As the vote clock wound down in the General Assembly Thursday afternoon, so did the timer on state Rep. Thomas Wrights legislative career.
I could see the clock ticking from 10 to one. At four seconds [left], I voted to expel my colleague, said state Rep. Ty Harrell, one of 109 House members who voted to oust Wright for allegedly siphoning more than $180,000 in charitable donations and campaign contributions for personal use. Wright also allegedly solicited Tolen Wade of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to write and mail a letter falsely stating the departments Office of Research had committed $150,000 to the Community Health Foundation in Wilmington. The letter was to be used to help leverage additional funding for the foundation.
A Democrat, Wright is expected to stand trial on the criminal charges, although a date has not been set.
State Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland), who, with state Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake), co-sponsored the resolution to kick Wright out of the House, called the case one of arrogance and deception.
Wright, the first House member to be expelled in nearly 130 years, told his colleagues and the observers seated in the gallery overlooking the chamber: I am innocent of the criminal charges before me.
His plea wasnt enough.
I went in with a sense of how I would vote, said Harrell, a Wake County Democrat. The onus was on him to prove that he should not be expelled. He fell horrifically short on that.
Also falling short was a motion to censure, rather than expel Wright, proposed by state Rep. Earl Jones, one of five House members to vote against expulsion. Beverly Parmon, Larry Womble, Mary McAllister and Wright, all members of the Legislative Black Caucus, also cast nay votes.
Ironically, Wright is running for re-election in his district of New Hanover and Pender counties. If he is exonerated of criminal charges and wins reelection, he could reclaim his seat in 2009.
What does that mean for this chamber? Harrell said. The four or five people who voted against expulsion are his only friends.
By Thursday afternoon, Wrights member page on the General Assembly Web site read, 3/20/2008 expelled.
There was a awkward moment shortly before the House adjourned. In general, after the legislative business for the day is finished, lawmakers are allowed to make personal announcements. After House Speaker Joe Hackney ordered Wright to be escorted from the chamber by the Sergeant-at-Arms, state Rep. Ronnie Sutton had his own announcement: He wished House colleague Doug Yongue, happy birthday.
I thought, This is surreal, Harrell said.