- Many people think of old, white, men when they think of politicians.
But one central Wisconsin elected official is the exact opposite.
"You probably noticed that I'm young and somehow got myself into the State Capitol already," Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) starts off by saying to a class at UW-Marathon County.
Shankland is pretty unique.
Older men dominate Wisconsin's state legislature.
"I'm a young woman. Some people will be like, 'well, you know, you're young, you don't know much yet'. Well, I do," Shankland says.
Shankland couldn't be further from the definition of an older man.
At age 26, Shankland's election in 2012 made her the youngest member of the State Assembly.
"Every single day I get mistaken for a student, or I'll get called 'sweetie' or 'honey' because they think I'm just a random person in the Capitol, and they think they're being nice. It's like, well, I am a state representative, I am here to do my job," she says during an interview at a coffee shop.
"Her energy is just fun to watch. She just puts herself completely into our work," says Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Cross Plains).
Her high school classmates picked Shankland as the most likely to become president in their life.
But it was friends, family, and members of the Stevens Point community that pushed her to become an elected official.
"They would say, 'why don't you run for office? You're articulate, you're really passionate, you work so hard. We need somebody like you. We trust you.' I thought, wow, maybe someday, I will," she says.
That someday was 2012, when the 71st Assembly District became an open seat.
"Seven people were already in the running when I announced, so I won a nine-way primary," Shankland recalls.
That took not only meeting voters inside Stevens Point.
Shankland took the unusual step of traveling the rural roads of Portage County to reach out to more isolated voters.
Then, election night.
"It was a haze. It still is a haze because it was so exciting. I remember she won over Corey by 44 votes," says her father, Ron.
An incredibly slim margin gave her the Democratic nomination over community banker Corey Ladick.
It just about assured her of winning the seat in the general election.
"Everyone who was at that party said, you know, we'll never have a moment like that again. It's just unbelievable how it happened," the representative says.
It may have felt unbelievable to Shankland.
But people from her little hometown knew early on she would do something big.
"Absolutely. Katrina would have been able to do anything she wanted to do. She was very driven. She was very driven and I believe that once she gets something in her mind, she was going to conquer it," says Shankland's second grade teacher, Deb Shafranski.
Shankland grew up in the little Shawano County village of Wittenberg, the
daughter of two public school teachers.
"John Cougar Mellencamp had a big hit with a song like that, I was born in a small town, or words like that. That just so rings true," Ron Shankland says. "I just think you look out for each other. It's just one big family. I think being brought up in a small town is a good thing, and I would recommend it to anyone, you know?"
The Wittenberg community loves keeping up with their favorite daughter, who is now so close to Wisconsin's center of power.
"Boy, I'm as proud as can be. Maybe she'll be president some day and she'll invite me for dinner," Shafranski laughs.
What about that idea?
Could Shankland start climbing the political ladder?
"I see her going a lot farther than our state. I see her making a big impact. I see her being listened to by more than just her party," says Katie Kaufman, Shankland's first grade teacher.
"I can see her, maybe, down the road, going off to Washington, D.C.," her father comments.
If big places and bright lights are in Shankland's dreams, she won't tell you about it.
"I've set one goal, and that is clean government reforms when we're in the majority," she says.
For now, Shankland is one of just 25 women in the 99-member State Assembly.
Women make up only one in every four representatives.
But that proportion is changing.
"I think we bring a softer side to politics. Even when we're young, we're more of the caretakers of the world," says Rep. Mary Czaja, (R-Tomahawk)
"Women in office are more diplomatic, they are better negotiators, and they're more likely to bring all voices to the table," Shankland says.
"It will continue to grow. You're seeing women in leadership roles, and it'll continue to grow," Czaja believes.
But it's not just women breaking the stereotype of Wisconsin politicians.
"There are six or seven people under the age of 35 in the Legislature. I think that's very valuable, and I'd like to see more of it," Shankland says.
There are three members of the Assembly younger than age 28.
The mix of young and female, before long, could be the dominant reality in Wisconsin politics.
"The old white men just haven't delivered for me here. I'm really, really glad to see that we've got all of this exciting new energy that has come to us. Katrina certainly exemplifies that," Pope says.
Shankland hopes she's part of something bigger.
She wants to see more people like her - young people, and women - in office.
"I've kind of made it my mission to talk about that, and encourage people to run. I've found a lot of people who always thought politics was out of reach, and when they meet me, they think, wow, it's not out of reach. She's just like me. We have the same experiences. She was just really excited and motivated, so she did it," she says.
For a young woman, from a small Wisconsin town, many would tell you - Katrina
Shankland is the perfect person to carry that message.
"Just to see her this year in the Blue Book, the Wisconsin Blue Book, which every school gets, Grade Four, to see her picture in there. It really hits home - that's my daughter. That Representative Shankland is my daughter," Ron Shankland says.
"I've learned I can do anything I want to do, within reason, in the realm of politics, if I have good people behind me, if I have a strong voice, and if the values I hold dear are brought to the table," Katrina Shankland says.
It's the voice of young people, and women, we could see much more of soon in the State Capitol.