State Representative Rebecca Alexander, as she presented her first bill on the House floor (March 22), updating special education teacher guidelines for codes of conduct—the bill received 97 “yes” votes, 0 “no” votes, with two legislators out for illness.
Thank you to Rebecca Alexander, 7th District State Representative of the State of Tennessee, and to Nancy Williams for interviewing the Representative for this week’s blog post. Many of my readers do not live in Tennessee, but I urge you to read on. You’ll find this week’s blog post both interesting and informative.
Rebecca Alexander—First “Report Card” on Life as a Legislator
By Nancy Williams (Guest Blogger)
Since her election last year and inauguration in January as 7th district representative to the Tennessee legislature, Rebecca Alexander has experienced a whirlwind of preparation, education, and participation in state government. Catching up with her in June, over the phone as she was driving to Nashville for meetings, here’s how her first five months of work have fared:
What has been your biggest surprise in taking on this job?
I’ve been amazed at how good people really are in Nashville. I had this perception that politics would be nothing but evil. What Tim Hicks (6th District Representative) and I have both found is that there are many godly people in Nashville trying to do what’s right for their communities. We’ve been involved in prayer groups every week with legislators, which has helped keep us grounded with people of like faith and same conservative values.
What does a typical workday or workweek look like?
Currently, we are out of session, so I am basically at home engaging in multiple meetings with different Washington County leaders, spending my time on issues (current and future) that we want to get resolved for our county at the state level. We’re discussing how to resolve challenges like the need for water supply for our community, issues about broadband, and how the county will spend funding coming from the federal government. When the General Assembly is in session, which is January to May, I am in Nashville Monday through Thursday. Typically, we are on the House floor two to three days a week. The rest of the time I’m either in committee meetings or meeting with other legislators, discussing bills that will eventually be on the floor.
Tell us about your working relationships with others in the legislature.
I’ve been working closely with Tim Hicks since we both represent Washington County…it has been a blessing to work with him. We share the same core values and make a good team. Other state legislators have welcomed us with open arms. They have helped us learn the ropes quickly…they have been very gracious and hospitable, making us feel very much a part of the Republican caucus. When Tim and I were elected, one of our first actions was to organize our Northeast Tennessee caucus (east of Knoxville), to keep us focused as a team. I was voted in as chair of that caucus, and we all get together on a regular basis. There is strength in numbers, especially when we all agree something is good for northeast Tennessee. It’s working out extremely well, and we enjoy being around each other. Among our members are Scotty Campbell (Carter/Johnson/Sullivan), Dale Carr (Sevier), John Crawford (Sullivan), Rick Eldridge (Hamblen), Jeremy Faison (Cocke/Greene/Jefferson), Andrew Farmer (Sevier/Jefferson), David Hawk (Greene), Gary Hicks (Hancock/Hawkins), John Holsclaw Jr. (Carter/Unicoi), and Bud Hulsey (Sullivan). We’ve also enjoyed tremendous support from our state senators—such as Rusty Crowe, Jon Lundberg, Frank Niceley, and Steve Southerland.
What kinds of legislation efforts are nearest/dearest to your heart?
I’m keenly interested in anything to do with agriculture, currently working on some ideas to benefit our farmers. I’m also concerned about everything to do with education. Our best work in Nashville this year has been protection for students. We passed bills to improve education levels—many students were left behind with virtual learning during COVID restrictions. During a special session called by Governor Bill Lee, we fully funded camps for this summer, remedial work to help students catch up and grow in reading skills. We also protected kids from being administered hormone drugs pre-puberty, for the purpose of changing gender. We protected student athletes from having to play against the opposite sex due to transgender claims. I co-sponsored and passed bill to allow people who had been in domestic violence situations to break their rental lease and get out of their contract so they could move away from violence, with precautions for proof of legal litigation. We protected Second Amendment rights by passing a constitutional “carry” bill.
What other legislation have you initiated?
I carried a 4H bill brought to me by the University of Tennessee, which was brought to me in a meeting with the new president, Randy Boyd. He knew I was a big 4H member and wanted to get kids excused from school when they’re involved in 4H projects. I’ve also carried a good bill for protection of women and the nonprofit organizations that serve them—when women receive feminine hygiene products, the bill protects the nonprofits from lawsuits for products that could go wrong. Every bill I’ve carried so far has passed—seven of them. State legislators, however, are only allowed to carry 15 bills at a time. I’ve carried several for seasoned legislators who already had too many on their dockets.
Are you a member of any committees?
I’m on the Commerce Committee as well as its Business/Utilities Subcommittee. We hear petitions for bills in the B/U Subcommittee and will hear them again when the bills go to full committee. If a bill passes there, it goes to another committee (depending on the bill)…then, if it passes there, it goes to the House floor. I’m also on the Health Committee and the State Government Committee as well as its Public Service Subcommittee. The House Speaker determines where legislators are assigned. I am very excited to be in Commerce to help with broadband expansion, especially to rural areas. I’m happy to work wherever I’m asked; there’s always something you can contribute to any committee and can gain from how that committee works.
Is there anything your constituents should know about the financial aspects in being a state legislator?
What most people don’t realize is that it’s rather costly to be a legislator—Nashville is an expensive place. Each of us makes $24,000 annually, yet it will cost almost $20,000 just for lodging because it’s a long commute from this region. A “per diem” allotment helps. This is definitely not a money-making job. This is a public service commitment…I’m in it to help the people of Washington County. I’m very thankful for my husband (Howie) who is supporting me in this role, both financially and with encouragement.
What has been your biggest joy? Your biggest challenge?
My true joy has been in helping people—such as finding out that we were able to help someone get their unemployment or get water for rural residents. I was especially honored to be instrumental in bringing the Watauga Deed Book A back to our Washington County Archives! My biggest challenge is that I’m a “people pleaser.” I know that when we propose and pass a bill, I’m going to make half of my constituents happy and the other half mad. It bothers me that I can’t please everyone all the time. I have to remember that my job is to try to benefit the most people in our area.
What does the calendar look like for 2021? When did you start, take breaks, and resume meeting?
We will resume session in January again, although I’m on my way to Nashville right now for meetings in the interim. We’ll start drafting bills and have legislative conferences this summer.
Any funny stories to share?
One of the traditions in the House is “hazing” the freshmen while they are presenting their first bill on the floor. Kevin Vaughan, another state rep (chairman of the Commerce Committee), was given the task of poking fun at me. When he addressed me on the floor, he said he didn’t realize I was a lawyer. When I replied that I was not an attorney, he observed that I “was a professional storyteller—and that’s what we all thought lawyers were!” However, it was all in good sport…it was hilarious to watch and actually made us feel welcomed.
Thanks, Rebecca, and best wishes for your continued success on our behalf in Washington County!
Copyright June 21, 2021 by Rebecca K. Alexander, Nancy C. Williams, and Rebecca A. Henderson.