Both candidates in Tenn. House District 97 race vying for first election to public office

House District 97 candidates look to take their first public office position

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Republican State Representative Jim Coley is retiring, meaning his seat in Tennessee House District 97 is up for grabs on Election Day. The district includes parts of Bartlett, Cordova, and East Memphis.

Two contenders for the seat are hoping to be elected to political office for the first time.

Scientific researcher and childhood cancer survivor Gabby Salinas is back on the ballot, as the Democrat seeking election.

Salinas narrowly lost a heated Tennessee State Senate race in 2018 against incumbent Republican Brian Kelsey. The former St. Jude patient and Bolivian immigrant said she grew up in District 97 and desires an opportunity to serve in public office.

“My story is the story of resilience, is the story of what’s possible when we all take care of each other and come together and live out our American values. And I think that’s what people are wanting out of their politicians right now,” she said.

Salinas told WMC Action News 5 that the 2019 legislative session motivated her to run again, when Tennessee lawmakers passed a school voucher proposal targeting only Shelby and Davidson counties, which she opposed.

She said she is also concerned about underinsured and uninsured Tennesseans.

“Medicaid expansion hasn’t happened yet. We are in the middle of a pandemic. Hospitals are closing all over our state. We lead the country in hospital closures. I can’t sit by and not do anything about it,” she said.

Her challenger is John Gillespie, a Memphis native with a decade of experience in banking and nonprofit development. It’s Gillespie’s first run for public office.

“We need to expand pre-kindergarten here in the state. We also need to start putting some more money in adding vo-tech classes. We need more HVAC techs, plumbers, people like that that can graduate from high school with those skills and start a job immediately,” he said.

Gillespie says he philosophically supports Governor Bill Lee’s school voucher program, which passed this cycle though it’s been deemed unconstitutional by two courts.

He’s also advocating for truth in sentencing laws as part of his platform.

“We need to get more on a federal parole level system to where if you’re sentenced to jail for 10 years you go to jail for 10 years," he said. “There’s nothing worse than being the victim of a crime and walking out your door one day and seeing the person that committed that crime, thinking they were locked up.”

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