Wisconsin Sen. Jennifer Shilling reflects on 20 years serving in Madison

Shilling steps down as democratic leader following her decision not to run for reelection
Sen. Jennifer Shilling
Sen. Jennifer Shilling reflects on her career after 20 years representing voters in Madison.

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Wisconsin Senator Jennifer Shilling is stepping down as the democratic leader for the state. The news follows her decision to not run for reelection this November.

Many people have known Shilling as a democrat serving 20 years in Madison. But what about Jennifer Shilling, a mother of two?

“I have always introduced myself as a mom with a mini-van,” Shilling said.

Her career started with the La Crosse County board in 1992. Looking back, she said she never expected that experience to take her to the state capitol.

“I enjoyed public policy. I enjoyed public administration,” Shilling said. “I am a people person. I enjoy meeting people. I would have never seen myself serving in the legislature back as a 20-year-old student on the La Crosse County Board.”

She then served on the state legislature starting in 2000 on both the Assembly and the Senate. She is the longest-serving female leader in Wisconsin history.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to meet people, to get to their businesses, tour their communities, and see the hometown pride that exists throughout Wisconsin,” she said.

However, Shilling is ending her five-year leadership role after deciding to call it a career as a politician.

“Twenty years is a long time. It’s been a fabulous experience,” Shilling said. “I am very grateful for the voters with the 95th Assembly District of La Crosse and then the voters of the 32nd District who placed their trust in me.”

Her sons are going to be in middle school and high school this fall and she says its time to put her family first.

“I just really want to be home and be present in the last couple of years before they leave,” Shilling said.

The memories representing home towns of the Coulee Region are forever reflected in her eyes.

“I really have enjoyed getting to know people and see our communities at their best but also sometimes at their hardest,” Shilling said. “We have had historic floods. That’s always been tough as we have gone down and toured and seeing those issues there. The recovery is always something that is inspirational.”

Not every person or politician has agreed with her work, but she said she has tried to search for common ground.

“We can disagree during the day, but I am really glad that they are in my cellphone and I can call them up outside of work and politics, and go out to dinner, go out to lunch with them,” she said. “I have always abided by what I call my Chex Mix diplomacy by making homemade Chex Mix and taking it to Madison.”

Politics is not for the faint of heart.

“This environment is tough,” she said. “It’s gotten particularly partisan.”

She said there is an opportunity for someone new to bring fresh ideas and positive change for people in the state.

“We need good people to step up and serve,” Shilling said. “We need them to remember who they are serving. It is those constituents back home.”

She said it’s those people in her home town that kept her motivated to try to make a difference in Wisconsin.

“Mile marker 36, when I come over that hill on the interstate and I see the bluffs before me, I know that I am home. I’ll be home in 40 minutes for dinner or bedtime routine. It’s just very grounding. Western Wisconsin and the people here are very grounding and have always kept it real for me.”

Shilling said she does not know what she will do when her term is up. But she would like to find new ways to serve her community. Her decision to drop out of the election leaves Republican Dan Kapanke running unopposed for that seat. She would not say who she thinks should run for her spot in the legislature.