Ray Blanton, Democratic Governor of Tennessee
Ray Blanton was the Governor of Tennessee starting in 1974. He won a very close election against a Republican who likely would have won if the entire Republican party hadn’t been tarnished by Richard Nixon’s Watergate Scandal.
Blanton was just a bad guy. His largest crime, and the one that removed him from office was the selling of pardons and liquor licenses, but his entire term was filled with supposed scandals. He accepted a very controversial $20,000 per year pay raise at time when the state was going through financial difficulties, he often took political and non-political friends on trips using state funds, and his aides and appointees often used state funds for bar tabs, limousine rentals and other extravagant purchases.
The biggest scandal, however, that Blanton took part in was the buying of pardons for convicted criminals, many of whom were in jail for the most terrible of crimes. One of the people Blanton pardoned was in jail after being convicted of murdering his ex-wife and her male companion. While signing that particular pardon, Blanton told his Secretary of State “this takes guts.” Gentry Crowell, Blanton’s Secretary of State, replied “some people have more guts than brains.”
In the end, Blanton tried to pardon 52 state prisoners, of which 20 of them were convicted murders. Some of them were related to Blanton supporters, others had the money to bribe Blanton for their release.
By that time the FBI was highly interested in Ray Blanton and his administration. In mid-December 1978 they had already started their investigation by raiding the office of Blanton’s top advisor, T. Edward Sisk. Sisk and two other Blanton advisors were arrested the same day, but Blanton stayed in office.
When several within the Tennessee government got wind that Blanton was looking to actually perform more pardons, they started to look for a way to remove him from office (this was at the end of his term, so impeachment was unlikely as it would have taken too long).
What they ended up doing was inaugurating the next governor three days early in order to prevent Blanton from proceeding with even more pardons.
So what happened to Blanton? Well, he was never officially charged with the crime of pardoning so many criminals, but he did spend 22 months in jail for mail fraud and conspiracy.