State Sen. Mike Bell resigning legislative seat Sept. 1 to join Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / State Sen. Mike Bell speaks at Westwood Baptist Church in Cleveland, Tenn., on Thursday, October 14, 2021. Tennessee Department of Transportation commissioner Clay Bright visited to celebrate the beginning of work on SR-60 improvement project.

NASHVILLE -- Retiring state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, will resign from his seat more than two months early on Aug. 31 as he takes on a new job as a senior adviser with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

His new job begins Sept. 1.

"We are excited to welcome Senator Bell to the TWRA family," TWRA Executive Director Jason Maxedon said in a news release. "His extensive legislative experience and his passion for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation will make him a valuable team member."

Maxedon said that as a lifelong sportsman and small business owner, Bell will bring a "wealth of institutional knowledge and personal experience" to the TWRA. "We look forward to working with him to advance critical policy to support the conservation and management of wildlife, fisheries, and Tennessee's waterways."

Bell said he looks forward to working with TWRA.

"For as long as I can remember I have been an avid outdoorsman. I am excited for the opportunity to help advance the agency's efforts to ensure Tennessee's rich natural resources can be enjoyed for many future generations," he said in the news release.

Bell was first elected to Tennessee House District 23 in 2006, representing McMinn and Monroe counties. He later won election to Tennessee Senate District 9 in 2010, representing Bradley, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe and Polk Counties.

"Serving in the General Assembly for the last 16 years has been the highest honor of my life," said Bell, who announced last November he would not seek re-election. "I will always be grateful to the citizens in House District 1 and Senate District 9 for the trust they have put in me to represent them in the legislature."

Bell is currently chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, having been appointed to the post in 2019 by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Republican Senate speaker. Bell previously was chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee.

"Mike Bell has brought a true working-class perspective to the Senate that has been simply invaluable," McNally said in a statement. "An authentic citizen legislator, Mike has served with distinction as chairman of both the Judiciary and Government Operations committees while at the same time owning and operating his own small business.

The senator has generally been supportive of TWRA, which oversees fishing and hunting licensure and enforcement as well as maintaining some 50 wildlife management areas and refuges as well as a number of lakes for hunters and fishermen. The agency is overseen by the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Bell has also from time to time taken issue with agency operations.

In 2021, Bell raised questions after Republican Gov. Bill Lee named his former special assistant and 2018 campaign manager Chris Devaney of Lookout Mountain to a spot on the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission.

"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 Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2021. He said regarding Devaney that "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."

But Bell also said he considered Devaney a friend and noted he "may make a fantastic commissioner."

In addition to his regular duties as a state legislator, Bell has also been an active member and co-chair of the National Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus and a member of the Executive Council of the National Association of Sportsmen's Caucuses.

Contact Andy Sher at [email protected]