On a sunny Friday morning in mid-October, Zahra Karinshak met with me at Boulder Creek Coffee in a small room upstairs so that we could talk in a somewhat peaceful and quiet setting. Karinshak looks to be the average mom in Lawrenceville in a black and gray dress with her dark hair slightly frazzled from the wind.
Once we sat down, she was eager to share her story with me, handing me one of her campaign flyers. On the front, her roles are stated with some details below each header: veteran, federal prosecutor, and mother.
She told me she’s been a Georgian all her life but has lived in District 48 for the past 24 years. When asked to share a little about herself and her story, she revealed that she grew up and went to school in Lafayette in Walker County, Ga.
“I was very fortunate when I went to the Air Force Academy. I did have a full scholarship. I had a job when I graduated. I was in the Air Force and served as an intelligence officer during the First Gulf War and got to do all these crazy, interesting things that I would have never done coming out of rural Georgia with no money,” Karinshak said.
“And that kind of set me up for success, which is great and not something I anticipated because of the economics of my situation. We’d grown up poor — on welfare and food stamps and not able to travel and do those kinds of things,” Karinshak said. “I’m living my father’s American dream.”
When asked why she was running for state Senate, she explained her own children, both older teens, were the ones who encouraged her to run. “The reason I’m running is because … I actually take my kids to school every morning, and they’re both teenagers, and so we get to talk in the car, and that’s one of the few times we get to really talk. During this last election, they were concerned. ‘Mom, no one is being kind to each other. Everybody is yelling and screaming at each other, on both sides, and nothing is getting done.'”
Karinshak laughed a little, and then continued, “So that evolved to the point of ‘Mom, I’ve decided you’ve got to do something.’ I kind of laughed and asked them, ‘Well, what do you think I’m going to do?’ And they said, ‘Well, Mom, you’re a lawyer and you love people, so you need to run for office.’ So here I am.”
If elected, she would be a representative of District 48, which includes the communities of Alpharetta, Berkeley Lake, Duluth, Johns Creek, Lawrenceville, Norcross, Peachtree Corners, and Suwanee, adding that the district is one of the most diverse in the country. She would be involved in state policy and laws, as well as budget issues. Karinshak is also the daughter of an Iranian immigrant, and her campaign is endorsed by the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC) and has a strong local following in District 48.
As a partner at Krevolin/Horst LLC, she is listed as a top whistleblower attorney for cases such as white collar criminal defense, corporate internal investigations, and complex civil litigation. Her biography on the firm’s site also backs up her claim of working on a government level, having served as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia for 8 years, which gave her experience in conducting grand jury investigations, trials, and prosecuting cases involving fraud, public corruption, money laundering, violent crimes, child exploitation, and immigration.
“One reason I’m particularly well suited for that is I’m a lawyer, and I have been involved in the past in attacking statutes for their constitutionality because I have done some civil rights work,” Karinshak said. “Also, (I have been involved) in drafting laws because I was counsel to Roy Barnes back in the day when he was governor, and he was the last Democrat to hold office. I’ve also been tapped by other folks throughout the years to comment on certain laws or draft certain laws on both sides of the aisle.”
She also says her time in the military and her role as a mother prepare her in ways that give her an edge. “I feel like my life has really prepared me for these challenges because of every different piece of (my life) responds to someone in the district. We do have a lot of veterans, too. I’ve been very encouraged and inspired by talking to the veterans in the district, and I would love to be able to serve our community.”
When asked about politics, Karinshak expressed her hopes. “I also am concerned about the future of all generations and making sure we have a fresh look at how we conduct our business as a government … people being involved, having a mechanism to communicate with whoever is representing them,” she said.
“That’s where I will be very different. I will be very accessible — I already am. Everyone’s got my website and my social media, and on my website there is a tab that says, ‘Share your ideas,’ and you can share them at any time,” Karinshak added. “I’m not actually a politician. I consider myself someone who has dedicated my life to service.”
When asked about what issues students should be concerned about, she answered, “Unlike what I think other politicians do, I don’t want to be dictating what I think is important to you. I want you saying what’s important to you.” However, from a mother’s point of view, she focused on education, specifically the debts students are saddled with when they graduate. She cited that coming out of college only to be saddled with debt was devastating to young people, and beyond that, society.
“I’d like for every young person to pursue their true passion. I think that’s when you’re the most productive, best citizen is when you’re able to do what you’re passionate about because it lifts everyone else up,” she said, adding that she’d heard from many students about how they had to choose between taking a job to pay off debts and pursuing their chosen careers.
Finally, I asked Karinshak if she had any lessons that could be passed on to GGC students. She answered with her family’s motto: “Don’t Quit,” a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier.
“I would advise everybody: Don’t quit. No matter what happens, don’t listen to people who tell you that you can’t do something. If I had listened to people who told me I couldn’t do something, I would never have accomplished what I’ve accomplished here. I had the boldness to dream,” Karinshak said.
“I encourage every college student to do that. If you want to be a lawyer, reach out to lawyers. If you want to be a doctor, reach out to doctors … but don’t quit. And sometimes that’s very hard, to not quit, and that really is our family motto. It hung on our refrigerator and I still have it and I carry it with me. That is the most important thing to tell people: Don’t quit. Don’t lose hope.”
She also emphasized the importance of being involved and voting. “When I was canvassing, which is going door to door, a young woman came to the door who had a little baby girl, and she said, ‘I have to be honest. I’ve not been enthusiastic about voting for anybody. It’s just a mess. No one is getting anything done, and I just feel like my vote doesn’t matter,'” Karinshak said.
“And I said to her, ‘I am so sorry to hear that. As a veteran, that hurts my heart that you’ve lost faith in our government and how we can move things forward. Please don’t give up on us, don’t quit. Do this for your family and what’s important to you and vote. And I don’t care who you vote for … I’d love you to vote for me … but I want is for you to be engaged, and we don’t know what you think if you aren’t sharing it. And I don’t want somebody to give up and say it doesn’t matter, because it does.'”
The last day to vote is Tuesday, November 6th. With many local and state politicians running in Georgia, students are some of the strongest voices that need to be counted. Please, vote. It matters.