Kelda Roys, former state Assembly member from Madison (copy)


When Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kelda Roys introduced her campaign with a video highlighting her role as a mother — at one point, breastfeeding her baby on camera — it was a risk she was able to take in an environment that is more politically supportive than ever of women running for office, the candidate said Thursday. 

Roys, a former state representative and startup founder from Madison, fielded questions during a WisPolitics luncheon. 

One of two women among at least nine candidates vying for a chance to unseat Republican Gov. Scott Walker, Roys described herself as the "only woman (in the race) with a 100 percent pro-choice voting record." 

State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, has faced questions about her stance on abortion over time, but at a WisPolitics event in March she disagreed with Roys' characterization and said she is "pro-choice, too." A Vinehout staffer told the pro-abortion rights website Rewire last summer that the senator has "always been pro-choice since her younger years" and that she has always voted "to make abortion legal, safe and accessible."

Roys said she and Vinehout agree on lots of issues, but suggested they differ on this one, pointing to an amendment Vinehout offered in 2009 that would have allowed pharmacists to refuse to fill certain prescriptions, including contraceptives, based on their religious beliefs.

"For me, I've never wavered on whether or not politicians should interfere in our personal, private medical decisions," said Roys, the former executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin.

Roys and Vinehout are competing not just for the Democratic nomination, but for the chance to be the first woman elected governor of Wisconsin. 

Roys said she's been told this is the first election cycle during which it's an advantage to be a woman on the ballot.

"We're seeing women candidates taking more risks. I've taken risks in this race, too, with my video, and showing myself as not just a lawyer and a former elected official and an executive and a business owner, but also as a mom and a stepmom," Roys said. "Being able to show that full range of humanity — everyone can see men as complete people and see them as leaders and as family men … my hope is that it's changing."

If she wins, Roys said, "it's not going to happen out of nowhere."

Roys named former Secretary of State Vel Phillips, former Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton, former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk as "trailblazers" who have paved the way for Democratic women to run for statewide office.

"Women are just not willing to sit down and be patronized or put in boxes and say, 'well, it's not your turn yet to be in leadership,'" Roys said. "Women are saying, 'no, we're going to do this.'"

During the course of the luncheon, Roys offered positions on a variety of issues. She pledged support for entrepreneurs and greater broadband access, and said government should focus its resources on small businesses and startups rather than on offering incentives to lure large corporations into the state.

She said she isn't opposed to the Taiwanese electronics manufacturing company Foxconn doing business in Wisconsin, but opposes having state laws altered and tax breaks offered to seal the deal. The state's deal is a "slap in the face" to small business owners in Wisconsin, she said.

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As an attorney, Roys refrained from promising to renegotiate or end the state's contract with Foxconn, but said she would look at both options if elected. 

She offered a similar answer when asked whether she would undo Walker's signature Act 10 legislation, which effectively eliminated most employees' collective bargaining abilities. The outcome of a pending U.S. Supreme Court case and the composition of the Legislature will both determine what can be done on the issue, Roys said; however, she said she is "absolutely committed to trying to restore the right of workers to have a voice in their workplace."

Roys was also asked about reports that she had said baby boomers don't "fully appreciate" the issues younger voters face. 

"What I said is I think that it can sometimes be hard for baby boomers to relate to the economic issues that are faced by Gen X and millennials because it is so different from the economic world they went into." Roys said, citing student loan debt in particular. 

It's not that older generations don't care, she said, it's that they don't have a "visceral understanding" of how student loan debt can affect a person's life in the modern day. 

The primary election is August 14. The winner will face Walker in Nov. 6.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.