A spokesman says Gov. Bill Haslam never received a petition seeking return of a pet raccoon to Mark “Coonrippy” Brown, but his staffers did talk with the Gallatin, Tenn., man who has since declared himself a Republican candidate for governor.
In declaring his candidacy against Haslam in the August GOP primary, Brown, 55, told the Gallatin News Examiner that Haslam had “ignored the cries from the entire United States” asking for the raccoon named Rebekah to be returned to him by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
He said a letter to TWRA officials seeking a permit went unanswered and a petition to Haslam with more than 60,000 signatures was returned unopened. TWRA seized the raccoon last year, citing state law that generally prohibits individuals from owning wildlife, after Brown had achieved Internet renown with videos showing him dancing and showering with the raccoon. He has also appeared on national TV shows.
David Smith, the governor’s press secretary, said the petition was never received, but “we’ve spoken with him and his wife previously” in following up on email messages Brown sent to the governor’s office.
“One of our representatives from our Constituent Services Office explained that the TWRA was handling it and the governor couldn’t step in,” said Smith in an email. “It is a law that has been in place for some time and is for the protection of both animals and individuals.
“I’d also note that mail coming to us is typically opened and inspected during processing and before delivery, so if something was returned unopened, then I doubt it made it to the processing facility,” he said.
Brown said in an interview Tuesday that he was skeptical about the spokesman saying the letter was never received.
“How convenient of them to say that after the … hit the fan,” he said. “I’ve got to give it to old Bill on that one. … I love him. The Bible says to love those who lie to me. That’s in the fifth chapter of Matthew.”
Brown said someone had twice called him claiming to represent the governor’s office, though through a phone that blocked caller identification, telling him the seized raccoon was going to be “used as a state ambassador” with appearances in schools and the like. The raccoon is Tennessee’s official state animal.
Actually, Brown said he suspects the raccoon — which he raised from a kit after it’s mother was killed — has been euthanized in accord with TWRA’s standard policy in such cases. If not, he said, “What’s the difference between them keeping the animal in captivity and me keeping it in captivity?”
In a brief video announcing his candidacy, Brown declares, “I think it’s time we bring the United States back where it’s supposed to be, one state at a time, starting with Tennessee.
“We are one nation under God, not above God,” he says.
In an interview, Brown declined to give specific views on state issues such as implementing a school voucher system or repealing Common Core standards.
A governor, he said, should “listen to the cries of the people and let them decide,” then act in accord with majority opinion.
Brown is the first person — Republican or Democrat — to announce as an opponent to Haslam’s re-election.