A new session of the General Assembly beginning this week means new faces, lots of them, particularly in the majority party. Half of the House Republicans have fewer than two years of experience, and this week they’ll be figuring out more than where the capitol bathrooms are.
Nearly two dozen lawmakers in the 99-member House are brand new. Most are Republicans, though Davidson County elected four Democrats who will start their careers as state lawmakers.
They are not necessarily young, though several are in their early 30s, including the younger brother of Rep. Matthew Hill from upper East Tennessee. But this is not the first time a pair of brothers have served together in Tennessee.
A few have experience in local politics. Several were in the Metro Council.
There are a couple of attorneys, a handful of military veterans and even a preacher (Rep. Harold Love Jr.). But business groups are happy to see that many of the freshmen on both sides of the aisle are – or at least call themselves – small business owners.
The Learning Curve
There’s plenty of institutional knowledge left in the legislature with folks like Sen. Doug Henry of Nashville, who has held office for a full four decades. But there’s also a learning curve.
NFIB lobbyist Jim Brown says day one “can be overwhelming,” just from a procedural aspect.
From a policy perspective, freshman Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin says it’s like having to become an expert in road building, taxes and health care, particularly this year with laws related to the Affordable Care Act already in the pipeline.
Legislative leaders see the new blood as a good thing, but there are some hard feelings lingering. Several of the new members defeated incumbents in their own party to get their jobs.
The most high profile intraparty squabble involved freshman Rep. Courtney Rogers of Sumner County who – with help from the gun lobby – took down one of House Speaker Beth Harwell’s lieutenants, Rep. Debra Maggart. But Harwell says she’s ready to work together.
“They all ran for office for a purpose,” she says. “So I know that they all have agendas and the reason why they are here to serve the state. And 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.”
But the real work is still several weeks off. The first few days of the session will be dedicated to moving into offices, committee assignments and approving some new rule changes for the House.
The most talked about proposal limits each House member to 10 bills, which could give freshmen a bigger role to play. Old-timers will quickly hit that cap and lobbyists will still be looking for people to carry their legislation and may have to end up turning to a newcomer to shepherd their bill to passage.