Who am I?
I am a proud progressive advocate - an attorney, activist, and two-term legislator representing Wisconsins diverse 81st Assembly District in Northwestern Dane County. I was honored to be elected by my fellow legislators to the leadership position of Assembly Democratic Caucus Chair in only my second term.
I was one of the most vocal opponents of Gov. Scott Walkers proposal to strip workers rights from public employees. As Caucus Chair, I helped lead the Assembly Democratic caucus in our fight against Governor Walker and the Republicans conservative agenda this session. My family and I protested at the Capitol alongside hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites. When the Walker administration locked the capitol down, I moved my "office" outside to meet with my constituents on the frozen ground. When the Walker administration tried to shut off outside support to protesters in the capitol, I brought food, medicine, and even cleaning supplies to those inside. When the Walker administration tried to silence public debate, I helped organize a round-the-clock hearing lasting nearly a week to allow this incredible movement to flourish.
I am one of the most progressive voices in Wisconsin's government. My record of legislative success includes authoring legislation on reproductive rights, health care, consumer protection, childrens health, government accountability, workplace safety, economic justice, fiscal responsibility, election reform, conservation and the environment, LGBT equality, and access to the courts, among other areas. As the "go to" expert on womens health policy, I served as Vice-Chair of the Committee on Health & Healthcare Reform.
Prior to being elected to office, I served four years as Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, the political leader of the states reproductive rights movement. I developed the organizations innovative and successful efforts to expand emergency contraception access through state and local legislation, including Madisons landmark emergency contraception ordinance. Under my leadership, Wisconsin passed the first pro-choice law in three decades, the Compassionate Care for Rape Victims Act, despite an anti-choice Assembly.
I earned my law degree magna cum laude from the University of Wisconsin Law School, where I organized Law Students for Dean, founded its ACLU chapter, and focused on civil rights and international law. In law school, I worked for the prestigious Wisconsin Innocence Project, helping to free wrongfully incarcerated people, and pass legislative reforms to prevent wrongful convictions. I grew up on Madison's liberal east side, and returned home for law school after graduating magna cum laude from New York University with a BA in politics, drama, and cultural studies.
I am lucky to live in Madison, WI, in a 160-year old farmhouse with my partner Dan and my two step-daughters, who are expert protesters.
Why am I running?
Our nation is at a tipping point moment - with half of American workers earning less than $26,364 a year, and a government run by and for powerful corporate interests, we cannot wait to send the next generation of progressive leaders to Congress. We need leaders who will reject the easy path of climbing Washington's power ladder and instead work to renew our democracy and return power to the people.
I am running for Congress to bring bold, energetic leadership to Washington. We need Democrats who stand up for Democratic values - not politicians more interested in power and political games than making real change. The 2nd District is home to one of the most liberal, engaged constituencies in the nation; as such, we have a responsibility to send someone to Congress who is not just a "good vote" on the issues, but who will be a passionate champion for our values. I will be the strongest possible voice for structural, progressive change in a broken system.
We, the progressive movement, need to begin expanding the definition of what it means to be a "good progressive." We can no longer afford to focus solely on whether our leaders simply check the right boxes on issue questionnaires. Rather, if we want to effect our progressive policy aims for education, health care, economic justice, the environment, and beyond, we must demand that progressive leaders also practice a progressive approach to politics. Specifically, we must run campaigns free from corporate influence (by rejecting corporate PAC money), commit on movement-building rather than dealmaking, and when we have the privilege of being in power, take big political risks to push for real change. In short, we must demand that our leaders have integrity of action, we must stop emulating the political and campaign finance tactics of the right-wing, and we must learn to set the terms of debate ourselves.
If elected, I would be the youngest woman and the youngest Democrat in a Congress which is 83% male and in 2010 was the oldest in American history. More importantly, I will be a fearless, powerful force for integrity, opportunity, and equality.
As part of a new generation of progressive leaders, I will immediately work to reset the terms of debate and pull the political "center of gravity" leftward. Just as the Tea Party hordes arrived in 2010 and immediately made ending Medicare while cutting taxes on millionaires newly acceptable terms of debate, I will champion single-payer universal health care, full public financing of all campaigns, massively expanding investment in education, and taxing carbon and other global warming polluters. While I have no illusions that we can immediately enact such huge, transformative policy changes, setting the scope of the policy debate is the first step.
Legislatively, my first goal will be to work on an issue very close to my heart -- protecting children from toxic chemicals by updating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to implement the "precautionary principle" and expand enforcement authority. There is already some Congressional support for this idea from key members of the progressive caucus, and there is broad agreement in the environmental and health communities that it is time to overhaul TSCA. Our current regulatory regime jeopardizes our health, our brain development, and our environment. Unlike the European Union and many other developed nations, the United States allows chemical manufacturers to use chemicals without testing them first for their human health impact - turning our citizens into guinea pigs. Years later, when safety questions arise, corporations fund scientifically dubious studies to delay regulation and thwart legal action. The US needs to abandon our failed "shoot first, ask questions later" approach to regulation, and instead implement the precautionary principle - requiring corporations to first test chemicals for safety before using them.
As a new state legislator, one of the first battles I won was passing my BPA-Free Kids Act, to ban the neurotoxic endocrine disruptor Bisphenol A from children's food containers and baby bottles. I am ready to do battle again with the powerful chemical industry, and passionate about doing so. We know little about the tens of thousands of chemicals being used in everyday products, from cleaners to furniture to food storage - and we know even less about their impact on fetal and child health. Parents shouldn't have to be chemists to keep their children safe from harm.
On the movement-building side, I will focus on helping build strong, productive relationships with grassroots progressive groups and individuals in the 2nd Congressional District, with the goal of creating a durable, issue-based progressive movement that can drive real change at the local, state, and national level. Specifically, I will devote my time and resources to helping progressive organizations succeed, organize, and advocate. In 2013 I will work to have a progressive candidate for every office in the 2nd District, whether for school board, county clerk, or state legislature. I will collaborative with and support the efforts of progressive people and organizations, as I have for more than a decade as an activist, advocate, and legislator.
My DFA Values
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My Campaign is People Powered!
Kelda for Congress is people-powered in every way. I will not accept any corporate PAC money in this campaign, which sets me apart not only in this primary race, but nationally. Too many Democratic elected officials are content to use grassroots rhetoric, but they don't walk the walk - they fund their campaigns from the same tainted corporate sources that fund Republicans. I am leading by example so I can govern with independence and integrity when I win. Since I refuse to accept the big $5,000 corporate PAC checks, my campaign is relying on the investment of thousands of grassroots donors across my district and across the country who want to see a truly bold progressive in Washington.
A cornerstone of our campaign is our focus on citizen engagement. We are building strong volunteer teams in every corner of the 2nd Congressional District's six counties. As executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, I built the organization from a few thousand members to over 35,000 supporters. I learned that person-to-person outreach and relationship building is key to political strength. My campaign manager, a veteran of Governor Dean's New Hampshire team, is already putting in place the kind of aggressive volunteer program that will give us an advantage on Election Day and beyond. As a measure of my support, I have been honored to earn the endorsement of 5 out of the 6 Democratic Party county chairs in the district because they recognize and value my long record of working on the ground for progressive causes and candidates.
One of my personal missions in life is to engage young people in political action - to help spark a passion for justice and democratic values that will burn for a lifetime. To that end, we have a robust Fellowship program. Our fellows, as well as our interns and volunteers, do substantive work - their input helps shape every aspect of our campaign. We value their work, their brains, and their skills; in return, we are rewarded by their energy, passion, and insights. Throughout my career, I have always created substantive internships to empower young people in reaching their own goals, and to show them that they have a seat at the table of power.
Finally, our campaign has by far the strongest online presence of any candidate in this race. During the historic protest movement in Wisconsin, I worked hard to use social media to keep my constituents informed. As a result, I built an organic online presence when people were hungering for information and connection. While online organizing is only a supplement to on-the-ground work, it is an increasingly important and visible signifier of how engaged you are with your constituents.