturing and family.

"I didn't get everything done that I wanted to, but for 31/2 decades I was able to . . . apply my wits and my intellect and my physical strength to some of the most intractable problems and see if I could make them budge," Wright said."That was a great gift. Not many people are given that. So, why shouldn't I feel fortunate?" he said in a recent interview.

A relaxed, suntanned Wright, 67, reflected on the benefits of his resignation, which be blames on political enemies, as he sat in his cluttered Fort Worth, Texas, office May 31. Exactly a year earlier he gave his resignation speech, and he formally relinquished the speaker's post on June 6, 1989.

"Now I'm home, among people whom I know, who know me," Wright said. "I am able to do a lot of things that I denied myself during those years when I was trying to be a leader."

Wright stepped down after the House Ethics Committee said he violated House rules 69 times involving sales of his book, "Reflections of a Public Man," and in business deals with his friend George Mallick of Fort Worth.

He is fatalistic about his resignation, which came when the longtime Democratic leader had been speaker for about two years.

"There were so many peculiar circumstances that fell together to create this jigsaw puzzle out of which there was no escape, none of them logical, none of them, to my mind, predictable . . . that I'm inclined to think that that's what was supposed to be," Wright said.

Wright's office is cluttered with memorabilia and boxes from 34 years on Capitol Hill, along with notes for a book he is writing on Central America. Wright donated congressional memorabilia to Texas Christian University for a memorial library.

Wright said he's happier now than he has been in years. His wife, Betty, whose job in a company formed by Wright and Mallick was questioned by the ethics committee, said there are deeper feelings.

"I think that it leaves scars. I don't think there's any way to get away from it," she said.

Wright maintained that the ethics charges were falsely brought by his enemies and that he never knowingly violated House rules. He said the behavior of his nemesis, Republican Rep. Newt Gingrich, and special prosecutor Richard Phelan amounted to "character assassination."

And Wright also blames the media for "a voracious thirst for scandal," saying reporters never gave him a chance to tell his side of the story.

Wright assigns scant culpability to himself.

"It is altogether possible that I may have been too insistent, too demanding, too firmly determined to achieve the maximum" in pushing for legislation, he said.

Wright said he didn't do enough to protect himself once the ethics allegations started flying.

"I thought I could . . . let the other guy wear brass knuckles if he wanted to, and I could still win," he said. "Maybe that's hubris. It turned out that it didn't work that way."

Nevertheless, he insists he's not bitter.

"I'm happy. I'm as busy as I want to be," he said.

Wright has time for things that had been squeezed out by his busy schedule, such as having dinner with his wife and spending time with his children and grandchildren.

He still works long days writing, giving speeches or guest lectures at colleges and appearing at fund-raisers for fellow Democrats. Wright recently attended a gathering for the man who filled his House seat, Pete Geren, who often seeks his advice.

Wright won't criticize Tom Foley, his replacement as speaker, saying it would be "ungracious," but he does say the House today seems to lack "clarity and direction."

As for history, Wright said he doesn't worry how his life will read.

"I'm at peace with myself," he said. "I intend to rest my case on the things that I was able to achieve."