NASHVILLE — Lookout Mountain resident Chris Devaney is expected to participate in his first meetings this week as a newly minted member of the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission.
That comes after the Tennessee House's 73-10 vote last Thursday to confirm him. A former Tennessee Republican Party chair, Devaney was appointed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee to the panel, which oversees the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in the regulation of fishing, hunting and boating.
Devaney served as Lee's 2018 campaign manager and later as a special assistant to the governor. He later left the Lee administration to become a founding partner at The Poplar Group, a public affairs and strategic counseling firm.
"My first and main priority will be to uphold the trust placed in me as a commissioner and to look out for the concerns of all the people in the southeast district that appreciate and enjoy the outdoors," he said by email Monday.
Devaney's appointment by Lee earlier encountered some pushback by Senate Republicans Mike Bell of Riceville and Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga. The lawmakers questioned his experience, noting Devaney had started seeking Tennessee hunting licenses only in 2017.
But Devaney said he had been an avid fisherman and hunter since childhood in his native Texas. He showed the Times Free Press copies of prior hunting licenses in Texas and Arkansas as well as a hunter education certificate he had earned in Texas when he was in 8th grade.
Another Lee appointee, Columbia businessman Stan Butt Sr., the husband of former state Republican Rep. Sheila Butt and a longtime friend of Lee and his family, also was confirmed. Butt, once cited by TWRA officers for using a gun during bow season, also had initial difficulties winning Senate approval.
In the Republican-controlled House, both men ran into opposition from some Democrats, who twice bumped the two appointees from a roster of what were supposed to be noncontroversial actions to be approved in a single vote.
The stand-alone resolution and vote confirmed Devaney's appointment. Butt's appointment won approval in a 78-5 vote.
Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, "blue-voted" on the Devaney appointment, simply voting present.
Asked why he didn't vote for Devaney, Hakeem said, "part of my interest and concerns was the school voucher bill and how that whole process played out. As you know, there were questions with regard to facts in that whole process."
That was a reference to Lee's controversial but ultimately successful push to pass his Education Savings Accounts legislation in April 2019. It paved the way for use of taxpayer dollars by some low-income families in Davidson and Shelby counties to pay for private schooling. Hamilton was among counties initially included in the legislation but was removed at the insistence of some Hamilton County Republican legislators.
The bill was deadlocked 49-49. Then-House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, held the vote tally board open for nearly 40 minutes as he, his chief of staff and Lee aides frantically sought to find the 50th vote required for passage, which they ultimately succeeded in getting.
Hakeem said the process led to his voting against Devaney's confirmation.
"I don't know if [Devaney] was heading it up, but he was representing the administration and spoke with me and other legislators with regards to the voucher bill," recalled Hakeem, who opposed the measure, which remains tied up in a court battle. "I think the way it all played out gave us all a bit of heartburn."
With Devaney and Butt now on board, the Fish and Wildlife Commission will meet Thursday and Friday at Cedars of Lebanon State Park in Wilson County, where commissioners will set the 2021-22 migratory gamebird hunting seasons. Thursday's meeting begins at 1 p.m., while the Friday session starts at 9 a.m.
In addition, TWRA officials will present a preview of the big game hunting seasons and bag limits proclamation and wildlife management areas, public hunting areas, refuges and hunting seasons and limits.
Commissioners will vote on that proclamation at the May meeting.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.