Written by Nathan Vine, Stevens Point Journal Media
MADISON — Katrina Shankland admits her first three months in office sometimes felt like a mad dash.
Elected as the new representative for the 71st Assembly District in November, Shankland spent the early part of this year getting acquainted with her job. Between meeting with new colleagues and hearing from constituents, there were tasks such as setting up a webpage and figuring out a schedule that allowed her to spend as much time in the district as possible.
“I was used to putting in long days from the campaign, but there’s so much to do and things are always moving, so it can be tiring,” said Shankland, D-Stevens Point.
But that hasn’t stopped the youngest state legislator in Wisconsin, at just 25 years old, from making her mark on issues such as the mining bill and the state’s single vendor student information system plan.
“I’m passionate about the issues that affect the people in my district, and it’s my job to fight for them in Madison,” Shankland said.
State Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, also started in the state Assembly in her 20s after being first elected in 1998 at the age of 28 to represent the 71st District. She worked with Shankland, along with a group of other central Wisconsin legislators, to introduce legislation to allow for a multivendor student information system in Wisconsin after the Department of Administration didn’t select Stevens Point-based Skyward Inc. for a multimillion-dollar state contract.
“I think Rep. Shankland is off to a good start in the state Assembly,” Lassa said. “I look forward to continuing to work with her during the upcoming months on other issues that are important to the people of this area.”
Gregg Hielema, an information systems manager with Wisconsin Rapids-based Solarus, met with Shankland in Madison in February as part of a delegation from Centergy, the Central Wisconsin Alliance for Economic Development. The group was there for Central Wisconsin Days, where they met with state leaders to talk about regional economic concerns.
Despite being a self-described “lifelong conservative” and disagreeing with many positions held by Shankland, Hielema said he came away with his meeting impressed with the freshman representative.
“I found her openness very refreshing,” Hielema said. “She had a lot of enthusiasm and passion. It seems like sometimes other people are trying to push her in a corner and expecting that once she’s there longer, she’ll be more grounded. I hope that doesn’t happen, because passion makes her good at what she does.”
Supporting Skyward
After the DOA announced Feb. 1 it had selected Minnesota-based Infinite Campus for the state student information system contract, Shankland became an outspoken critic of the decision. She supported Skyward’s decision to appeal and called for an independent review of the search process.
“It is extremely disturbing to me that at a time when Wisconsin is 42nd in the nation in job creation, Gov. Walker and the DOA have made the decision to literally ship jobs out of state,” Shankland said in a news release at the time. “It is outrageous that Gov. Walker claims job creation is his priority, yet his administration does not hesitate to directly cause hundreds of Wisconsinites to lose their jobs — for the benefit of an out-of-state company, no less.”
In addition to proposing to work on the multivendor legislation, which to this point hasn’t received a hearing, Shankland, who replaced Louis Molepske Jr., also a Democrat from Stevens Point, said she has spoken with other legislators and officials on behalf of Skyward. She joined with Lassa last week in giving petitions with more than 4,000 signatures supporting Skyward to Gov. Walker, DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch and state school Superintendent Tony Evers.
“We’re talking about 600 good, family-supporting jobs that will be lost in the future in our district,” Shankland said. “People are concerned, and it’s an issue I’m going to keep talking about.”
Fighting the mining
Shankland also spoke out against the Republican-backed mining bill, designed to overhaul the state’s mining regulations. The bill, signed by Gov. Walker on March 11, paves the way for a proposed $1.5 billion open pit iron mine near Lake Superior.
“This bill stands to be the most destructive bill to our shared resources in our state’s recent history,” Shankland said. “Proponents of the bill say it provides certainty to the mining company. The only certainty it provides is the certainty of lawsuits.”
During the speech, Shankland stated that polluting an entire watershed for profit is “contributing to genocide,” which brought a harsh response from Assistant Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna.
“This is outrageous when you consider the recent history of genocide in Rwanda where it is estimated that 800,000 people were murdered,” Steinke said in a statement. “There is the ability to have a reasoned debate on this issue. Unfortunately, Rep. Shankland’s insensitivity to true victims of genocide throughout history is a poor exa
Shankland said she was simply quoting the opinion of Mike Wiggins Jr., chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa at the public hearing for the mine bill.
“Other legislators, including Republican Sen. Dale Schultz, also referenced this quote from the tribe during their floor speeches,” Shankland said.
Shankland said the state budget will be one of the main issues she will be working on over the next couple of months. She’s already criticized Walker’s budget proposal, from the $73 million expansion of the state’s voucher school program to his rejection of the expansion of BadgerCare.
“The governor’s budget proposal is offensive because it further demonstrates his unwillingness to listen to the needs and priorities of middle class families,” Shankland said. “Wisconsin desperately needs a budget that will put the middle class first by fully funding our public schools, ensuring affordable health care, and emphasizing job creation and retention. Instead, we see a budget proposal fueled by hyperpartisan ideol
Shankland also will continue work with her four assigned committees — Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage, Energy and Utilities, Constitution and Ethics, and Workforce Development. Beyond that, she said she’d continue to push for proposals such as a bipartisan jobs bill.
“It’s our job to serve the people of this state, and they want to see that we are getting something done that can help them,” Shankland said.