Gillespie narrowly defeats Salinas for District 97 seat

By , Daily Memphian Updated: November 03, 2020 11:28 PM CT | Published: November 03, 2020 9:24 PM CT
<strong>John Gillespie</strong>

John Gillespie

In a close race, John Gillespie, a political newcomer, narrowly defeated Democratic challenger Gabby Salinas in the state House District 97 race, according to unofficial vote totals. 

<strong>Gabby Salinas</strong>

Gabby Salinas

Gillespie, a grant coordinator for Trezevant Episcopal Home, gathered 14,697 votes (50.8%) to edge Salinas, a research scientist who is finishing her Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Kentucky, who finished with 14,212 votes (49.2%).

The totals from the Shelby County Election Commission are unofficial. 

Both candidates were vying to replace Republican state Rep. Jim Coley, who is retiring from the General Assembly after being diagnosed with the early stages of dementia. Coley was elected to the seat in 2006.

This was the first political race for 33-year-old Gillespie. In the August Republican primary, Gillespie defeated Brandon Weise, and then won the endorsement of incumbent Coley and Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald.

Gillespie focused on rebuilding the economy, education including supporting Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher program and public safety, saying that he supported law enforcement and plans to provide the resources law enforcement and prosecutors need to do their jobs to fight violent crime. He also backed prison release reform.

A Memphis native, Gillespie graduated from High Point University in High Point, North Carolina. He began his career in banking and finance as a customer service representative and then moved on to the mortgage division and now is the grants coordinator at for Trezevant Episcopal Home in the Memphis area.

This is the second political race for Salinas. In 2018, she lost by less than 2 percentage points in the District 31 state Senate race against incumbent Republican Brian Kelsey.

In the August Democratic primary, she defeated three candidates: Ruby Powell-Dennis, Alan Creasy and Clifford Stockton.

Salinas, 32, moved from Bolivia to Memphis when she was 7 years old to be treated for cancer at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and is a three-time cancer survivor. She grew up in the district that she is fighting to represent in the state Legislature.

She said she ran because she wants to take care of the “community that took care of her.”

Because of the personal impact on her and her family, health care was one of the issues at the center of her campaign, including her support for Medicaid expansion. She also is an advocate for education issues including in-state tuition for undocumented youths and fully funding public schools, but she is against school vouchers.


2020 Election John Gillespie Gabby Salinas
Yolanda Jones

Yolanda Jones

Yolanda Jones covers criminal justice issues and general assignment news for The Daily Memphian. She previously was a reporter at The Commercial Appeal.


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