JAMES P. "JIM" WESBERRY JR.
I Won't Sell My Soul
In 1965, James P. "Jim" Wesberry Jr., son of the then renowned
pastor of the Morningside Baptist Church, was on a political shooting
A member of the Georgia State Senate, he was chairman of the
Fulton County Senate Delegation, a vital part of leadership Atlanta
and respected by people like Cari Sanders, Ivan Alien, George Berry,
and the late Dan Sweat.
He was the principal plaintiff in Wesberry v. Sanders, which
laid down for the first time in writing the maxim that congressional
districts had to be apportioned according to the ideal of "one man,
one vote." In this landmark decisión, the US Supreme Court mandated
the reapportionment of the US House of Representatives.
Said Bill Shipp, then political editor of the Atlanta Constitution, "Wesberry was on his way to becoming mayor of Atlanta or governor of the state of Georgia."
One year later, at the age of thirty-two, Wesberry quit the
Senate and left the state of Georgia, decisions he never has regretted.
"I decided to be honest. That is why I quit. My brilliant decisions
so far have been quitting politics and marrying my second wife. I would
have become corrupt had I stayed and run for higher office. There was
no cholee. I was not prepared to sell my soul."
Today, Wesberry lives in northern Virginia and works for the
World Bank in the Caribbean as the principal adviser in Accounting
and Auditing for Latin America and the Caribbean. In plain, simple
language, Wesberry's Job is to uncover fraud and corruption, which
he says there is plenty of both, and to pinpoint government accountability.
"This work is a calling from God," he said. "Eliminating corruption
is my mission in life."
It was following his second re-election to the Georgia State
Senate that Wesberry realized that he would have to "give up my principies
to stay in politics. You cannot raise money without compromising yourself.
I did not want to sell my integrity. I hated humbling myself before
friends and strangers. If someone gave me fifty dollars, I felt indebted
to him. It was a compromising position. The guy who gave me money would
come back to see me when he had a bill he wanted passed. Nobody gives
you money because they believe in you. They give it to you because
they want to own you. I couldn't stomach it."
To stay free of promised favors, Wesberry said he tried to pay
political campaign bilis himself. "They cost me enough to send three
children through college twice. My Senate career cost me $15,000 per
year in lost potential income I could have earned as an accountant.
Meanwhile, my personal net worth nose-dived. I was unable to pay creditors,
people were threatening to sue me. I concluded that if I was going
to stay honest and solvent, I would have to get out of politics."
And what advice would Wesberry give today's political aspirants?
"Stay out of politics. It is rotten. Political parties are rotten.
Someone needs to come up with a better system. No matter how you look
at it, votes are bought. There is no free lunch. One day the bottom
will fall out. We are the most financially irresponsible country in
the world. Miami looks like the forerunner of a series of bankrupt
cities. Atlanta could well be next."
For the state of Georgia, Wesberry predicts disaster due to
The lottery is the greatest tragedy in Georgia's history. It
is run by criminals so the state is in bed with criminals. The lottery
is a corrupt system which corrupts human beings. People embezzle from
employers to pay off lottery losses. The lottery is nothing but a tax
on the stupid. Only foolish people play the lottery. The state is supposed
to protect the foolish and widows and orphans. Instead, with a lottery,
it fools the foolish into paying a tax they cannot afford. The lottery
is an addiction, just like alcohol, tobáceo and drugs. I cannot think
of a worse idea for Georgia than a state lottery.
Wesberry fears no one but God. In his Georgia Senate days, he
was called "the most controversial politician since Gene Talmadge."
Critics said he gave up effectiveness as a legislator for the luxury
of saying what he thought. He often was called a "maverick, an independent
and an original thinker."
When Senator Wesberry resigned, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution
editorial commented, "The state will miss him. We shall think of him whenever the public needs a champion at the Capítol and nobody volunteers for the job."
James Pickett Wesberry Jr. was born in Columbia, South Carolina,
in 1934. Al the age of nine, he moved to A t l a n t a where his
father became pastor of the Morningside Baptist Church. He
attended old Bass Junior High School in Little Five Points, and Grady
High School in midtown, before moving to Washington DC and spending
three years in the Capítol as a House of Representatives page.
Returning to Atlanta, he spent three years at Georgia Tech before
transferring to Georgia State University where he earned his accounting
degree. At the age of twenty-one, he earned his CPA designation.
His first marriage, which lasted twenty-three years and produced
four children, ended in divorce. "The lowest part of my life was telling
my father of the breakup, " he said, "but I would not have survived
had it not been for his understanding along with a good psychiatrist
and an anti-depressant. My dad looked me in the eyes and said, 'You
can't let this end your life. Why, if I looked at my congregants, 50
percent of them would be divorced. Now, get on with your life.'"
He joined the World Bank and moved to Perú where he met his
present wife, Lea Esdras Castenada. "We have been on a honeymoon for
twenty-two years. Lea is the most wonderful, compassionate person I
have known. The Lord placed an ángel with me. We are like one person.
Marrying Lea was the best thing that ever happened to me."
Jim and Lea have three children: Jonathan, nineteen, a student
at Northern Virginia Júnior College; Perry, fourteen, who is deaf and
a football player in his northern Virginia high school; and twelve-year-old
Ruby Lea, who attends middle school in northern Virginia.
Jim's four children by his first marriage are, James III, forty-seven,
a stock broker; Elisa, forty-nine, a home health care nurse in Atlanta;
Susy, thirty-nine, the wife of a musician in Atlanta; and Paul, twenty-eight,
in the computer business in Las Vegas. There are five grandchildren.
Financially, Wesberry has come a long way since his early days
in the State Senate where he made $2,000 annually. "I won't say how
much I earn but it is at least eighty times more than what I was earning
when I left the State Senate."
Four years ago, Wesberry received the US Agency for International
Development's coveted "Career Achievement Award" for "invaluable and
lifetime contributions to the improvements of Financial management
systems and the fight against corruption in Latín America." He has
been listed in Who's Who in America since 1990 and Who's Who in the
World since 1976.
About his work, uncovering fraud and corruption, Wesberry says
that whitecollar crime is the fastest growing economic phenomenon on
the planet. Prosecutors must divide resources between drug cartels,
the Mafia, street crime, and business fraud.
"The shortages of jail cells has become the number one problem
in American public administration," he said.
"A Brazilian congressman is alleged to have processed $51 million
through his personal bank accounts in less than five years. Cocaine-financed
bribes give public officials in South and North America a choice between
receiving more money than they could earn in 100 years or tortuous
death for themselves or their loved oncs. That is what we are up against."