Remember the lessons of former Tn Governor Ray Blanton…
In 1977, Blanton fired Marie Ragghianti, chairwoman of the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles, when she refused to release prisoners who, as was later determined, had bribed state officials in exchange for obtaining pardons (Ragghianti later sued and won a $38,000 judgment against the state). On December 15, 1978, the FBI raided the state capitol, and seized documents from the office of Blanton’s legal advisor, T. Edward Sisk. Sisk and two others were arrested, and Blanton appeared before a federal grand jury on December 23, where he denied any wrongdoing.
On January 15, 1979, near the end of his term, Blanton issued pardons to 52 state prisoners, including 20 convicted murderers. Among those pardoned was Roger Humphreys, the son of a Blanton supporter, who had been convicted of killing his ex-wife and a male companion in 1973. As Blanton signed Humphreys’ pardon, he stated, “this takes guts.” The Secretary of State, Gentry Crowell, who was disgusted with the pardons, replied, “some people have more guts than brains.”
While Blanton stated the pardons were to comply with a court order to reduce the state’s prison population, the FBI and members of both parties grew concerned that the pardons were related to the alleged scandal then under investigation. After U.S. Attorney Hal Hardin (a friend of Blanton) tipped off state leaders that Blanton was planning more pardons, Lieutenant Governor (and Senate Speaker) John S. Wilder and State House Speaker Ned McWherter searched for a way to prevent further damage to the state’s reputation. They found it in the state constitution, which is somewhat vague on when a newly elected governor must be sworn in. It was eventually decided to swear in Lamar Alexander, who had won the 1978 gubernatorial election, three days before the traditional inauguration day. Wilder later referred to Blanton’s ouster as “impeachment Tennessee-style.”
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