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The “Pardon me, Ray” Story

By David Wildstein

One of the great stories of American gubernatorial transitions was in early 1979, when a “cash-for-clemency” scandal caused the Tennessee legislature to move up the swearing in ceremony so that Gov. Ray Blanton would be forced to leave office three days earlier.

Blanton had issued pardons and prison commutations 52 state inmates in the waning days of his administration.  A federal grand jury was convened during the final days of Blanton’s term – something that didn’t stop the Governor from continuing to review clemency files that had already been rejected by the Board of Pardons.  Three Blanton staffers were arrested.

He commuted the sentences of 49 prisoners – and pardoned three others – on January 17, just three days before Lamar Alexander was to become Governor.  The legislative leadership, citing vague and contradictory instructions in state law, arranged for Alexander to take the oath three days early.

Blanton was never charged in the scandal, though he did go to prison in 1981 after receiving a 22-month sentence for taking $23,000 from a friend in exchange for a liquor license.

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