With Republicans controlling both houses of the Wisconsin state legislature, as well as the governor's office, it can be dispiriting to be a Democrat working at the Capitol during the current budget session. What's it like to be a first-term representative within the minority party, trying to learn the process let alone figure out what role to play?
"I think it's really important to make sure that the people in my district, as well as folks from outside of our district that reach out to me, feel like their voices are heard," says Melissa Sargent, an Assembly freshman representing much of Madison's east side. "I think it's also really important to provide opportunities and options to what is being proposed by the majority party."
Sargent is motivated by attempting to push for compromise and helping to author amendments in the hopes of aligning parts of the budget with her constituents' priorities.
"I think we've done a good job at not just saying 'no, we don't like what it is that you're saying,' but actually saying, 'this is a viable opportunity for us to take and it really matches the values of the people we represent,'" says Sargent.
The proposed expansion of the school voucher system was particularly controversial, and Sargent hopes to find a sustainable alternative.
"Not one person in my district asked for voucher schools," Sargent says. "I've heard over and over again a commitment to fund a public education system... in a way that actually makes it so that our public schools can be successful."
Sargent is also a Dane County Supervisor and finds that being new to the Assembly can be as energizing as it is daunting.
"It's an amazing honor to be here," Sargent says. "It's a big, huge responsibility, but every day I'm reminded of my father who told me 'if you see there's a problem, don't just complain. Get ready, roll up your sleeves, and actually make a difference.' And that's why I'm here."