JEFFERSON – Tim Bell has traded Florida’s alligators and wild boar for the white-tailed deer and the wild brook trout of Maine.

Bell, 47, is the new executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the state’s largest hunting and fishing group. He’s new to the state, but he brings a diverse background and lobbying experience that he believes will help him at the State House.

“I have large shoes to fill, and I realize that,” he said Sunday during an interview at the Damariscotta Lake home he is renting. “Being from away I know that’s an issue, and that’s something I hope to overcome with my hard work.”

Those “large shoes” belong to George Smith, who announced in May that he would be stepping down as executive director by the end of the year. Smith spent 18 years as the public face of the organization and built a reputation as one of the most influential — and at times controversial — lobbyists at the State House.

Bell said he welcomes Smith’s help during the transition, but realizes he must quickly establish himself as the new leader of the organization.

“I know SAM has influence, and George Smith is largely responsible for that,” he said. “But what it really is all about are the members and getting them involved in legislative, regulatory and political issues.”

One of Bell’s immediate goals is to connect with the alliance’s 12,000 members via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. He wants more women to join. He sees advantages in real-time lobbying directly by members to legislators and the new governor.

“I want to be able to communicate with them instantaneously if I need their help on a legislative issue,” he said. “I want to be able to Tweet them or do a mass text message to them to say, ‘I need you to call Sen. So-and-so or Gov. So-and-so.’“

Bell most recently worked in Florida as director of governmental affairs for a physicians association, is a former House aide for a Florida Republican legislator and is one year shy of earning his law degree from the University of Illinois.

A native of Pennsylvania, Bell and his two brothers were raised by a single mother who moved the family to Florida when Bell was 15. His father left the family before Bell was born, so an uncle was the one who took him on hunting trips.

Bell officially started his new job at SAM on Oct. 4 and has a list of priorities recently approved by the board for the upcoming legislative session. The group wants to work with the new governor to choose a commissioner for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and SAM is hoping to get a dedicated source of funding for the department.

It also wants $100,000 for the department so it can control predators — mainly coyotes — that are killing deer.

Other goals include allowing nonresidents to hunt on the first day of the firearms season on deer and to commission a study of nonresident hunting and fishing fees.

“I love Maine,” he said as he looked out the large windows of his home on Damariscotta Lake, adding that he spent time as a child visiting family in Kittery. “I did a lot of research on the organization and saw it was very influential, but also had room to grow. I was interested in helping lead that.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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