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Running for Office – How Boomers are Changing Politics

May 21, 2019

While is under construction, our articles can be found here on our sister site, Nola Family. 

“States such as Michigan, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Washington all have excellent senior services programs. Louisiana doesn’t.”

A grassroots movement of Boomers running for public office is taking hold in Louisiana.

After retiring from state government, and at age 67, Jerel Giarrusso decided to run for a vacated seat in the Louisiana state legislature, representing her district just outside of Baton Rouge. It was her first-time run for political office and seemed like the logical next step.

“I didn’t let the fact that I was past retirement age deter me,” she says. Giarrusso is young at heart and maintains a youthful appearance. “Our kids are grown and gone, so I had the time to give to the office. Most of all, I still wanted to work and stay engaged in public service.”

Giarrusso is from a long line of public servants in New Orleans. Two of her uncles, Joe and Clarence, served as police chiefs for the N.O.P.D. Joe later served on the city council and Clarence later served as a juvenile court judge. Her cousin, Joe III, currently serves on the city council. Joe III’s mother is Judge Robin Michaels Giarrusso.

“Public service runs in the family,” she says.

Giarrusso is on the forefront of what some hope will become a movement in the state: senior citizens running for elected office.

“Who could represent the needs of senior citizens better than someone over 60 years of age?” says Cheron Brylski of Elect Louisiana 60+, a bi-partisan effort to encourage Boomers to run for office.

Tired of Being Ignored
At almost 70, Jerel Giarrusso decided she wanted to make her free time count for something, so she ran for public office.

“Seniors have the time, experience, and knowledge to be leaders in state and local government.”

Elect Louisiana 60+ is an all-volunteer, grassroots effort, funded through personal donations. It grew out of meetings with the Caregiver Collective, an organization founded by the AARP. Its purpose: to encourage older men and women who have reached retirement age to run for office, especially the Louisiana Legislature.

Elect Louisiana 60+ views its role as educational, informational, and inspirational.

Brylski points out that the state legislature has repeatedly ignored funding efforts to allow seniors to age at home.

“Most seniors want to stay at home, but many are denied access to basic services, such as respite care, daycare, and in-home services. All of these are less expensive than nursing homes. Most states offer this assistance and more to seniors.”

She also points out that the burden of caring for seniors most often falls on a daughter, who is often also raising grandchildren.

“It’s more than a 24-hour job for these women,” she says.

Elect Louisiana 60+ wants to change all of this. Their message: You can do this. Seniors have the time, experience, and knowledge to be leaders in state and local government. Be committed to doing good for your age group and others.

The organization directs potential candidates on where to learn the basics of running for office, such as fundraising, recruitment of supporters, identifying issues that are important to candidates and constituents and mobilizing voters.

“According to the 2016 Louisiana census, there are one million men and women in the state over the age of 60. By 2020, this number will grow by nearly 250,000. Their voices need to be heard,” says Brylski.

Hugh Eley of Live at Home Louisiana understands the needs of seniors first hand.

“Louisiana doesn’t do a great job in caring for seniors,” he says. “The state ranks number 50 in senior health. It has among the highest per capita population in nursing homes and a very high number per capita of seniors in institutions compared to other states. It has some of the highest health care costs of any state in the U.S. People in the state capitol need to do a better job in looking after senior needs. We all need to go to Baton Rouge and fight for ourselves.”

Eley also says that in the past eight years, Louisiana fell from number 14 in percentage of long-term Medicaid dollars going to in-home services for the elderly to number 48.

“States such as Michigan, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Washington all have excellent senior services programs. Louisiana doesn’t,” he adds.

Putting Heel to Pavement

“The state legislature needs our knowledge and experience.”

The timing is right for senior candidates in Louisiana. Qualifying for the next general election is August 6-8. The primary will be held October 12 with the general election November 16. These dates are subject to change by the State Legislature, so check the Secretary of State’s website.

Giarrusso didn’t win the election in her district, in fact, she came in fifth of just as many candidates. But she has no regrets. She talked about the issues she cared about — stabilizing the state budget; improving infrastructure; education; healthcare and mental health, particularly for adolescents.

“The state legislature needs our knowledge and experience,” she says. “I would tell any senior who might be thinking about running for office to do so. Get your friends, neighbors, church members to support you. Team up with some Millennials to advise you in social media and data gathering. And keep an open mind. Most seniors have plenty of energy left.. We aren’t going anywhere.”


laura claverie

Laura Claverie is the executive editor of Nola Boomers Magazine and writes Nola Family Magazine’s Hip Grannie column.

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