July 21, 2020
The former public defender wants to represent a district that is nearly 25% Black, and has never had a Black congressperson
Keeda Haynes is an unlikely congressional candidate, but she is far from a long shot.
The 42-year-old is a former public defender in Nashville. She was also previously formerly incarcerated. Haynes served nearly four years in prison after being convicted of a felony marijuana conviction.
“I never envisioned myself in politics,” Haynes told The Huffington Post. “It wasn’t my plan for my life, but neither was going to prison, so here we are.”
At 19, she met an older man who convinced her to accept packages for his pager and cell phone business. Haynes said she was unaware that the packages also contained marijuana.
Due to mandatory minimums, she was sentenced to seven years in prison. After an appeal process, her sentence was reduced to five years of which she served almost four.
Haynes graduated from college just weeks before starting to serve her sentence. She studied for the LSAT while incarcerated and after her release, she graduated from the Nashville School of Law.
She has garnered the support of long-time progressive candidates and organizations in her campaign to be elected to represent the state of Tennessee in the House of Representatives.
The state of Tennessee has not sent a Black person to Congress since the 1990s, the district that Haynes would represent is nearly 25% Black, and still has never had a Black congressperson.
“One of the reasons I’m running is because it’s time to center the voices of underserved communities, particularly now, as the country is talking about systemic racism,” Haynes told Shondaland. “If we’re going to dismantle those systems, we have to have people close to the problems working to ensure that Black people are able to experience the freedom and the healing we’re calling for.”
Haynes is running against Representative Jim Cooper who has represented Tennessee’s fifth district for over 15 years. Cooper’s family has a notable history in the state’s politics.
His father was governor in the state in the 1940s, and his brother, John, is the mayor of Nashville.
Her campaign is being compared to the successful 2018 campaign of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who defeated a 10-term incumbent Democratic stalwart, Joe Crowley, in a surprise upset in New York.
Keeda Haynes currently works as a legal advisor for Free Hearts, an organization that provides support, education, and advocacy to Tennessee families impacted by incarceration.