Sen.-elect Melissa Agard. (Graphic illustration by Morgaine Ford-Workman)
Sen.-elect Melissa Agard. (Graphic illustration by Morgaine Ford-Workman)

After serving four terms in the Wisconsin Assembly, Agard is moving up to the Senate. 

[Editor’s note: The Wisconsin 24 is a new series at UpNorthNews to introduce readers to the newly elected members of the Wisconsin Legislature. All told, there are 10 new Democratic members and six new Republican members to the Assembly. The Senate is welcoming three Democratic and five Republican membersTo see all of the profiles in the Wisconsin 24 series, click HERE.]

Sen.-elect Melissa Agard became passionate about state politics following the passage of Act. 10 by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

The bill, which passed in 2011, significantly limited public servants’ negotiating power and drastically weakened union membership in many sectors across the state.  

“I was drawn to the capitol building with tens of thousands of other amazing Wisconsinites,” Agard said. “I looked around, and I saw what makes Wisconsin fabulous.”

At that time, Agard was serving on the Dane County Board, helping run her family business, and raising her four boys. But after joining the protests on the Capitol lawn, she saw that many state politicians were pushing a narrative that the protesters were from out of state. 

“People in the Capitol building, who are our elected representatives, were defiant in recognizing the people,” she said. “At that point in time, I realized that our state needed a change. My kids needed to believe that their voices mattered, that our community mattered, that their teachers mattered and the doctors, the nurses and the police officers and the firefighters. I was driven to run for office because of that.”

Now, after representing Wisconsin’s 48th district in the Assembly for eight years, Agard is heading to the state Senate. Before the newest class of legislators is sworn in, Wisconsin will have only elected 31 women total to its Senate.

“It is an amazing opportunity for me, walking through that door in this new class of elected officials, knowing that we’re continuing to break those barriers so that young women and men and boys can look up and see that representation really does matter and that we are making a difference in our community,” she said. 

Agard has a long list of issues she’d like to address that are centered around improving the lives and livelihoods of all Wisconsinites.

“We need to address our egregious racial disparities and inequities across the state of Wisconsin,” Agard said. “This isn’t just a Wisconsin issue but the fact is that Wisconsin is the worst in the nation when it comes to racial disparities and inequities.”

Improving access to affordable housing, public transportation, healthcare, increasing funding for public schools  and strengthening workers’ rights are some of the ways she hopes to move the needle on quality of life issues for all Wisconsinites and close the state’s racial wealth gaps. She’s also been a longtime advocate of legalizing cannabis for medicinal and recreational use.

“There’s not one piece of policy that’s going to address [racial disparities] but it’s something we need to look through as a lens, as a frame on everything that we do,” she said. 

After spending the last seven years as a member of the minority party, Agard knows what’s facing Democrats as they head into the next Legislative session. Her strategy is to try to work across the aisle on issues that appeal to voters on both sides of the aisle, including creating fair district maps and environmental conservation. She also plans to continue pushing for marijuana legalization and raising the minimum wage because she’s seen support grow over time.

“Those are things that we have not been able to get passed despite the fact that the people of our state care very much about them,” she said. “But through conversations, through introducing these bills and talking to people all across our community we’ve been able to move the ball down the field so to speak. We are closer and closer to getting them passed.”