By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney announced Monday that he will step down just months into his fourth term in charge of the state GOP.
Devaney, who oversaw vast Republican gains under his chairmanship, said he would leave his position on April 11 to become executive director of the Chattanooga-based Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti.
“We have had quite a ride,” Devaney said in his announcement. “I have been honored and humbled to be a part of this remarkable history, but it is time for my family and me to embark on a new journey.”
Under Devaney’s chairmanship, Republicans gained supermajorities in both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly for the first time since Reconstruction and took seven of nine of the state’s U.S. House seats. Still, he has faced criticism from tea party-styled members of the GOP’s executive committee over contentious issues such as the effort to require party registration to vote in GOP primaries. Devaney opposed closed primaries.
“I look at it as if we’re a Republican family and we’re going to have disagreements in the family from time to time,” Devaney said in a telephone interview. “You have the very conservative, the mainstream and the moderate. And on 80 percent you’re going to have agreement.”
In areas of disagreement, Devaney urged for a calm debate.
“I don’t want to pick on anybody, but everybody’s rhetoric needs to be toned down,” he said. “Everything should not be taken personally.”
A former executive director of the state party, Devaney was first elected to fill the unexpired term of Robin Smith after she left to make an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2009. He was elected to his first full term as chairman the following year.
In his most recent election in December, Devaney soundly defeated former state Rep. Joe Carr of Murfreesboro, who was fresh off of a surprising showing in his primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.
Devaney served as U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s state director before his election as party chairman. He previously worked as the party’s executive director and as a staffer for former U.S. Sens. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and Phil Gramm of Texas.
State Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville announced Monday he would run to succeed Devaney as GOP chair.
Devaney said Republicans have room to grow in Tennessee.
“We need to continue to build the party in terms of Hispanics and Asian-Americans and other minority groups, and continue to encourage those folks to be part of the party, and get younger people involved,” he said.
The election for Devaney’s successor is scheduled to be held at the state executive committee’s next meeting on April 11.