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Former state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys 'seriously' considering run for Wisconsin governor

Former state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys 'seriously' considering run for Wisconsin governor

Former state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys is thinking "very seriously" about running for governor in 2018, she told the Capital Times on Friday. 

Roys, 38, is the CEO and founder of OpenHomes, a real estate tech company. She represented Madison in the state Assembly for four years after winning a six-way primary in 2008. Roys left her seat in 2012 to mount an ill-fated Congressional campaign, eventually losing to fellow Madison Democrat Mark Pocan.

"What we need to do is articulate a positive vision for the future of our state and bring energy and excitement to voters in the Democratic Party, not in the Democratic Party, independents that feel like they have been left out of the discussion, and people who aren’t that engaged in politics because they haven’t really had a reason to be. Those are the elements that are going to make us successful," Roys said in an interview Friday. 

Republicans, Roys said, have had seven years in the majority "to make their case" and have failed to articulate a strong strategy for economic growth. They have also failed to meaningfully address education funding, climate change, health care, child care and family leave policies, she said.

As an entrepreneur involved in the startup community, Roys said, she believes she could bring a unique perspective to the race.

Before her time in the state Assembly, Roys earned her law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and served as executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin. Roys opted to run for Congress when then-Rep. Tammy Baldwin ran for the U.S. Senate, losing to Pocan with about 24 percent of the vote.

"My passion is still public service. But I think sometimes there’s a disconnect between the people who are making policy and the actual lives of people who live in this state," Roys said.

The Democratic primary field is far from cemented. Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik and state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, both launched campaigns this summer. Political newcomer Bob Harlow is also running.

Other potential Democratic candidates include Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, Milwaukee attorney Matt Flynn, political activist Mike McCabe, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, Sheboygan businesman Kurt Kober and former state Rep. Brett Hulsey.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker has not officially announced his plans to seek re-election, but has said he will make his intentions clear after the state budget — now seven weeks late — is complete. 

Roys thinks Walker is "beatable." 

Running for governor wasn't part of her plan in 2018, she said — for one thing, she's currently seven months pregnant — but several people have approached her and encouraged her to consider it. 

One Democratic strategist familiar with Roys' consideration said it's telling that not many endorsements have been made yet. People are still waiting to see what their options will be, the strategist said.

"I think that says something about the desire to field a really fresh, energetic candidate against Scott Walker who's not an 'anti-Walker' candidate," the strategist said. 

Republican Party of Wisconsin spokesman Alec Zimmerman called Roys "the latest in a long list of extreme liberal retreads whose backward policies hurt our state and have been continually rejected by voters." In contrast, Zimmerman said, "hard-working families across the state are better off" as a result of Walker's policies. 

Roys has an almost-four-year-old daughter and two teenage stepdaughters with her partner, Dan Reed. She has not set a deadline to make a decision.

"To me, the most important thing is making the best decision that I can, not only for myself and my family, but for our state and our state's future, because I think the stakes just couldn't be higher," Roys said.

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Jessie Opoien is the Capital Times' opinion editor. She joined the Cap Times in 2013, covering state government and politics for the bulk of her time as a reporter. She has also covered music, culture and education in Madison and Oshkosh.