By Ashley Benkarski

NASHVILLE, TN — Franklin native and Public Defender Keeda Haynes is in the running for the state’s 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives held by incumbent Jim Cooper, a “Blue Dog” Democrat.

Cooper has occupied the position since 2003 and his tenure is set to end next January if he isn’t re-elected. 

But Haynes thinks it’s time for new representation, and she believes she’s the candidate in the best position for it: she’s a young, black attorney who has seen the criminal justice system inside and out, championing a holistic approach to its reformation that includes health care, affordable housing, immigration, women’s rights and economic and environmental justice.

“A lot of the issues that I mention that I would be advocating for in Washington on behalf of the people in District 5 are some of the issues I have personally experienced myself,” Haynes said, adding that her work as a public defender and the work she does with Free Hearts, a nonprofit organization that works with formerly incarcerated women, puts her on the front lines with some of the city’s most vulnerable residents. “I don’t think that we can adequately deal with these issues if we’re not proximate to them … I’m hearing from the community … I’m hearing their stories and those other stories that I want to take to Washington when it’s time to advocate for those things.”

Haynes connected stories like those of Bordeaux community denizens affected by the Southern Services C&D landfill to broader environmental issues such as the Trump administration’s recent cuts to the budget and regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency. Earlier this year, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James signed the Navigable Waters Protection Rule redefining “Waters of the United States” per Executive Order 13788, a move the Southern Environmental Law Center said would endanger the Clean Water Act. The rule has yet to be accepted into the Federal Register.

She also connected the global issue of climate change to Nashville, issuing a statement after the area was devastated by tornadoes in the early morning hours of March 3.

“The hardest-hit neighborhoods are in communities already on the brink. In East Nashville, the steady push of gentrification is already pushing long-time residents from their homes and replacing local businesses with corporate chains,” Haynes said.

“As we work to recover from this tragedy, we must do so with leadership that sees and understands the communities most affected. It’s not enough to apply a one-size fits all solution. Our federal, state, and local governments must work not just to rebuild quickly, but to ensure this does not become an opportunity for corporate developers to exploit vulnerable communities in an hour of need. We must also recognize the truth: storms like these will only become fiercer and more frequent as our climate changes. Rebuilding today is not enough: we must work for a Green New Deal that fortifies our infrastructure and addresses the threat of a runaway climate emergency while providing good union jobs to our communities.”

Adding to the obstacles Nashville is already facing is the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has seen over 1,300 reported cases and six deaths.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has revealed serious issues in our systems – from SNAP benefit levels that do not allow families to prepare for times like these, to schools unable to close because of the number of students who rely on them for a meal. We need to ensure ALL residents have the resources needed to keep food in their cabinets, keep children fed, and stay safe and healthy. If elected to Congress, I vow to work tirelessly with my colleagues on legislation that will protect Tennesseans during times of crisis,” Haynes said.

“Also, during this time, we must not forget about our neighbors who are dealing with the loss of life, homes, businesses, and more from the tornadoes that devastated our great city.

Together we must remain calm, but vigilant. We have always been and will continue to be #NashvilleStrong. We will get through all of this together, and stronger than before.”

Haynes hopes her passion will catch the attention of voters. “I would like voters to know that I am very passionate about the issues. I was passionate as a public defender, I was passionate advocating on behalf of my clients in that role,” she said. “And that same determination and passion that I have, I will take to advocate on behalf of the community here in District 5.”

The primary election will be held Aug. 6, 2020. Five Democrats (including Rep. Cooper), two Republicans and one Independent are on the ballot.

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