MURFREESBORO — Public affairs consultant and former journalist Keel Hunt will bring the story of Tennessee’s unprecedented bipartisan ouster of a corrupt governor to MTSU’s renowned Windham Lecture Series at a free public event on Thursday, April 17.
MTSU alumnus Hunt, author of "Coup: The Day the Democrats Ousted Their Governor, Put Republican Lamar Alexander in Office Early, and Stopped a Pardon Scandal,” will be joined at 5 p.m. April 17 in MTSU’s Tucker Theatre by Tennessean editor emeritus John Seigenthaler and then-U.S. Attorney Hal Hardin for an in-depth discussion of the 1979 political scandal.
Tucker Theatre is located inside the Boutwell Dramatic Arts Building on the MTSU campus. A searchable campus map with parking details is available at http://tinyurl.com/MTSUParkingMap13-14.
Tennessee’s constitutional crisis erupted 35 years ago, when then-Gov. Ray Blanton signed 52 executive clemencies, including pardons for a political pal’s son and 20 other convicted murderers, amid a growing federal investigation into a clemency-for-cash scandal.
Leaders learned Blanton planned to issue more pardons before newly elected Gov. Lamar Alexander was to be sworn in. Hardin, who also is an MTSU alumnus, contacted Alexander with the news.
Working with the state attorney general to determine whether an early inauguration was constitutional, Alexander, a Republican, had only a few hours to collaborate with Speaker of the House Ned Ray McWherter and Lt. Gov. John Wilder, both Democrats, to find a solution.
They did. Alexander took the oath of office three days early in the Tennessee Supreme Court chambers, and the bipartisan scramble effectively prevented any more early releases for dangerous criminals.
Hunt, a former Tennessean reporter and city editor who campaigned for Alexander in the 1978 election and later became his special assistant and speechwriter, was able to interview many of the surviving participants for “Coup,” learning details that surprised even his former boss.
‘What fascinates me 34 years later is how much I did not know about what had happened until I read Keel Hunt's book,” Alexander, now Tennessee’s senior U.S. senator, said of “Coup.”
Seigenthaler, who was the editor in chief at The Tennessean when Blanton was ousted and had been Hunt’s editor during his tenure at the paper, provided the foreword for Hunt’s book.
MTSU’s Windham Lecture Series in Liberal Arts was established by William and Westy Windham through the MTSU Foundation.
Dr. William Windham was a member of the MTSU faculty from 1955 to 1989 and served as chairman of the Department of History the last 11 years. His first wife, the late Westy Windham, earned a master's degree in sociology at MTSU and was the founder of the Great American Singalong. Since Westy Windham’s death, Windham and his current wife, Doris, have continued their sponsorship of the lecture series.
The inaugural Windham Lecture in 1990 featured Drs. Dan T. Carter of Emory University and Dewey W. Grantham of Vanderbilt University, who spoke on “The South and the Second Reconstruction.” Since then, the Windham Lectures have addressed topics spanning from American music to U.S. foreign policy and have included such speakers as musician Bela Fleck, filmmaker Rory Kennedy and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
The April 17 lecture is sponsored by the MTSU College of Liberal Arts. For more information, please contact the College of Liberal Arts at 615-494-7628.