For the first time since 1880, the North Carolina House of Representatives has voted to expel a member. Representative Thomas Wright of (D-New Hanover) has been expelled after a vote of his peers. Former Rep. Wright is currently facing numerous felony charges relating to fraudulently obtaining loans through a complex scheme that used a nonprofit and state employees in addition to myriad campaign finance violations.
The special session was called to order by Speaker Joe Hackney (D-Chatham) at 10am on Thursday, March 20th. Five members were absent; Rep. Debbie Clary (R-Cleveland), Rep. Paul Lubke (D-Durham), Rep. Leo Daughtry (R-Johnston), Rep. Linda Coleman (D-Wake)and Rep. Joe Kiser (R-Lincoln). The first order of business was to accept the resignation of Rep. Pete Cunningham (D-Mecklenburg) due to health reasons. Rep. Bill Owens (D-Pasquotank) introduced the rules for the session which were pretty much pro forma. The rules passed with only two votes against: Wright (natch) and, inexplicably, retiring Rep. George Holmes (R-Yadkin).
The rules required a two thirds vote to expel. Wrights attorneys were allowed on the floor of the House as were legislative staff. Also spotted on the back row normally occupied by high school pages were a number of state senators and former Senator Fern Shubert and former Rep. Steve Wood.
The report of the Ethics Committee was read at length and then the motion to expel reiterated much of the same material. Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) sponsored the motion as Co-Chair of the Ethics Committee with fellow Ethics Co-Chair Skip Stam (R-Wake). Glazier pointed out some of the evidence against Wright:
- over 400 unreported contributions
- 7 years worth of fraudulent campaign reports
- 40% of all contributions were never reported
- $200,000 in expenditures were never reported
Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford) offered an amendment that would censure Wright instead of expelling him. After some debate by Glazier, Stam and Rep. Larry Womble (D-Forsyth), Wright rose to address the body. After emphasizing the need to be careful about what he said due to pending legal action, Wright declared his innocence of the charges and plead with the members to give him the chance to prove his innocence.
The vote on the amendment was held with 12 supporting it (Jones, Womble, Wright, Rep. Alma Adams (D-Guilford), Rep. Mary McAllister (D-Cumberland), Rep. Beverly Earle (D-Mecklenburg), Rep. Larry Bell (D-Sampson), Rep. Maggie Jeffus (D-Guilford), Rep. Mickey Michaux (D-Durham), Rep. Larry Hall (D-Durham),Rep. Annie Mobley (D-Herford) and Rep. Drew Saunders (D-Mecklengurg) while 102 members voted against the amendment.
House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman (D-Davidson) then supported expulsion and the vote was held. The motion to expel passed 109 to 5. The five against expulsion were Wright, Womble, McAllister, Jones and Rep. Earline Parmon (D-Forsyth).
Speaker Hackney then ordered the Sergeant at Arms to escort Wright from the House.
The last two years have seen a parade of disgraced lawmakers leave the legislature for the penitentiary. None have held out longer than Thomas Wright. Former Speaker Jim Black waited months to leave but he did resign before he could be expelled. Former Representative Michael Decker, the GOP Judas, was removed by the electorate before his stint as an inmate. Even former Rep. Paul Miller and David Almond had the dignity and common sense to resigned rather than face their peers in an expulsion vote. Thomas Wright did not . Representative Wright turned out to be Representative Wrong.