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Sun Gazette: Legislative Candidates Make Pitch to Senior Voters Print
BY Scott McCaffrey

Created: Saturday, October 22, 2011 7:45 am

Who shows up to vote, even in off-off-off-off-off-off-off-year elections? Seniors do!

Which may be why 10 of the 12 candidates seeking to represent Arlington in the General Assembly dutifully turned out Oct. 21 at the Fairlington Community Center, where the Arlington and Alexandria Commissions on Aging held a forum focused on a wide array of seniors-related topics.

And, for the most part, candidates promised to work harder to support needs of elderly Virginians, particularly those of limited means.

"What does that say about our commonwealth when we're not addressing these needs? It's really a crime," said Alfonso Lopez, a Democrat who is unopposed in the 49th House of Delegates district.

Lopez shared the dais with both incumbents and challengers. Only two legislative candidates aiming to represent Arlington – 32nd Senate District Republican contender Patrick Forrest and 48th House District independent Kathleen Mallard-Gillette – were not in attendance.

Topics ranged from ways to protect Virginians from elder-abuse to using state laws to make new construction more accessible to those with mobility issues.

"It costs the building industry virtually nothing when you do it from scratch," unopposed Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) said of requiring builders to make new properties accessible. "It will save taxpayers dollars to let people stay in their homes."

Dollars. As in most candidate forums this year, it all came down to dollars – or the lack of them.

"Fundamentally, it's about money and about budgets," said Del. David Englin (D-45th), who is running for re-election without opposition.

But it also was about more, he said.

"Budgets are moral documents that decide who we lift up and who we leave out," Englin said in a theme that was echoed by state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd).

"For me, it's a moral imperative that we do better in Virginia," she said, speaking specifically about providing better pay and benefits for home-health-care workers.

It was a position that was seconded by Del. Bob Brink (D-48th), who wanted to see programs put in place so home-health-care workers could continue their training, "so it is an entry into a health-care career and not a dead-end job."

"It's a tough, difficult job," Brink said. "They deserve as much support as we can give them."

Other views expressed by candidates:

* Tim McGhee, the Republican nominee in the 30th Senate District, wanted to see efforts made to connect seniors with teens, "to pass on American values from one generation to another."

* Adam Ebbin, who is attempting to move up to the 30th state Senate seat from the House of Delegates, said the state government needed to take better advantage of federal programs and funding to support seniors.

* Barbara Favola, the Democratic nominee for the 31st Senate District, pushed to have developers incorporate design elements that can be "implemented fairly easily."

* Caren Merrick, Favola's Republican opponent in the 31st Senate race, sought state incentives for research and development on new technologies that would help homeowners retrofit existing homes to meet the needs of seniors.

* Janet Murphy, the Independent Green nominee in the 48th House District, said the state government should take away impediments to those seeking to become mental-health counselors.

The forum's sponsor, the Northern Virginia Aging Network, has membership that includes the commissions on aging and area agencies on aging in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church, as well as other regional advocacy organizations.

The group's 2012 legislative-priorities list includes criminalizing financial exploitation of seniors, promoting accessible housing and ensuring that nursing-home residents receive notice of the right to return to the facilities after a hospital stay.

The group also wants better guardianship and conservatorship services, improvements in the long-term-care workforce and improved services to allow older residents to remain in their homes and their communities.

McGhee reminded the audience that they shouldn't focus their voting decisions exclusively on seniors-related issues.

Seniors "also care about the issues everyone else cares about," he said.

The reverse – that everyone should care about issues affecting seniors – also should be true, said Jane Woods, a former state senator and now an advocate for the Northern Virginia Aging Network.

After all, Woods noted, everyone, both the young and those more seasoned by experience, is "getting older by the day."