Kelda Roys Responses

What are your goals for your first term in office should you be elected?

Before taking office, my first goal is to build a stronger Democratic caucus in the state legislature by campaigning and fundraising for Democrats across the state, so that we can successfully pass legislation. While detailed policy goals can be found on my website,, the my key priorities will be to help our state recover from the COVID health and economic crisis, expand healthcare access, adequately fund Wisconsin’s public schools and public higher education system, address the climate crisis, and pass meaningful criminal justice reform. 

Please describe your qualifications and what sets you apart from your fellow candidates. 

My experience sets me apart. I don’t just have progressive values — I have spent my career turning those values into meaningful policy changes. I served in the State Assembly from 2009-2013, and was the Democratic Caucus Chair in my second term. During that time, I helped expand BadgerCare to 80,000 Wisconsinites, and authored legislation on many issues, from banning BPA to equal pay to protecting the right to vote.

Even before being elected to the legislature, I successfully advocated for progressive policies, like landmark criminal justice reforms — policies that passed despite Republican control. As Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, I helped build a coalition that successfully passed Wisconsin’s first pro-choice legislation in three decades, through an anti-choice Assembly. I took on shameful racial disparities in infant mortality rates in Wisconsin, and worked with community leaders and advocates to come up with solutions that worked for those most affected. Being an effective lawmaker and advocate is a learned skill.

I’m also an attorney and a small business owner – in a legislature where fewer and fewer members are lawyers. Finally, I am the mother of young children, which means issues like paid leave, affordable childcare, and gun violence are personal to me. In a 33 member Senate, only 7 seats are held by women — and not a single one has young or school aged children at home. If elected, I’d be the youngest woman in the Senate.

UW-Madison is situated in the 26th Senate District, but its role as an economic engine benefits the entire state. Please tell us how you would represent the university in the legislature and make sure your colleagues from outside Dane County understand the statewide benefit of a strong UW-Madison? 

UW-Madison, and the UW system as a whole, is the crown jewel of Wisconsin. As an alumna of the law school, I also have a personal stake in the UW’s success. The university needs adequate funding from the legislature, and less political and administrated interference. Funding cuts and changes like undermining academic freedom and rolling back tenure protections are taking a toll on the UW — that must be reversed. UW lags behind peer institutions in pay and benefits for faculty and staff — a disastrous trend that will threaten not only UW’s preeminence as a shining example of public higher education, but the entire state’s economic future. We know that strong UW-Madison benefits the state’s economy, culture, quality of life, and industries from agriculture to tourism.

As the senator representing campus, I will have a special responsibility to bring the voice of the University to the capitol — and to help demonstrate its value to my colleagues there. I will do this by inviting faculty to the capitol for hearings and panels, promoting partnerships like the Evidence Based Policy presentations, traveling around the state to meet with legislators in their districts and talking about what UW means to their constituents, and always advocating for UW in the budget and in legislation related to higher ed.

State funding for higher education has fallen dramatically over the past generation, resulting in a dependence on tuition and fundraising to replace decreased state support. The ongoing tuition freeze coupled with several state budget cuts has forced UW-Madison to make serious cuts, while other UW System campuses face devastating budget shortfalls. How would you address these concerns if elected? 

To restore the millions of dollars in cuts UW-Madison and UW System campuses have endured, we need to do several things. First, we need to maximize the federal money the state receives, such as by accepting federal Medicaid expansion dollars, broadband connectivity dollars, and transit/transportation funding. Second, we need to close tax loopholes and corporate giveaways and institute fair taxation — for too long, the biggest corporations and wealthiest have gotten a free ride, while working families and small business paid taxes in their place. Third, we need to reduce spending on mass incarceration; it’s unconscionable that we spend more on prisons than on UW, especially given that doing so has not made us any safer (if anything, it has made our communities less safe and stable). Fourth, we need to restore more autonomy to UW campuses and strengthen shared governance — including letting them manage their own budgets, set tuition, recruit faculty, and keep their own “rainy day” funds.

UW-Madison as an institution understands diversity to be a value that is inextricable from its other values, including educational and research excellence. Tell us about your legislative priorities on diversity, racial justice, and their relation to the values you hold related to higher education. 

I agree that diversity and inclusion are necessary components of excellence and success, but unfortunately by many metrics Wisconsin is the worst state in the nation in which to be a Black child. On many indices from health care to education to housing to college completion to wages to criminal justice, Wisconsin has shameful racial disparities. I have prioritized eliminating racial disparities throughout my adult life, and have detailed plans on my website, discussing racial disparities on their own but also in specific policy areas like housing, cannabis legalization, and reproductive justice.

Again, I have “walked the walk” on racial justice, from my work at the Innocence Project to pass legislation to prevent wrongful convictions, to founding an ACLU chapter as a law student in the wake of 9/11 to combat Islamophobia, to making ending racial disparities in infant mortality a central priority of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin when I became executive director. In the Assembly, I took on issues inextricably linked to racial justice that were seen as fringe or unpopular, even among Democrats, such as ending prison gerrymandering, stopping privatization at the DOT, cooperative housing purchasing, and enacting a National Popular Vote.

As state senator, I will look at all policy decisions through a racial justice and equity lens, and prioritize reducing racial disparities so that every child, every family, and every community in our state can thrive. That’s why I have detailed plans to end police brutality, stop mass incarceration, legalize cannabis, ensure cultural competence in healthcare, and ensure that every student is able to receive the free, quality public education that she is promised by our state constitution. That means, for example, ending the failed voucher program that is taking millions from our public schools every year, expanding pathways to higher ed for students from marginalized communities, and guaranteeing in-state tuition for DREAMers. Cost and accessibility should never be a barrier for students — but for too many students of color, finances (from student debt to lack of parental financial support to the need to work) make it difficult to pursue or complete a degree. The state has an obligation to prioritize helping close the opportunity gap in educational attainment for students of color.

A budget repair bill and the 2021-23 biennial budget loom large and the financial impact of COVID-19 is enormous. What are your funding priorities in the upcoming biennium? 

Funding public education is always fundamental, and especially so during a global pandemic. Schools need immediate additional resources to operate successfully and safely, whether to move learning online, accommodate smaller class sizes, rent additional space, hire extra staff, or pay for increased sanitation and PPE. As someone who has always been a champion of increased public education funding, I will not let a budget pass without demanding additional resources for public K12 schools and public higher educational institutions.

Likewise, we need significant investments in technology and closing the technology gap – especially broadband connectivity and internet access, which ought to be regulated and accessible like the necessary public utilities they are. When social distancing is necessary, the only way to continue working, learning, and living, is to increase our capacity to connect virtually.

As I wrote earlier, recovering from COVID, maximizing federal dollars, expanding healthcare, addressing tax unfairness, and redirecting resources from mass incarceration to public investment, are key budget priorities. We also need to take major action towards sustainability, both in reducing emissions and pollution and in conservation and green energy production.