Local Politics

Wright's Defense Again Plays Race Card

Posted March 4, 2008 11:45 a.m. EST
Updated March 4, 2008 6:34 p.m. EST

A defense attorney for embattled state Rep. Thomas Wright continued to argue Tuesday that an ethics hearing for the lawmaker was racially biased.

Wright, D-New Hanover, is accused of mishandling more than $350,000 in campaign contributions, loans and charitable donations.

Defense attorney Douglas Harris on Tuesday filed a motion for state Rep. Rick Glazier to step down as chairman of the Legislative Ethics Committee, alleging he's prejudiced against Wright, who is black.

Harris contended that Glazier, D-Cumberland, dropped an ethics complaint against a white lawmaker last year while pressing forward with Wright's hearing.

"If you vote in this fashion, this will be a tainted decision that's embarrassing. It will be a decision that makes us look like racists, (and) we are not," Harris said.

Glazier called the motion “abhorrent and frivolous,” saying the two cases were completely different.

Harris also cited the case against state Rep. Pryor Gibson, D-Anson, on Monday. He called Wright's hearing a "Jim Crow proceeding" and said the committee was guilty of selective prosecution.

The allegation against Gibson, which was dismissed, involved a procedural matter over the filing of a bill.

Deputy Attorney General Bill Hart argued Tuesday that the cases have no similarities. Namely, various investigative groups found Wright committed crimes.

"All this is is a bald allegation of race without any facts to support it," Hart said.

After an impassioned response from Glazier, the committee denied Harris' motion and continued with the hearing.

"I find in this case that the filing of this motion was patently without a good-faith basis in law and, in my opinion, beneath the dignity of those who raise it," Glazier said.

Wright, who has refused calls to resign, also faces criminal charges in the case, stemming from the following allegations:

  • not reporting $185,000 in campaign contributions
  • using his position to influence a state official to write a letter to help him obtain a $150,000 loan for a real estate deal in Wilmington
  • diverting almost $19,000 in contributions and loans into his personal accounts when they were supposed to go to a nonprofit organization he directs

The ethics committee could recommend that the full House vote to censure or expel Wright. The General Assembly hasn't removed a lawmaker since the 1880s.