Friday, July 17, 2015

While we are at it, what do we do with Ray Blanton?

Governor Ray Blanton
It is easy to judge those in the past by the standards of today and find them wanting.  I have no love for Nathan Bedford Forrest and will not really miss his bust if it is removed from the State Capitol building, but if we are going to start looking at who is deserving of being honored in the State Capitol, what are we to do with the official portrait of Democrat Governor Ray Blanton?  He is not some historical figure from the distant past, but is a contemporary figure.  His misdeeds occurred just about thirty-five years ago.  For those of you who may have forgotten, too young to know, or are new to our state, here is the Wikipedia account: 
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 wife and a male companion. As Blanton signed Humphreys' pardon, he stated, "this takes guts." His 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 Alexander three days before the traditional inauguration day. Wilder later referred to Blanton's ouster as "impeachment Tennessee-style."
Although never formally charged in the pardons matter, Blanton was eventually indicted on charges of mail fraud, conspiracy, and extortion for selling liquor licenses. He was convicted and sentenced to federal prison. Released after serving 22 months, he returned to Tennessee. Although a panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals initially reversed the convictions because of the way in which the district court conducted the voir dire, that decision was vacated by the court's decision to re-hear the case en banc. The full Sixth Circuit Court affirmed Blanton's convictions, and the Supreme Court denied review.In January 1988, 9 of the 11 charges were thrown out in a separate appeal.
Despite never being convicted of selling pardons and payrolls, no one doubts he was guilty of the offense. To my way of reckoning, selling pardons and paroles to convicted murderers is equally offensive as selling slaves if judged by the ethical standards of the times. Also, how are we to judge Andrew Jackson and his Indian removal policy if we are going to start removing bust and portrait in the State capitol?
Memphis Commercial Appeal- State subcommittee will determine fate of Forrest bust Memphis Commercial Appeal On June 24, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey sent a joint letter to the Capitol Commission encouraging the panel “to ...

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