Melody Shekari is a Democrat seeking the District 28 seat in Tennessee’s House of Representatives. (Photo: Contributed)

Editor’s note: This Q&A is one in a series that aims to allow voters to get to know candidates who are running in the Aug. 2 primary. Nooga.com sent questionnaires to candidates on the ballotWe will post responses as we get them.

Local lawyer and community advocate Melody Shekari is competing for the District 28 state House seat.

She’s on the ballot for the Aug. 2 primary election with four other Democrats—Dennis Clark, Yusuf Hakeem, Jackie Anderson Thomas and Brandon D. Woodruff—to take the seat that Democrat JoAnne Favors is vacating. 

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Lemon C. Williams is the only Republican on the ballot.

Early voting is between July 13 and July 28.

What opportunities do you see in your district’s near future and how do you plan to help seize them?

My campaign has focused on opportunity for all, healthcare for all, and justice for all.

What this really means is that the people in District 28 need:

—Better jobs that pay a living wage and provide benefits for families. My plan includes creating 21st Century Vocational Programs for both teens and adults so that workers are ready to excel.

—Adequate health care for every man, woman, and child. A first step in achieving this goal must be an expansion of Tennessee’s Medicaid program to provide coverage for more people.

—A complete overhaul of our criminal justice system. It is shameful that we have privately run prisons in Hamilton County and Tennessee. There should not be a profit motive for keeping people incarcerated. We also need programs that prepare offenders to re-enter society as productive citizens.

What is the most crucial challenge facing your district and/or the state, and how do you plan to address it?

More than 60 percent of the households in District 28 are headed by single women. In many respects, women are the backbone of our community. We just absolutely must provide better resources and opportunities to support women. Our future depends on it.

In addition to better-paying jobs with benefits, we also must improve access to child care, health care and transportation. Our program to support women should also cover expanded caregiver services to take care of elderly and/or disabled family members.

If elected, what issues do you want to focus on and why?

As I’ve stated, our campaign is focused on opportunity for all, healthcare for all, and justice for all. We must provide better-paying jobs, expanded Medicaid coverage, and fair treatment for all citizens.

Quite frankly, so many of our problems today are rooted in long-standing discrimination and bigotry. Our society can’t truly progress as long as black and brown people remain the targets of institutional racism and discrimination.

What does transparency in government mean to you, and what actions would you take, if any, to increase transparency in government?

We have to hold our elected officials accountable to the people they serve. This means making sure that our legislators say what they mean and do what they say.

Enough talk. It’s time for action.

Also, we have to follow the money. Are we getting every dollar we’ve been promised?

If I’m elected, I will do my best to make sure that our government keeps its promises—not just to big business and donors, but also to neighborhoods and the people.

As an attorney, I know how to speak truth to power. This is how we will achieve transparency in government.

How do you believe a leader should handle people they don’t get along or agree with?

We are all more alike than we are different. All parents want good-paying jobs and great schools for their kids. We all want to live in safe neighborhoods and drive cars on roads and bridges that are well-maintained.

I absolutely believe in reaching across party lines to pass legislation that improves the lives of all Tennesseans. As legislators, we should value the humanity and dignity in each of us. I will look for points of agreement rather than give in to partisan politics.

This being said, my first priority will always be representing the best interests of the people of District 28. I will never break this promise or compromise my integrity just for the sake of being agreeable.

If I don’t have people disagreeing with me, then I’m probably not being a strong enough advocate for District 28. I encourage residents of District 28 to hold me accountable and make sure that I am always a strong champion for their concerns.

What do you want the public to know about your background or personal life if anything?

During this campaign, I have been surprised to hear some people refer to me as “Caucasian” or “foreign.”

The truth is that my family is of Persian descent, my parents are immigrants, and that I was born in Texas but moved to Chattanooga when I was 4 years old.

I very much know what it is like to be made fun of because I’m different or because my parents didn’t speak English well.

I just want people to know that, if they elect me, I will have their backs, and I hope they will have mine too.

Why should residents vote for you and not one of your opponents?

The most important thing is that every voter goes to the polls and votes for whomever he or she feels is the best candidate. Of course, I hope that voters will choose me, but it is more important that everyone goes out and votes.

Also, I would like to note that I am one of two women running in this race. This is a pivotal time for women in the U.S. and Tennessee.

Women are standing up for themselves and demanding equality on all fronts. The voters of District 28 have an opportunity to send another woman to the statehouse.

JoAnne Favors has served our district well, and I hope that I will be elected to continue her example of strong female leadership.

What is your personal motivation for running for this office and wanting to lead?

I come from a family where there is always room at the table for one more person.

When I am serving in the legislature, the residents of District 28 will always have a seat at the table. I will be proud to represent one of the most diverse districts in our state. We are stronger when all our voices are heard. Now is not the time to be quiet. It is more important than ever to stand up and be counted.

If you want better schools for our kids, vote for me. If you want better-paying jobs with good benefits, vote for me. If you believe that great health care is a right and not a privilege, vote for me. If you believe in human rights and honoring the dignity of every man, woman, and child, vote for me.

What else do you want to share that we haven’t asked about?

My family is fortunate that my parents were able to come to the United States and have been able to achieve their American dream. The path has not been easy. They had to learn to speak English and were forced to work in low-wage jobs. My father drove a taxi and even sold Bibles door-to-door.

I am running to represent District 28 because I see so many people struggling to achieve their own American dream. It makes me angry that so many of my neighbors have been hampered by racial and gender discrimination, have been denied access to a 21st Century education, and lack adequate health care.

We need to put an end to these inequalities and disparities. We have had enough talk. Now is the time for action. We must demand opportunity for all, healthcare for all, and justice for all.

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