Pat Nemastil Strachota G.O. ’73 looked out her office window to see 50,000 people marching on Wisconsin’s state capitol. They had been there for days.
“Looking out the window, I was in awe,” recalls Strachota, a Republican legislator in Wisconsin’s House of Representatives. “There were times when the protestors would get unruly. I guess I was disappointed that they weren’t respectful of the political process. But I would say that’s what democracy is all about.”
Strachota represents one of Wisconsin’s most staunchly Republican districts. The scene she recounted unfolded in 2011, a year that now stands among the most historic in Wisconsin history.
In March of that year, the Wisconsin State Assembly stripped public unions of some of their collective bargaining rights (they still can negotiate wages). The fight played out heatedly and publicly in the national media. It was a battle just as much between Wisconsin Democrats and Republicans as it was between public unions and lawmakers.
“We had a $3.6 billion deficit, and since the majority the government spends is on public sector wages and benefits for its 69,000 employees, the only way we were going to balance the budget was to ask for concessions from our employees,” Strachota says.
To reduce the deficit, changes needed to be made. So Wisconsin lawmakers asked state workers to pay 6 percent of their own retirement wages and 12 percent of their health insurance wages. “It was tough, but we had to make those decisions,” Strachota recalls.
Now the state is in a much stronger fiscal position, sitting on a small surplus, Strachota says. The battle over collective bargaining rights stands as one of the most memorable times of Strachota’s service, she says. It’s no small statement from a woman who’s served in the Wisconsin State Assembly since she was first elected to it in 2004.
Strachota’s job primarily involves helping constituents navigate through state bureaucracy. And she’s deeply involved in the state’s fiscal issues, having served on the Ways and Means Committee, the Jobs and Economy Committee and the Health Committee. Not to mention that as the current vice chairperson of the Joint Finance Committee, Strachota helps oversee the state’s $68 billion budget.
If it weren’t for her history class at Glen Oak, Strachota may never have gotten involved in politics. It was her history teacher, Tim McCormick, who first sparked her interest in the field.
“Part of my interest in politics stems from the volunteer work we did at Glen Oak,” Strachota recalls. “We would help people register to vote on Saturdays. That gave me some knowledge of the political process and got me interested in how it really worked.”
When Strachota headed off to St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Ind., she started in the nursing program. But her passion was government, and it wasn’t long before she majored in government and urban planning.
Strachota’s journey to the Wisconsin House floor started in county government in 1986. She relents that the time commitment of the job causes her to “do some soul searching” every time her two-year term is up. After all, she has four children, three grandchildren and a great supporter in her husband, Tom. But in the end, she says, “I plan to run for office for as long as I’m effective.”