State Rep. Katrina Shankland is ready to embrace the challenges of the upcoming state legislative session, one that has her taking on new responsibilities as a party leader while moving forward without some of her closest local allies.
Shankland, D-Stevens Point, will serve as the new assistant minority leader of the state Assembly Democratic Caucus for the 2015-16 legislative session, which begins on Jan. 5. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, will continue to serve as minority leader, a position he has held since 2010. Shankland was elected unanimously Nov. 11 by fellow Assembly Democrats, while Barca defeated a challenge from Rep. Evan Goyke of Milwaukee.
The new position represents a quick ascent for Shankland, who became the youngest representative in the state when she was elected in Nov. 2012 at the age of 25 to serve the 71st Assembly District, which includes Portage County. Shankland was uncontested in her re-election campaign this fall, and received 17,134 votes.
“I think it’s very impressive to see someone move to a leadership role that quickly, and be unanimously elected. It says something about how positively people viewed her first term, and the impression she made on people in both parties,” Barca said. “She is someone who has a great ideas, a lot of energy, and as a member of a different generation, really appreciates younger working adults. I’m excited to be working with her moving forward.”
While Shankland had a strong finish to 2014, she finds herself without two local Democrats with whom she worked closely in her first term. Amy Sue Vruwink of Milladore and Mandy Wright of Wausau lost their re-election bids in November, while Scott Krug, R-Rome, and John Spiros, R-Marshfield, won re-election, meaning Shankland is the lone Assembly Democrat in the region.
Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, who was not up for re-election this year, is the only other elected Democrat from central Wisconsin serving in Madison, and was unanimously re-elected as chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus on Nov. 11.
“We lost some friends in the election, but turnover like that is something that can happen with elections,” said Shankland, 27, of Stevens Point. “I think one positive of that is that we have a young group, with 10 Assembly Democrats under the age of 35, that have a lot of enthusiasm and want to promote progressive ideas.”
With an incoming Assembly with less legislative experience than at any time since the 1960s, and a majority — 56 of 99 members — who were not around for the 2011 battle over Act 10, which stripped unions of the ability to negotiate for salary and benefits., Shankland believes opportunities exist to move past the divisiveness of recent years and create more bipartisan agreement.
Shankland, however, said that Democrats will stand up for issues in which they believe. She expressed concern that Gov. Scott Walker indicated he wished to pass a state budget quickly in 2015, saying that constituents deserve a meaningful debate.
Shankland said some of the main issues she and Democrats will be working on are job creation, accessibility to job training, affordable health care, student loan debt and public school funding. Shankland said despite Walker’s re-election in November and Republican majorities in the Assembly and Senate, voters did show support for Democratic issues this fall. She pointed out advisory referendums asking the state to accept enhanced federal dollars for BadgerCare provided by the Affordable Care Act were supported by 73 percent of voters in the 20 counties and cities where the measure appeared on the ballot, including Portage County.
“I think Democrats need to connect with voters and show them that we understand their situation, and we have ideas that they can support,” Shankland said.