When the Tennessee General Assembly convenes this week, they’ll be many fresh faces in the crowd in Nashville, especially among the majority party. Half of Tennessee’s House Republicans have fewer than two years of experience. Among the new lawmakers, there are lawyers, military veterans, and even a preacher, but many describe themselves as small business owners. “That’s on both sides of the aisle,” said Blake Farmer who is covering the state Legislature for WPLN in Nashville.
Getting acquainted with the Statehouse “is not just about finding the bathroom,” Farmer said. Being an effective lawmaker has always required a great deal of fluency with a variety of subjects. The Tennessee Legislature votes on a smorgasbord of issues including roads, guns, taxes, and education, but this year’s freshman class will have to be particularly well-versed on health care as they will be faced with budgetary decisions related to the Affordable Care Act.
“There’s a serious learning curve,” Farmer said.
Several of the new lawmakers defeated incumbents in their own party to get their seats. The most high-profile intra-party squabble was between Courtney Rogers and Republican Caucus Chair Debra Maggart in Tennessee's House District 45. Rogers beat the incumbent Maggart with help from the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association. Maggart was a close political ally of Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, but now that the election is over, Harwell said she welcomes the new ideas that come with new blood, “They all ran for office for a purpose, so I know that they all have agendas,” Harwell said. “I think that’s a good thing. We serve at the pleasure of the citizens and when they elect a member to this body, I’m going to work with that member.”
A rule change being proposed, which would limit each member of Tennessee’s House of Representatives to 10 bills, could give this year’s freshman class a larger role to play than previous freshman lawmakers. If the change passes, “old-timers will quickly hit that cap, that 10 bill cap, and lobbyists will still be looking for people to carry their legislation and will, no doubt, have to end up turning to a newcomer,” Farmer said.