From protesting to legislating: Two who marched at Capitol set to take office

2012-12-27T06:00:00Z 2012-12-28T05:55:51Z From protesting to legislating: Two who marched at Capitol set to take officeWisconsin State Journal La Crosse Tribune
December 27, 2012 6:00 am  • 

MADISON — In 2011, Melissa Sargent was among the most diehard demonstrators at the Capitol. For 50 days straight, Sargent, often accompanied by some or all of her four children, protested the policies of Gov. Scott Walker and the new Republican majority in the Legislature, whose moves to gut collective bargaining for public employees sparked mass demonstrations.

When officials locked the Capitol, Sargent said she and the kids, including the baby, Trystan, marched outside in the cold. And when the Capitol police ordered her three older boys — Devin, Bailey and Keanan — to take down their protest sign declaring "Solidarity," they refused, earning a ticket that was later dismissed.

Come January, the 43-year-old small-business owner will occupy the Capitol in a radically different way. Sargent is the newly elected representative to Madison's 48th Assembly District, whose redrawn boundaries include the city's East and North sides.

She will be joined by another protester-turned-lawmaker, Katrina Shankland, 25, who will represent the 71st Assembly District including Stevens Point and Plover.

Shankland also credits the protests that rocked the Capitol with catapulting her into politics. She left her job with a renewable energy company to work "90-plus hours a week" as an organizer for the Democratic Party collecting recall signatures against Walker. Shankland testified in the middle of the night at the Assembly Democrats' 61-hour marathon hearing to oppose Walker's efforts to strip bargaining rights from most government employees.

"I actually became a protester right out of the gate," Shankland said. "I was there every weekend. (And) when Act 10 came down (on March 9, 2011), I was in the Capitol."

Sargent and Shankland follow a long line of politicians whose careers are rooted in times of turmoil. The Vietnam War protests launched the political careers of Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Former state Democratic lawmaker Mordecai Lee was another. In the early 1970s, Lee, a UW-Madison student, marched on the Capitol to protest the war. He testified against a bill that sought to outlaw Students for a Democratic Society, which had organized the protests. Four years later, when a seat came open in his Milwaukee neighborhood, Lee ran for it, eventually serving three terms in the Assembly and two in the Senate.

Serving in the state Assembly "gives you a platform — plus you can make a living at it," said Lee, now a political science professor at UW-Milwaukee.

Loading up the plate

Sargent was no ordinary protester. She was serving on the Dane County Board's liberal majority. Her husband, Justin Sargent, works for Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, the Senate's incoming minority leader.

"I always assumed he was the one with political aspirations and I was the one that was holding down the fort," said Sargent, who owns a company that makes lithographs of original artwork.

This was also not Sargent's first improbable run for office. Two years ago, Sargent's North Side neighbors persuaded her to run for the Dane County Board after longtime supervisor Dorothy Wheeler announced her retirement.

"At that point, I owned my own business," she said. "I had three kids, and I just found out I was pregnant with my fourth. And I was 40 years old and feeling like one more thing on my plate would cause me to topple over."

But then her children came home from school complaining about having to do a community service project, and she told them to tough it out. Then Sargent decided she needed to do the same.

"Sometimes things aren't easy and we just need to step up and do things for the betterment of our neighbors," she said.

Finding common ground

When they take office early next month, Sargent and Shankland will be underdogs among underdogs. They are freshman members of the Democratic caucus in the Assembly, which will be vastly outnumbered, 59-39, by Republicans. Former Rep. Marlin Schneider once likened being in the minority party in the Wisconsin Legislature to being a house plant.

Nevertheless, Sargent hopes she can find common ground with the people she once picketed. She wants to help small businesses and ensure that workers have the skills employers need — the same things the governor and the GOP's leadership say they want to do.

But she's not afraid to mix it up with the opposition. Earlier this month Sargent issued a news release blasting the GOP for proposing elimination of same-day voter registration, calling the party "out of touch" with Wisconsin residents.

Shankland said she has no plans to back down either.

"My vote may not make a difference in the Legislature," Shankland said, "but I can still use my voice there. Even if they choose not to listen — we will still be there."

Messages left with the incoming Republican Assembly speaker, Robin Vos, R-Rochester, were not returned.

Copyright 2015 La Crosse Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. living the dream
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    living the dream - December 27, 2012 8:34 pm
    another real piece of work!!!
  2. Tim Russell
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    Tim Russell - December 27, 2012 6:30 pm
    When applying GAAP, there is an accumulated deficit of about $3 billion at the end of the 2011-2013 Walker Budget.
  3. Balancr
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    Balancr - December 27, 2012 6:30 pm
    Wow. The Republican Party is coming apart at the seams all across the country- even within the tea party. Now Scott Walker's "We're open for business" state moves down to 42nd? I thought he was the leader of the pack! Another seam coming undone...
  4. TeapartiesR4L'ilGirls
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    TeapartiesR4L'ilGirls - December 27, 2012 6:25 pm

    Cite your source that these two were involved in a Walker recall effort before he was sworn in.

    Do you know something everyone else doesn't--or do you know little of which you speak.
  5. Tim Russell
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    Tim Russell - December 27, 2012 6:23 pm
    Nice try. The article you quote goes on to say"“Harsh stuff, especially considering California has — by far — the highest gross domestic product of all the states in the union, and is home to some of the most dynamic and cutting-edge businesses in the world. New York has the third highest GDP of all the states in the union, ranking 7th in GDP per capita. It’s also interesting to note that the vast majority of the nation’s wealthiest people actually live in these two states, which begs one to question whether the sample of CEOs polled by the magazine was diverse enough, and how much weight qualities like “workforce quality,” and “living environment” are actually given in the survey.
    The list also raises the question of whether these states are merely temporarily benefitting from their willingness to engage in a tax and regulatory “race to the bottom.” Again, the magazine notes that states high on their list, like Texas and Florida, are seeing high imigration numbers while coastal states are seeing proportional emmigration. So the added jobs suggest that these pro-growth states are attracting people, but how long will this last? Low taxes and minimal regulation will have consequences at a certain point, consequences like poor schools and environmental degradation. In other words, for the time being, Texas can hire Massachusetts’ well-educated students, but if Massachusetts stops investing in education whom will Texas businesses hire? Indeed, many CEOs have complained recently that American workers don’t have the skills or education to fit their businesses needs. On top of middling test scores, Texas is dead last in the country in uninsured rates with over a quarter of its population without health insurance, and 46th out of 50 in poverty rates.
    So, I’m sure from the point of a view of a CEO these states are great places to start a business, especially if you need low-wage, low-skill workers. But taxes and regulation provide for necessary things like schools and worker protections, and too vigorous a race to ditch them might prove ruinous for business in the end.”
  6. Frangel45
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    Frangel45 - December 27, 2012 5:33 pm
    If voters would do their 'due diligence' we would never had to deal with a recall and would not have Walker in Madison - his trail in Milwaukee should have alerted all voters that he could not be trusted with any higher office. It's time voters start doing their own research instead of listening to the FOX news and special interest moneyed groups that want someone to do their dirty work for them. Walker has been active in ALEC and I'd wager that most voters have no clue what ALEC is all about. Voters have relinquished their voting power because of laziness. It's time everyone learn how to best find out accurate information about candidates instead of 'falling for' all the lies that are bought and paid for by a small percentage of our citizens - the 1%. Walker is more than happy to do their bidding - you don't really count in his plans.
  7. shameless
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    shameless - December 27, 2012 4:08 pm
    We do need these people in the capital. These people had enough foresight to know what Walker and his ilk were up to. We need them to make known what the Repubs are pushing through to help their own.

    Afmom, please elaborate on the "hostile environment" that the democrats have created that have not allowed Walker push through legislation to help the state.
  8. you think you know
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    you think you know - December 27, 2012 3:14 pm
    You have quoted one source, and the lowest of any that I have found. While Forbes is a respected source, an NBC study found it to be 17th, and a survey of over 600 CEO's in a survey published in Time magazine found it to be 20th. Both of those sources are generally liberal media sources, so crying biased isn't really an option. Also copied directly from the NBC study is that “It may be no accident that most of the states in the top 20 are also right-to-work states, as labor force flexibility is highly sought after when a business seeks a location. Several economists, most notably Ohio State’s Richard Vedder and Harvard’s Robert Barro, have found that the economies in R-to-W areas grow faster than other states, have higher employment and attract more inward migration.”

    I agree, Thank you Scott Walker. No more billions in deficits, no more stealing from the education and transportation departments to fund other entitlement programs...incase you forgot, that wasy Doyle.
  9. afmom05
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    afmom05 - December 27, 2012 2:36 pm
    Yes, trouble makers, they started their recall effort and protesting before the Governor was even sworn in so it was because of sour grapes not anything he did. We don't need these hard core left wingers causing problems, elected officials are supposed to work for the good of all not just those who vote their way. We have had enough of their destructive, divisive kind of politics. Either work for all of us or go home. Governor Walker has worked in the best interest of the state taxpayers and our business rating would be much higher if the Liberals hadn't created such a hostile environment just because their party is no longer in power.
  10. TeapartiesR4L'ilGirls
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    TeapartiesR4L'ilGirls - December 27, 2012 11:23 am

    What exactly did these two do that is troubling in an open democratic society?

    I am afraid if you consider them troublemakers, your response is troubling.
  11. Tim Russell
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    Tim Russell - December 27, 2012 9:04 am
    In its annual list of “Best States for Business,” Forbes magazine ranked Wisconsin 42nd for 2012, down from 40th the previous year. Forbes also projects that Wisconsin will have the second-worst job growth in the nation through 2016.
    Thank you Scott Walker.
  12. Opus
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    Opus - December 27, 2012 8:57 am
    "Trouble makers"?
    No, these are people who didn't just speak out against the bad policies of Walker and the Republicans, she ran for office to try to bring about change!

    I hope the Tribune follows them too!
  13. Summer
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    Summer - December 27, 2012 8:39 am
    So I guess the trouble makers were elected. I hope the tribune will follow them.
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