Local Politics

Lawmakers Regret Need for Special Session

Legislators will meet in Raleigh Thursday to mete out punishment for state Rep. Thomas Wright on ethics violations. Wright has refused to step down, saying voters should decide his fate.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — State lawmakers said they wish they didn't have the opportunity to make history.

Gov. Mike Easley has called a special session of the state House for 10 a.m. Thursday for lawmakers to decide on a punishment for state Rep. Thomas Wright.

A special legislative committee recently found Wright, D-New Hanover, guilty of six counts of ethical misconduct and recommended that he be removed from office.

"I think it's enormously sad. I don't like having to do it," said Rep. Alice Bordsen, D-Alamance. "(But) let's deal with this in a timely fashion so that Rep. Wright's constituents know what they can expect."

Wright, who also faces criminal fraud and obstruction of justice charges in the case, has refused to step down, saying voters should decide his fate. He has filed for re-election.

Some lawmakers said they wished the ethics action could have waited until after Wright's March 31 criminal trial – if he's convicted of a felony, he couldn't hold public office – to spare them the job of expelling him.

"I have concerns that we're almost sitting as if we we're a criminal trial without actually having a trial," said Rep. Bill Faison, D-Caswell.

Timing aside, Faison said he's disappointed that Wright hasn't offered an explanation for how corporate donations to a nonprofit that ended up in Wright's personal bank account.

"The whole concept of this thing is a difficult thing," he said.

Wright is accused of mishandling about $340,000 in campaign contributions, loans and charitable donations. The legislative panel found him guilty of the following violations:

  • not reporting $180,000 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

"Any time you have folks questioning the integrity of legislative members, it needs to be dealt with," said Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe.

The General Assembly has expelled 11 members since its creation. The last was Josiah Turner of Hillsborough, who was censured and expelled in 1880 for improprieties and a disrespectful manner.