chris devaney

Lee’s appointments to wildlife board questioned

Bill Lee speaks at a unity press conference in Nashville on Aug. 4, 2018 after winning the Republican gubernatorial nomination. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s nominations of his former campaign manager and a businessman who was once cited for a hunting violation to the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission are raising questions in the General Assembly, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

Lee wants to appoint Chris Devaney, a former state GOP chairman who ran his 2018 gubernatorial campaign, and Stan Butt, the husband of former state Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia), to the wildlife panel.

Devaney, a Texas native, obtained his first Tennessee hunting and fishing permit in 2017. Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), a major player in the legislature’s sportsmen’s caucus, expressed some unease about the Devaney nomination.

“I live in Southeast Tennessee, and the last two commissioners we’ve had from our area, David Watson and Tony Sanders, are huge outdoorsmen, people that I’ve seen outdoors, people that I’ve seen on social media who go hunting and fishing and participate in outdoor activities,” Bell told the Times Free Press. “It is somewhat concerning to me that we now have a person who’s been appointed to be on the commission whom I’ve never seen at an event.”

Bell hastened to add he considers Devaney a friend that he “may make a fantastic commissioner.” Fellow Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga said he was a “little disappointed that [Devaney] would even let himself be considered for this.”

“His expertise is in a lot of other areas besides hunting and fishing and wildlife,” Gardenhire told the paper.

Devaney said he’s a lifelong hunter and the grandson of late George Wells, a Texas apparel manufacturer who helped pioneer camouflage hunting clothing. He showed the paper a copy of a Texas-issued hunter education certificate earned in the eighth grade, along with a current Texas hunting license and one issued in 2014 in Alabama.

Butt and his three adult sons were cited by wildlife officers in 2008 for hunting during bow season “while in possession [of] a firearm or accompanied by person in violation of a firearm.” He later paid a $50 civil fine and $195 in court costs.

Butt, who was also an active Lee supporter during the 2018 campaign, chalked it up to a misunderstanding.

“We weren’t hunting with a bow,” Butt said in an interview. “We were hunting on a 5,000-acre lease. And in our ignorance we were hunting hogs on this lease, hogs were legal at the time. We didn’t know that bow season [for deer] had opened that weekend. And we weren’t hunting deer, we were hunting hogs.”

Butt called the incided “unfortunate” and “one of them things, that’s what I told them, I said, ‘Hey, I can certainly understand how people get caught in those situations because I’ve been there.'”

Bell said Butt “has a good resume as being an outdoorsman and somebody who’s participated. Somebody who’s had, as I understand, one wildlife infraction in his background. But again, that’s the governor’s choice.”

Bell said if Lee wants to shake up the commission, Butt could be a good choice because “I know he can be a little aggressive, and again I was on the same side as him on a couple of issues. But he can be a little aggressive, which that may be the governor’s intention. If it is, I understand.”