RALEIGH — For the first time in almost 130 years, the N.C. House of Representatives expelled a member who refused to resign after being indicted on charges of mishandling or hiding campaign contributions and other finances.
Thomas Wright’s expulsion from the N.C. House could make the balance of gay-friendly legislators better or worse.
Former Rep. Thomas Wright (D-New Hanover) was ousted Mar. 20 by a vote of 109-5. His refusal to step down prompted his colleagues to remove him for actions unbecoming a member of the House.
According to Equality North Carolina Executive Director Ian Palmquist, Wright was one of the leading champions of HIV/AIDS funding in the House and a longtime supporter of eligibility increases for the state’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).
In 2006, due in part to work by Wright and Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), the maximum annual income level for those eligible for drug assistance was raised from $12,250 to $19,600.
On the other hand, Palmquist said, Wright supported a proposed state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and other legal recognition of same-sex relationships.
For the LGBT community, the important question now is who will replace Wright.
The process starts with a recommendation to Gov. Michael Easley from the Democratic Executive Committee in Wright’s district. Jim Morgan, chairman of the New Hanover County Democratic Party, told the Raleigh News and Observer that the four-person committee would meet soon, although he declined to give a timetable.
Morgan also said Wright’s primary challengers will be considered, along with others. “We haven’t ruled anybody in or anybody out,” he told the newspaper.
Palmquist said it is likely that Wright will be replaced with one of his primary challengers, Hollis Briggs, Jr. or Sandra Spaulding Hughes. He added that, to date, neither candidate had returned ENC’s questionnaire regarding their positions on LGBT issues.
Hughes, a retired educator, is also a former member of the Wilmington City Council. In an email statement to Q-Notes, she said she would oppose the anti-gay marriage amendment and offer her support to the original, LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying and anti-harassment bill, the School Violence Prevention Act.
Briggs, a chef and community activist, told Q-Notes he had not done enough research on the marriage amendment or the School Violence Prevention Act and couldn’t address these concerns without more information.
Wright’s House District 18 overlaps the N.C. Senate district represented by openly lesbian state Sen. Julia Boseman. It’s no surprise that the area has become increasingly LGBT-friendly in recent years.