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Former lawmaker Roys targets governor's office

Madison resident and former Assembly member Kelda Roys is one of 14 Democrats seeking to run against Gov. Scott Walker in November. Submitted photo

Kelda Roys isn't fazed by the parade of fellow Democrats also seeking to be Wisconsin's next governor.

The Madison woman believes she stands apart from the 13 other Democrats in line to challenge Republican Gov. Scott Walker in November. She said her status as a Generation X parent who's a small-business owner with legislative experience separates her from the pack.

"I'm deeply invested in the future of our state," said Roys, an attorney who served in the Assembly from 2009-2012.

Standing in her way — as of last week — are Democrats Tony Evers, Matt Flynn, Andy Gronik, Dave Heaster, Mike McCabe, Mahlon Mitchell, Josh Pade, Paul Soglin, Kathleen Vinehout, Dana Wachs and Ramona Whiteaker. The list will be narrowed to one after the Aug. 14 primary election.

"I think people are excited about having someone to vote for, rather than something to vote against," Roys said Thursday, May 17, adding that recent straw polls have been favorable for her.

Her candidacy marks a return to politics after leaving the Legislature in 2012 to pursue an unsuccessful congressional run in the 2nd District, which went vacant after Democrat Tammy Baldwin ran for U.S. Senate. Roys said she's now pursuing the governor's office in an effort to restore "opportunity and fairness."

"We need new leadership very badly in this state," she said.

That, Roys said, means a return to "core Wisconsin pragmatism," the kind she said she knew while working with Republicans and Democrats on wrongful-conviction legislation while she was a law school student. That led to criminal justice reform and helped pave the way to bipartisan success once she became a lawmaker, Roys said.

"Because I didn't let partisanship or assumptions get in the way of doing my job," she said.

Roys and fellow Democrats are navigating an unpredictable political climate that sets the stage for the general election. While like Sen. Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, and Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley — who won with strong Democratic support — represent recent election Democratic victories suggesting a wind at the party's back, Republicans have been setting sails behind the state's record-low unemployment rate under Walker.

Roys contends the unemployment numbers often bury the reality of Wisconsinites working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

"A lot of people in the state are still struggling," she said. "The unemployment numbers don't tell the whole story."

In campaign trail remarks, Walker has signaled he's less concerned with specific candidates than he is with big money flowing in from outside the state. Roys said her campaign has been funded mainly by small donations and that it's Walker who's courted the big donors.

"Everything he's done has been for his own benefit," she said. "We need a governor who's going to be looking out for every Wisconsinite — not his political future."

Roys has built her campaign around issues like paid family leave, affordable child care, public education and student loan debt. She cited tax incentives like the $3 billion given to Foxconn for its $10 billion investment in the Fox Valley as funds better offered to small businesses. Roys also targeted the state's manufacturing and agriculture tax credit, calling it a corporate "giveaway" she proposes eliminating.

"They've had a party at our expense the last eight years," she said, adding that a trend in small-farm bankruptcies in western Wisconsin illustrates a larger problem. "If it's working, why are our bankruptcies so bad?"

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

(715) 426-1072
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