Tennessee’s popular Republican governor Bill Haslam may be facing a re-election challenge from a man who gained national attention for a video showing him dancing with a pet raccoon.
Mark “Coonrippy” Brown became a bit of an internet and network TV sensation during the summer of 2013 when the video of him dancing with “Rebekah” his pet raccoon vent viral.
Brown’s YouTube channel has a handful of videos featuring him interacting with the little raccoon. There is even one clip showing the unlikely couple in the shower.
Not all of the attention was positive. After appearances on CNN and ABC, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency came to Brown’s house and confiscated the animal. The agency said that wild animals are not permitted to be kept as pets in the state. Mark and his wife mounted an unsuccessful campaign to have the animal returned to them.
So, Brown has decided to challenge the Governor in the upcoming Republican primary election slated for this August. Explaining his motivation for running to WBIR, Brown stated, “This is all about the raccoon.”
On January 4, Brown released this video announcing his intentions to run for governor:
TheBlaze contacted the elections office at the Tennessee Department of State to see if Brown had filed the appropriate paperwork to run for office. According to a representative, Brown will need to gather 25 signatures from registered Tennessee voters on a petition. Those signatures must be verified by the GOP leadership before he can be placed on the primary ballot.
Speaking with Brown at his office (he runs a gun repair business and holds a Federal Firearms License), TheBlaze learned that the Tennessee man has had more than one raccoon as a pet. He rescued another baby raccoon years ago and did alert the wild resource offices, but they never responded.
In early 2012, Brown was asked to take an orphaned baby raccoon (“Rebekah”).
He accepted, but did not call TWRA. “They never responded to my earlier calls, why would I waste my time?” he told TheBlaze.
Eventually, TWRA did get involved.
After Brown’s dance with “Rebekah” went viral, and appeared on CNN, “Good Morning America” and a host of video clip shows, an animal resources officer visited him.
“They came to the house and took her away. We filed for permits to keep her, but our certified letters were returned unopened,” said Brown.
Citing support from various online sources, Brown collected and sent petitions to the governor asking for “Rebekah’s” return. Two large petitions, with nearly 60,000 signatures, were sent to the governor’s office via certified mail. He claims both of those mailings were rejected and returned unread. Despite the mountain of support for his pitch to have the pet returned, the issue remains unresolved.
The lack of response from both the governor and the TWRA has inspired Brown to challenge Haslam in the GOP primary this August.
Brown told TheBlaze that he has collected “about 78 signatures” needed for to qualify for the primary. He expects to deliver the competed paperwork to the Republican party’s headquarters before week’s end. If his paperwork is deemed to be legitimate, Mark Brown will be on the GOP primary ballot.
Brown told TheBlaze this would be his first political campaign.
When pressed on his experience — asking Brown if he could withstand the intense scrutiny that typically comes with running for a statewide office — he quipped, “The only time I saw the backseat of a police car was in high school when an officer caught me sneaking off to go fishing. He offered me a ride to the lake, but drove me back to school instead.”
Laughing, he added, “it just delayed my fishing by about an hour.”
TheBlaze has asked Governor Haslam’s office for comment on the possible primary challenge from Mark “Coonrippy” Brown. When we receive a response, we will update this post.
Watch the original “Hillybilly Slide” video featuring Mark and “Rebekah” here:
Follow Mike Opelka on Twitter – @Stuntbrain