2nd Congressional District Race Candidate: Kelda Roys (Democrat)
Post by Emily Mills on 8/7/2012 2:17pm
State Rep. Kelda Roys is committed to the idea that being an elected official should be about more than just casting the right vote – it’s about movement building, too.
The Madison-based Democrat won her seat in the 81st district in 2008 and has since made a name as a strong progressive voice in the Assembly. She was also a vocal participant in the protests that rocked the state over the winter of 2011.
In September of last year she declared her candidacy for the U.S. Congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who is running for the Senate. I sat down to talk with Roys about her campaign in April of this year, where she talked about the importance of being accessible to constituents, coalition building, steering clear of corporate PAC money, and being willing to take risks.
“I’m an advocate and an organizer. This is my background,” says Roys. “Professionally, obviously, I’m a lawyer but I turned down the corporate law path so that I could help build a movement in Wisconsin to protect reproductive rights.”
Prior to being elected to the Assembly Roys worked with NARAL Pro-Choice America, noting that one of their biggest accomplishments during her tenure was the passage of the Compassionate Care for Rape Victims Act. The work that went into that, including reaching out to Republican lawmakers for their backing, showed her that it was possible to “make change in very, very challenging political circumstances" and inspired her to eventually run for office.
The bill had languished in the Legislature for seven years before Roys and NARAL pushed it through, she suggests, because the Democrats didn’t believe it would go anywhere and so didn’t try.
“I think that people have an idea about what is my job as a politician, as a legislator, and my job is to do press releases and ask clever questions at the committee and make little floor speeches and draft bills,” Roys suggests. “That stuff is fun, I like doing that, and that is our job. But I also think there’s a huge thing that is, or should be our job, that most people don’t see, and that is to engage people in a broader progressive movement for social change, for social justice, and what motivates people is progress on those issues.
"So our job is to help, not wait for things to happen to us – no, your job is to get out there, especially from these safe seats, and educate the public and engage people and help build these movements around issues that are going to transcend whoever the politicians are that are in office at any given time.”
It’s that kind of grassroots movement building that Roys hopes to bring to the national level in the U.S. Congress. She says she has no interest in “just going to Washington and cozying up to leadership and looking for the most plum committee assignments.” Instead, Roys talks about her decision not to accept corporate PAC money donations, to remain fully accessible to her constituents, and to be a champion for the big progressive issues.
“I think that’s one thing the Right has really done better than the Left over the last few decades,” Roys says. “They don’t hang their hat just on candidates. It doesn’t matter which candidate is running, it’s their issues-motivated movement politics base that is driving the train. And their special interest corporate funders. But they don’t care who’s wearing the suit and sitting in the seat, and I think that’s the difference.”
“Part of the privilege of having the chance to run for Congress,” Roys explains, “is using that as an opportunity and a platform to speak out on the things that I’m passionate about – and frankly, where there’s a real vacuum, where nobody’s talking about these issues.” She says she wants to help provide an alternate vision of the country than what’s being presented by the Tea Party and its associates.
A major component of her message revolves around campaign finance, and the influence of corporate money on politics. Roys made a pledge when she first ran for office in 2008 not to accept corporate PAC checks, and says that the majority of her donations come from individuals, with the odd, very small PAC check coming in from non-profits like social justice, women’s equality, and conservation groups.
“I’m not concerned that Big Peace or Big Sustainability are going to impact me negatively,” she laughs.
Roys stresses that she believes business and industry groups, as well as any other organization, “absolutely have every right” to lobby and provide their materials to legislators. “But the difference is that you don’t take money from corporate PACs, and that’s how I’ve drawn the bright line,” she adds.
The so-called “war on women” also looms large in Roys’ mind, as she says that every issue that falls under that umbrella is an economic, as well as social justice, issue.
“Access to healthcare – we’re not just talking about abortion and contraception – we’re talking about cervical cancer screening, basic preventative care, mental health care, care for aging family members,” Roys explains. “All these things have really been under assault and that puts a tremendous economic burden on families. There aren’t very many families right now that are being supported by just a man’s income. So whether you’re talking about equal pay or health insurance coverage, or cuts to public services and programs, they’re having a terrible impact on economic security for families.”
She calls the current Republican platform an “investment in failure,” and says they’ve “primaried out all of their party moderates,” so there’s no real debate happening on that side of the political fence.
Roys is critical of elements within her own party, too. “Democrats have really failed to stand up for so many of these progressive things,” she says. “When Democrats were in power, guess where cuts were made? To education and to really vital services. So when Democrats are in power and they act like Republican lite we’re basically buying into a rightwing view of the world that says it’s OK to continue cutting these things rather than making the investments we need.”
Roys says a common complaint she hears from constituents is that Democrats didn’t push progressive issues when they previously held majorities at both state and federal levels. “What makes me mad is not so much trying and failing to achieve a progressive aim, but refusing to try at all,” she explains. “I think when you talk to progressive voters, and even independent voters, there is that kind of palpable sense of ‘well what did you guys do with the majority? We were so disappointed. We elected you to do certain things and you didn’t.’”
“There’s this sense that somehow our seats are these lifetime sinecures; that once you win your primary you’re there for life and can do whatever you want, or do as little as you want,” Roys continues. “So there becomes this huge disconnect between the rhetoric that we use when we campaign and the political will to actually take the risk to make that change and do that vote.”
Roys praises the diversity and political engagement of the second district, saying it closely mirrors the Assembly district she’s served for the past four years in that it includes both very rural, agricultural areas as well as urban, and very wealthy sections of the state. She says she’s keen to hear from people with many different perspectives, as well as to be a leader for them on those issues.
“My goal is to change the world,” Roys says, laughing in spite of herself, “and make some progressive change.”
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Emily Mills is Editor-At-Large for Dane101, as well as Editor of Our Lives Magazine. She is also a freelance writer, photographer, actor, and musician (drummer and singer in local band Little Red Wolf). Originally from several states up and down the Midwest Emily has called Madison home since 2000. Contact her at