Church members square off for Silver-Haired Legislature seat

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 28, 2005

On May 3, Marengo County residents will head to the polls to decide which of the two qualified candidates on the ballot should represent their interests in the halls of the state Capitol. But they might not the voters, candidates, or legislature you’re thinking of.

While many in the region will be voting for either Albert Turner or Ralph Howard in the House District 72 election that same day, many of the area’s senior citizens will also be voting for a representative in the Alabama Silver-Haired Legislature (ASHL).

The ASHL is a model legislature made up of members 60 and older, with representatives elected by their peers from each of Alabama’s 105 legislative districts.

According to a brochure released by the ASHL, the ASHL convenes each fall in the chambers of the state’s House of Representatives to “consider and act on” resolutions “provided to the Alabama State Legislature and to the Governor for appropriate action on senior issues.”

“Its purpose,” says a press release regarding the May 3 elections, “is to give seniors a real-life experience in representing the interests of older Alabamians in state government.”

Vying for the opportunity to represent District 68 (made up of sections of Marengo, Clarke, Monroe, and Choctaw counties) in the ASHL are Myrtle Dunn and Drew Johnson. The two candidates are both Demopolis residents and are, in fact, both members of Demopolis First Baptist Church. Not surprisingly, there hasn’t been much mudslinging in this particular race.

“We shook hands and agreed we’d both run a clean race,” Dunn says with a laugh. “Mr. Johnson is well-known in town so I’ll have some stiff competition!”

Dunn, who says she has made campaign stops at the senior nutrition centers in Demopolis and Linden, is excited about the chance to work for the area’s senior interests.

“I’m retired now and had some spare time, so I wanted to do something positive,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed doing civic work. I’m the former president of the county Heart Fund and we raised a lot of money while I was there. I haven’t been able to have the time for something like this until now, so I’m very excited and looking forward to it.”

Dunn points out that the state’s prescription drug program, started in 2002, was created after the recommendation of the ASHL. One of Dunn’s interests this year would be a financial aid program to help seniors pay for home help and avoid having to leave their homes to receive care, though she admits that even listing the program as the ASHL’s number-one priority might not make it a reality.

“We go to Montgomery a couple of times a year to bring things before the Legislature,” she says. “You’re there working with them for a couple of days. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Dunn estimated that there would be 40 eligible voters at the Demopolis center on Washington St taking part in the election. The other polling places for District 68 will be the senior centers in Linden, Lisman, Thomasville, Monroeville, and Vredenburgh.

Johnson was unavailable for comment Monday afternoon or Tuesday.