State Sen. Pam Galloway never spoke at the event that gave Wisconsin gun owners the right to carry concealed weapons. She watched, smiling, as Gov. Scott Walker signed the bill — the first she ever sponsored — into law.
Her work was done after months of meetings, public hearings and private conversations with colleagues in the state Senate, all aimed at passing the policy, vetoed twice in past legislative sessions, into law.
“So many people in the district were passionate about it,” Galloway, 55, said in an interview last week. “Once I decide on something, I kind of jump in feet first and don’t backpedal. I didn’t turn around and second-guess myself.”
After a round of stunning victories for Republicans in November, Galloway has landed as a freshman lawmaker with no political experience whatsoever in the midst of Wisconsin’s most heated political climate in a generation.
Six months into her first term, Galloway’s colleagues and supporters describe the trained surgeon as a quiet but determined woman, particularly when it comes to campaign promises such as the concealed carry law. Even those who differ politically with the Republican say she doesn’t shy away from defending her votes.
“You may disagree with the conclusion she comes to, and I often do,” University of Wisconsin System Regent Mark Bradley of Wausau said. “But you have to admire her dedication and her willingness to roll up her sleeves.”
Nomadic childhood
Born in Alabama, Galloway spent her childhood moving between college towns. Her father taught art history, eventually moving the family to Rochester, Mich., near Detroit.
She remembers each move as an opportunity to meet new people, particularly the year her family spent in London when she was about 12 years old. Typically stoic, Galloway’s face brightens as she talks about London.
That also was the year Galloway decided she was going to be a surgeon — “the toughest, most difficult career I could think of at the time.”
John Galloway never saw his daughter achieve that goal, dying when she was 14. Galloway’s mother, Jean, moved the family to Virginia, where she worked a variety of odd jobs to support her two children.
Galloway felt out of place in Virginia, where schoolmates called her a “Yankee.” She focused on her studies, finished high school a year early and studied biology at the University of Chicago, where she met her future husband, Chris Magiera.
She returned to Virginia for medical school and began her career in Cleveland, where she spent 23 years working as a surgeon and teaching medical students.
She moved to Wausau in 2003 when Magiera took a job with G.I. Associates. After several years working at large clinics in the area, she opened her own clinic in October 2007, specializing in breast cancer. John Butler, a plastic surgeon at the Plastic Surgery Group in Wausau, worked frequently with Galloway through her clinic and later became a supporter of her political campaign.
“It takes a very strong person, whether male or female, to complete surgical training and work in the field with every other night on call,” Butler said. “I can see why she’s done well (in the Legislature), because she’s a very strong woman, very autonomous and good at making quick decisions.”
Galloway closed the clinic in July 2010, unable to compete with the large clinics dotting central Wisconsin. She also needed the time to focus on her Senate race against Russ Decker, a Democrat who had held the seat since 1991 and led his party in the chamber since 2007.
“I absolutely was surprised she would run,” Butler said. “That’s a reflection of her principles, though. Because whoever would have thought it was possible to unseat someone with such support and a long-standing career?”
The GOP surge
Galloway rode a Republican wave during the November election, shocking most political observers as she defeated Decker and became part of a GOP majority in the Legislature.
She was an active member of the Republican Party of Marathon County before running for office, and she decided to take direct action as the local and national economy continued to struggle in 2010. When Democrats in the U.S. Congress approved President Barack Obama’s health care package, Galloway decided to run.
“I had enough of sending messages to lawmakers and volunteering without seeing any change,” she said. “It was time to act.”
LaVerne Rondeau, a Schofield resident who served on Galloway’s campaign steering committee, said she chalks
Galloway’s Senate win up to the first-time candidate’s commitment to knocking on doors.
“She wanted to talk to people personally,” Rondeau said. “It wasn’t about making a name for herself; she wanted to understand where people were coming from.”
Rondeau, who met Galloway at a Wausau tea party event, said she was impressed with the idea of applying surgical skills to politics.
“There was a term she used; ‘intended and unintended consequences of any action,'” Rondeau said. “I liked that.”
Galloway said that door-to-door experience has stuck with her. She still prefers speaking with constituents one-on-one, arguing that group settings might discourage some from speaking up or being honest.
“She’s not out there slapping backs,” Bradley said. “I just don’t think that’s her personality.”
Bradley, president of the Ruder Ware law firm in Wausau, said he’s been impressed with Galloway’s focus on gathering information before making decisions. As Walker pushed a plan to split the University of Wisconsin-Madison from the rest of the system, Galloway contacted Bradley, her political opposite, to ask his opinion as a UW regent.
“I was very impressed with her level of knowledge on a topic not in her study area,” Bradley said. “She knew it was important to the greater Wausau area, so she took it upon herself to get in touch with the Senate leadership and knew day-by-day exactly what the status of negotiations was. She was very frank in telling me I’m going to part ways with the governor on this and do everything I can to encourage my colleagues to vote against it.”
That clinical approach has sometimes led Galloway’s opponents to describe her as cold or distant. But her supporters said it’s part of what makes her effective.
“‘Clinical’ is a very good term to use,” Butler said. “She’s using her principles in a non-emotional fashion to solve a problem. It’s a perfect corollary to her skills as a surgeon.”
The gun law
Another surgical skill was essential as she attempted to pass the concealed carry bill, Galloway said.
The polarizing issue splits people into three camps: anti, pro and confused. Galloway said she spent much of her time focusing on the confused group, using traits she developed during her medical career.
“It’s very similar to explaining the details of an operation so people understand what they’re about to go through,” Galloway said. “I tried to focus on elevating their comfort level, explaining it’s been safe in other states, that law-abiding citizens want this to protect themselves.”
In meetings, she tried to listen more than she spoke, gathering facts and opinions that eventually would form the bill that Walker signed into law July 8.
State Sen. Rich Zipperer, R-Pewaukee, said it was clear Galloway wouldn’t rest on her heels as a freshman lawmaker. She told him soon after the Senate convened that concealed carry was a campaign promise she intended to keep.
Galloway went directly to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and asked to be the lead Senate sponsor of concealed carry. Fitzgerald spokesman Andrew Welhouse said there was a vacuum of leadership on the issue, its two previous champions having left the Legislature just as a Republican governor likely to sign a bill came into office.
“We had a wide range of senators we could have chosen from,” Welhouse said. “But when you approach the leader and say, ‘I’m very passionate about this,’ it indicates a person has what it takes to get the bill through.”
Galloway said she doesn’t own a gun now, though she plans to apply for a concealed carry permit and might buy one. As part of her research on the issue, she took a training course in Deerfield in May, focused on the legal implications of carrying a concealed weapon.
Her own interest in concealed carry was purely intellectual — she believes the U.S. Constitution guarantees anyone the right to carry a weapon as he or she sees fit and without limit. Repeated requests from voters, particularly rural business owners, convinced her to tackle the issue if elected.
Looking back, there were times when her car broke down in an isolated area during the campaign when Galloway said she would have felt less vulnerable with a handgun nearby.
And while she has seen — in her work as a surgeon — the damage a gunshot wound can inflict, Galloway said she considers the majority of those cases to be the result of improper or illegal use of weapons.
“Those instances don’t really fit with the issue of concealed carry,” she said.
Life in Madison
Galloway said she’s not thrilled with everything approved in Madison this year. She opposed changes to funding for the WiscNet broadband network, concerned it would hurt rural areas in the district and UW campuses. She also signed on to a letter asking Walker to veto a budget provision that small breweries argued would limit their ability to self-distribute.
Both items were frustrating to the former surgeon. She doesn’t like to be surprised with new information.
“It was sort of dumped in our laps,” she said, frowning. “You want to be on top of everything, and we didn’t see that coming.”
While Galloway railed against Decker as a “career politician” during the campaign, she now sees shades of gray.
Lawmakers “should limit themselves” rather than installing term limits in state law, she said. Galloway said she still plans to serve two terms, if re-elected, as she promised during the campaign.
Recall attempts across the state might complicate that plan. State law only allows a recall after an elected official has served one year in office, making Galloway ineligible for this summer’s attempts.
But if one is in her future, so be it.
“I think people will look at my record and see that I’ve done what I said I would,” she said.