Sally Rohrer’s interest in public policy began long before she was recommended for the District 8 Common Council seat.
Rohrer learned about the importance of policy when she studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. She examined Scandinavian countries’ welfare states and how they used legislation to create a social safety net to protect their citizens.
“That was absolutely the reason why I started studying policy,” Rohrer said. “I specifically focused on economic policy because I feel that’s the root of a lot of other policy decisions.”
Upon her return to campus, Rohrer applied to UW-Madison’s Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs where she honed her curriculum around state and local government finance. Combined with her extensive work history at different stages of government, the second-year graduate student will now apply her expertise at the local level.
Following former Ald. Avra Reddy’s resignation in September, the city council selected Rohrer over former Ald. Zach Wood, pending final approval, to represent the campus-centric district until the next election in April.
She applied for the position of interim alder along with three other UW-Madison students and former Ald. Wood. She beat Wood in a 4-2 vote after they initially tied.
“I was really honored and humbled that [the council] decided to choose me, and I am really excited to get started and meet everyone,” Rohrer said.
Rohrer stated that from a young age she learned the importance of taking responsibility for the betterment of her community. She watched her father — a teacher — and mother — a nurse — lead a district-wide movement to keep her elementary school in Wauwatosa open.
“It wasn’t because they were politicians,” Rohrer said. “It was really them feeling they had a responsibility for the school and the neighborhood and making sure people were having access to education.”
In a similar fashion, Rohrer believes she brings something to the table in Madison.
Her platform builds off Reddy’s to combat issues salient to both UW-Madison students and Madison residents. This includes increasing affordable housing, promoting environmental sustainability on the isthmus and working with marginalized communities to foster a more welcoming atmosphere.
Rohrer also mentioned the implementation of a bus rapid transit system, which will connect and increase accessibility to other parts of the city.
After interning for Wisconsin State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, and U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, Rohrer said the abundance of opportunities Madison offers students will enable her to contribute right away.
“I feel like my time being a student has always been part-school and part-application. And that’s what I love about Madison: There’s so many opportunities to apply what you’re learning in the classroom,” Rohrer said. “Experience is contextual. I haven’t been on the city council for 10 years, but I also have experiences that are unique and important to bring to the [council].”
If appointed by the city council at its scheduled Nov. 5 meeting, Rohrer will serve as interim alder until an April election. She indicated she does not plan to run for re-election.
Following her graduation from UW-Madison, Rohrer said she will remain in Wisconsin and commit herself to campaign work ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
“Wisconsin is going to be a huge player in the 2020 election, so my plan is to help out in any way I can,” Rohrer said. “I’d love to work in voting rights and make sure that people can get to the polls and that voting is accessible in the state of Wisconsin.”
Still, Rohrer’s affinity toward local government lies in her belief that it best responds to individual and community interests. Activism and strong political participation among college-aged students carry significant implications in shaping the future, according to Rohrer.
“Our generation, millennials and Gen Z, we have really different values and issues we’re facing,” Rohrer added. “The decisions that are made now are going to affect us throughout our lives a lot more than they are for older public officials.”