|It was at nearby Alexandria’s historic DeKalb County Fair that I first met Ray Blanton, a man destined to be one of the most infamous governors in Tennessee history.
One couldn’t keep knowing that politics was in the brisk cool night air back as the song, “Ray of Sunshine,” blared out over the fair grounds, announcing the arrival of Democrat gubernatorial candidate Blanton.
A lyric of that song reads: “A little light never hurt nobody.”
The now deceased Blanton was elected governor in 1974, before being convicted of extortion and mail fraud … and ultimately going to prison.
In retrospect, if we news media types and news organizations had done a better job of shining “light” on Leonard Ray Blanton, a native of West Tennessee’s Hardin County, perhaps one of the state’s darkest political chapters could have been avoided.
Being that it’s “Sunshine Week” in America, the late Blanton and his illegal corruption of the state’s political process comes to mind.
It’s the one week of the year that open government advocates and news organizations should be reconfirming our resolve to keeping the government process open and honest.
In Tennessee, largely due to efforts of great Fourth Estate watchdog journalists and visionary political leaders of the past, we can take pride in the fact our state’s “Sunshine Law” predates the national law by 31 years.
Ironically, it was in 1974, the beginning of the corrupt Blanton administration, that Tennessee’s General Assembly passed the most comprehensive “Sunshine Law” in the nation to insure that public government business is conducted in full public view.
It’s a law that some political operatives, past and present, do not like.
For example, Williamson County Commissioner Bob Barnwell, who serves as current president of Tennessee’s County Commissioners Association, is mounting a statewide campaign to weaken this state’s Sunshine Law by proposing any number of county commissioners, if less than a quorum, can meet and discuss issues.
If Republican Barnwell is successful in weakening the law, it will open the door for other government bodies, such as school boards and city councils, to close their doors to the public, watchdog groups and media organizations.
Since America’s founding of the greatest open government and democracy in world history, it’s been proven that slamming the government’s doors to public scrutiny is unwise – unwise to the point it can threaten the fabric of free and open examination of our law makers and the political process.
It’s classically ironic Tennessee political history that one of the state’s most corrupt governors adopted the song – “Ray of Sunshine” – as he successfully campaigned across the Volunteer State.
But, it’s part of the great state of Tennessee’s colorful and proud political tradition, sometimes sadly tainted by corrupt politicians who want to shy away under rocks, out of view from the state’s vitally important Sunshine Law.
Long live our free and open democracy.