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Tommy Burnett

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Sam Thomas "Tommy" Burnett August 1, 1942 – September 17, 2009 was a Tennessee politician who was Majority Leader of the Tennessee House of Representatives and who served two prison sentences for separate federal convictions


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 Political career
    • 21 1983 conviction
    • 22 1991 conviction
  • 3 Later years
  • 4 Death
  • 5 References
  • 6 External links

Early life

Burnett was born and raised in Goodlettsville, Tennessee As a student at Goodlettsville High School he served as class president and was chosen “most likely to succeed" He attended Cumberland College and received a law degree from the University of Tennessee While in law school he served as a lay minister for a Church of Christ congregation in Jamestown, Tennessee, where following graduation he established a law practice and began his political career

Political career

A Democrat, Burnett was first elected to the state legislature at age 28 in 1970, representing a district that included Fentress, Overton and Morgan counties on the Cumberland Plateau After taking office in 1971 Burnett became a protégé of Ned McWherter, who was then House Speaker He soon assumed the role of Floor leader for the Democrats during the governorship of Ray Blanton and later became House Majority Leader during the governorships of Lamar Alexander and Ned McWherter

As a politician Burnett was known for his charm, oratorical skill, persuasiveness, sense of humor, ability to quickly analyze issues, and effectiveness at working across party lines to achieve results Some state political observers thought he could become governor He is given much of the credit for winning passage of major education legislation proposed by Governor Alexander, nursing home reforms, the Tennessee Sentencing Commission Act, and tort reform Among the successful legislation that he sponsored were a law mandating use of seatbelts and a controversial initiative that limited the nighttime hours of work for teenage students

1983 conviction

In 1983 he was convicted in federal court for the misdemeanor of willfully failing to file federal income tax returns, and served ten months in prison While in a prison camp at Maxwell Air Force Base he was re-elected to the Tennessee House, defeating two opponents in the primary and winning the November 1984 general election with 60 percent of the vote

1991 conviction

Burnett's 20-year career as a state legislator came to an end in 1991 after he was convicted as a result of the FBI's Operation Rocky Top investigation into corruption in the Tennessee General Assembly In August 1990 he was convicted on nine counts and sentenced to second federal prison term after receiving a multi-count indictment for his involvement in an illegal bingo gambling operation One of his convictions was for defrauding a man he had met in prison by inducing him to invest $48,000 in the gambling operation After his conviction, he was forced to end his campaign for re-election to an 11th term in the fall of 1990, and went to work as a car dealer during the appeals process

Later years

He received a five-year prison sentence for his Operation Rocky Top conviction, and served 16 months before being released to a halfway house in August 1992 After six months in the halfway house, he began a new career as a talk radio commentator on Teddy Bart’s Roundtable program in Nashville As a convicted felon, he lost his law license and could not seek public office again However, he succeeded in getting the law license restored in 2003 and became a lobbyist in the General Assembly in his final years, although health problems, including severe diabetes, limited his physical activity

His career also included stints as a cattle rancher, oil prospector, chicken farmer, and seller of fireworks He is credited with helping to establish the Highway 127 Corridor Sale, which has been called "the world's largest flea market"


Burnett died September 17, 2009, in a hospital in Nashville His funeral was held September 20, 2009, in the Fentress County community of Banner Springs His remains were transported in a mule-drawn carriage to Springs Chapel Cemetery for burial


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Kerr, Gail 2009-09-17 "Tommy Burnett, former TN legislator, dies at 67" The Tennessean Retrieved 18 September 2009 
  2. ^ a b Tom Humphrey, Mr Sam Thomas Burnett, crafty, colorful, convicted former state lawmaker, dies, Knoxville News Sentinel, web-posted September 18, 2009
  3. ^ a b c d Ken Whitehouse, State bids farewell to legendary legislator Tommy Burnett, NashvillePostcom, September 17, 2009
  4. ^ a b c Erik Schelzig, Burnett won race from prison cell; Former Tennessee House leader dies at 67, Associated Press, September 18, 2009
  5. ^ http://wwwnashvillepostcom, September 19, 2009, State bids farewell to legendary legislator Tommy Burnett AUTHORED by Ken Whitehouse
  6. ^ Mike Pigott, Veteran Tennessee political observer Mike Pigott remembers the colorful Tommy Burnett, Nashville Scene, September 23, 2009
  7. ^ Gail Kerr, Services for former state Rep Tommy Burnett are Sunday, The Tennessean, September 19, 2009
  8. ^ Friends, Family Remember Tommy Burnett, News Channel 5, September 20, 2009
  9. ^ Tommy Burnett Dies At Age 67, Fentress Courier, September 23, 2009

External links

  • Tommy Burnett speaking in opposition to capital punishment in 1997 MP3 recording

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