Wilder's RamblingsFrom the political graveyard comes the news that former Lieutenant Governor John Wilder may finally be showing signs of his years that do not equate to the wisdom of over half-a-century of public service and 36 years in Tennessee's most powerful legislative position. When Wilder was defeated in the Tennessee Senate in January 2007 by current Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, he sat as the longest-serving leader of a democratic legislative body in the world.
Regardless of one's political affiliation, Wilder should be a person to be respected and admired for his years of service to Tennessee, many of which were seen to come with distinction. Now, however, John Wilder is making statements to the press that would indicate that either he is losing control of his personal faculties and has been for a while (which would mean that Wilder's supporters lied in 2007 when they said he was "sharp as a tack" in his bid to return for yet another term as Lieutenant Governor), or Wilder was not the man above reproach that so many people took him to be during his time in public office.
In an interview with the Union City Messenger, Wilder attempted to defend both former Governor Ray Blanton, who was removed from office early-and partly on Wilder's initiative-for accepting bribes in return for granting pardons, and former State Senator John Ford, who was convicted of taking bribes in return for using his legislative influence as part of the "Tennessee Waltz scandal:
Wilder said he hasn’t heard from his long-time Senate peer, former state
Sen. John Ford, a Memphis Democrat twice convicted in federal court of
corruption and other charges. Ford is serving two sentences in a federal prison
in Louisiana. The charges stemmed from a federal undercover investigation dubbed
“Tennessee Waltz.” Five state legislators were indicted and either pleaded
guilty or were convicted in court.
Does Wilder foresee Ford ever returning to public office?
was him, I wouldn’t want to get back into public life,” he
“Because I wouldn’t want to go to
jail,” he said.
He pauses a moment.
“They set little traps for
me, but I didn’t get in them,” he said.
Does that mean “they” set a trap for
“I know they set a trap for him. Now, that’s a crime.
When a district attorney puts money in somebody’s pocket to put them in jail,
and they’re innocent, that’s a crime. But nobody knows that to be a crime.
And that’s what you get for being in public life,” he said.
John Ford accepted bribes from an undercover agent, and did so in a way that indicated that such behavior was normal for Ford. "They" were the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and ultimately the FBI as well. Ford was innocent? The tapes from Ford's bribery trial prove otherwise. What about Ray Blanton, the former Governor who accepted bribes for pardons, in some cases having his staff members sell pardons? Blanton was removed from office several days early in January 1979 partly because Wilder joined then-House Speaker Ned McWherter in an initiative to have Blanton's replacement, Lamar Alexander, sworn in early.
John Wilder apparently thinks that Ray Blanton was also entrapped by evildoers:
“That’s what happened to all of them, that I know anything about. I’m saying it
happened to (former Gov.) Ray Blanton, too. It goes way back.”
John Ford was innocent and Ray Blanton was entrapped, and "the Senate was the Senate" with
Wilder in charge.
Perhaps there was a time when John Wilder was truly a statesman, and it is quite possible that these are the thoughts of a man disoriented, who cannot remember key parts of his own career and whose age has caught up with him in earnest. However, if Wilder's old supporters are correct and he is still very much of sound mind, these remarks shed a new and frightning light on the philosophy of a man who served 36 years in Tennessee's second-most powerful position.
A very sad footnote to a lengthy career in public life.