Keeda Haynes Once A Prisoner, Now Running For Congress

A former public defender who was had once been incarcerated, is running for Congress in Tennessee and she’s challenging a 17-year Democratic incumbent.

In the August 6 primary election, Keeda Haynes, 42, is a long shot against Rep. Jim Cooper. But If she wins, she’d be the first Black woman the state has ever sent to Congress.

At about the same time Cooper began his run in Congress, Haynes started her bid behind bars. She spent three years and 10 months in prison for a marijuana-related felony, but she maintains her innocence.

Afterward, Haynes completed her law degree and served as a public defender in Nashville for more than six years. She believes her experience is what her district needs, especially when it comes to criminal justice reform.

“I am running because looking around I can see that people that look like me, that have the same issues I have, we were not being represented in this district,” Haynes said to the Huffington Post.

Haynes’ district, which is almost 25 percent African American, has never had a Black representative in Congress. She wants to change that and says the lack of diverse representation is “really disappointing.”

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“It’s important to have someone in Congress that can view the policy from the lens of being formerly incarcerated, as a woman, an African American, saddled with student loan debt, from a working class family,” Haynes told the outlet.

Haynes platform includes Medicare for All and criminal justice reform, which includes an end to mandatory minimum sentencing and defunding the police.

Due to her felony record, Haynes had to petition a court this year to restore some of her civil rights, which included her ability to run for Congress. For her, criminal justice reform is at the forefront of her campaign as well as the issues involved with it.

“Everything is connected: if people don’t have jobs, if people don’t have housing, if they’re living in neighborhoods that are overpoliced, there’s going to be this disparity,” Haynes said. “If you have police criminalizing the color of people’s skin, they’re going to end up in the criminal justice system.” 

Haynes currently trails Cooper in the latest fundraising numbers. In June, she raised about $73,000 to Cooper’s $674,000, according to OpenSecrets. She has, however, received the endorsements from major progressive political groups, including Democracy for America and Indivisible.

“With Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd … people took notice, said, ‘Hey, we need to protest in the streets, but we also need to look at who is in office and determine if they represent who we are,’” Haynes said to the HuffPost.

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