Get to Know the 24%: Representative Melissa Sargent
Representative Melissa Sargent of Wisconsin’s 48th Assembly District is a great example of what both women and men in government should strive to be. She is a proud mom, business owner, and advocate for her community. A strong believer that government should reflect the community it serves, Rep. Sargent is a champion for women, people of color, and young people, urging all to get involved at any level of government. She emphasizes the importance of going into the community to educate the public on current issues and listen to what the people believe is important.
Rep. Sargent’s inspiration to run for office is family, because they are very involved in the community and supportive of those who had run for office. She wanted to be an example to her children and felt a personal responsibility to serve her community. When asked to run for a position on the county board, Sargent was initially hesitant. However, after a conversation with her children about serving without being told, Rep. Sargent realized that her community was asking her to do the very same thing. It was in that moment she decided to run for a position on county board, and after two terms, she ran for the state assembly.
Women In Government is important to Rep. Sargent because she believes it is healthy for women to come together and share their passion for issues while crossing party lines. Having the support of other women can make a world of difference when you are working in a male-dominated field. She also enjoys mentoring Future Women in Government, helping them realize that they can live multidimensional lives.
“Young women can grow up and be fantastic moms, if they choose to be moms, and they can run for office. They do not have to choose between one and the other. We also need young men to know this, and they should be supporting women because we will all be stronger when we have more female voices in government.”
One challenge that Rep. Sargent faces is being a part of the minority party in her state, making it difficult to achieve all of her legislative priorities. However, she continues to get the message out and talk to people in the community about what they value. Advocating for family strengthening and educating people on current issues is one way she has been able to overcome some barriers. One piece of legislation she is currently working on is the Up-skirting Bill. Up-skirting is the act of placing a camera under someone’s’ skirt and taking a picture without their knowledge. The Up-skirting Bill will protect the victim’s rights and ensure that the perpetrator will be charged based upon their actions, rather than whether or not the victim had on underwear. This issue disproportionately affects women, and having key legislation to protect their rights in this situation widens the crack in the door to working on issues such as domestic abuse, human trafficking, and other issues affecting women.
I had the opportunity to be mentored by Rep. Sargent at the 2014 Women In Government Health Care Summit. She redefined for me what it means to work in government. What I admire most about her is her forward thinking and advocacy for the issues that matter. She does not get caught up in party affiliations, but rather strives to promote change through working across party lines. During her first year as a legislator, she had a bill that was passed unanimously through both houses because she was able to work in a bi-partisan fashion. The bill protects people’s social media passwords from employers and schools who request access. Rep. Sargent takes pride in working on these types of issues because they are what the people of Wisconsin are concerned about.
Representative Melissa Sargent emphasizes the importance of volunteering in your community. The time she values most is being able to get outside of the capitol building and interact with her community. Rep. Sargent says her responsibility, as a legislator, is to be the voice for the people. Her advice to young women who aspire to work in government is, “Be true to who you are, have an open heart and mind, and be willing to listen to the people in the community.”
About the Author
Octavia Williams is a prospective 2015 graduate of Howard University’s School of Social Work Masters Program. She aspires to work in government and influence policy issues concerning social welfare and education. Prior to becoming a Howard Bison, Octavia attended the University of Michigan where she earned a B.A. in psychology and women studies. While leading a successful academic career, she has also traveled the United States teaching middle and high school students leadership skills and worked to prevent evictions and homelessness amongst elderly DC residents. Octavia is currently an EOP intern, at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, working to influence drug policy and prevent youth substance abuse. As graduation nears, she hopes that her abundance of volunteer and work experience in prevention and education will set her on the path to be a leader in strengthening the systems that impact the lives of our nation’s youth.
Women In Government supports women of all ages in leadership roles, and is working hard to ensure that young women are given the resources and mentorship they need in order to achieve their goals. This program takes place at WIG Regional conferences, where WIG asks women state legislators and leaders in the private sector to encourage young women across the country to pursue leadership roles. This program is made possible by Southwest Airlines.