'I didn’t know where the bathroom was at the Capitol yet': Lawmakers detail what it's like being freshmen legislators

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — There are several parts to getting up to speed as a freshman legislator.

But the first wake-up call is the fact that once you’re elected, there’s no grace period to getting started.

“You kind of assume there’s a delay. If you watch federal politics at all, there’s an election and then you don’t get sworn in till January, so you don’t have any responsibilities of the office until that happens,” Rep. Jody Barrett (R-Dickson) said. “But that’s not the way it is at the state level, at least here in Tennessee.”

Barrett was elected this year, yet that same sentiment was echoed even by veteran lawmakers.

“I immediately was getting phone calls and emails,” Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Nashville) said. “I didn’t know where the bathroom was at the Capitol yet.”

Freeman has been part of the legislature for years. He’s a pro now, but it wasn’t always that way.

“I was immediately kind of shocked by how little training [and] education there was,” he said “They just kind of throw you in.”

Since Freeman’s election in 2018, that’s changed at least a little bit for some lawmakers. This year, Barrett went on a retreat to Washington D.C. with several other freshmen across the country.

“Going on a retreat like that and meeting 53 other state representatives from across the country, even two representatives from Alaska, and finding out that, while we’re all from very diverse states, we all have the same wants and needs and goals in mind,” Barrett said.

Still, though, there are things you might not think of, like how to file a bill or get it passed. As Freeman will tell you, it’s not always the best idea that gets through.

“It really is relationships,” he said. “It’s all how well you know each other, do you trust that this person has good intentions or are you going to forgive whatever the misunderstandings are in their legislation.”