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Potawatomi serves in Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature

Although Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal member Monroe Jeffrey technically retired from financial management, accounting is still close to his heart. Jeffrey moved into Tribal elder housing a few years ago after living most of his life in California.

Since arriving, Jeffrey has found a way to give back through his experience as the Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature’s treasurer. 

Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature representative Monroe Jeffrey visits with constituents at the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Elder Center.

“It’s always been my opinion that the day you stop ‘doing’, is the day you start dying,” Jeffrey said.

His father, originally from Sand Springs, Oklahoma, enlisted in the United States Navy when the U.S. entered WWII and found subsequent work as a welder in the Bay Area. Jeffrey was born in San Francisco, California, in 1943, as the city swelled with service members and civilians supporting the war effort. The family moved south as he grew older, and the Crumbo and Wilmette family member graduated from high school in Chula Vista.

He lived in an around Los Angeles and Riverside, and even served as an elected public official at the municipal level.

After moving to the Tribal elder housing program in 2014, Jeffrey discussed his experience as an elected official with an acquaintance. That person suggested he get involved in the Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature.

Billed as “a voice speaking for the best interests of older Oklahomans,” the OSHL formed in 1981 to educate the state’s elders about the local legislative process. Additionally, the group’s advocates increase the visibility of critical issues impacting the state’s older population through their interactions with policy makers and elected officials.

It didn’t take long for Jeffrey to get involved.

“Being an elder, new to town and looking for something worthwhile to do, it seemed like a natural choice,” he said.

With his drive and experience, Jeffrey became a regular at OSHL meetings. To be elected representatives of the organization, candidates must be 60 years old and registered to vote in the Oklahoma precinct they wish to represent. Those elected serve two-year terms for the 10 districts across the state. There are 22 senators, 44 representatives and 66 alternates to fill in when necessary.

Jeffrey’s motivation to learn more about the legislative process convinced him to run for office as a senator in the OSHL. He was elected first in 2014 and again in September 2018.

“Attending the OSHL legislative session continues to be a learning experience for me. I better understand how law is made in Oklahoma and how the laws impact vulnerable, older Oklahomans,” he said in a press release after his re-election. “Four bills and two resolutions, written and submitted by OSHL Legislators, will be proposed to the state Legislature for the 2019 Oklahoma legislative session. If passed, these OSHL bills will improve the lives of older Oklahomans.”

In addition to his service as a senator, Jeffrey accepted the position as OHSL AA treasurer.

“Mostly, I provide bookkeeping services — keeping written records of all our transactions, preparing year-end reports, and advising our executive committee on budget proposals and potential new income sources, tax issues and other occasional related legal concerns,” he explained.

OSHL elections take place in even-numbered years, and those elected attend a two-day training session about the legislative process and issues affecting Oklahoma’s elderly populations. In odd-numbered years, the elected officials hold their own legislative session to consider bills and resolutions. If supported, the silver haired legislators forward the five most pressing or important bills to Oklahoma’s Statehouse. The group also meets annually at the Capitol in September. For the group’s treasurer, preparing for that meeting means carrying a heavy workload.

“My busy time occurs in the months leading up to our annual meeting in mid-September and immediately following, which is also the end of the (fiscal year) when the year-end reports are compiled,” he said.

Statistics show that in the last four decades, voters older than 45 cast ballots far more often than their younger counterparts. The presence of advocacy organizations like the AARP goes a long way in promoting elder issues at the national and state level. However, elders like Jeffrey play a vital role in communicating with people in the districts in which the OSHL elected officials live and serve. He currently lives in CPN’s elder housing and participates in the center’s activities and meetings throughout the week. He hears firsthand the issues impacting them.

Jeffrey points at a recent bill from the Oklahoma State Legislature and proposed state question on the November 2018 ballot as examples of the OHSL’s effectiveness.

“Our most recent success came when Governor Mary Fallin recently signed into law our proposed legislation establishing an ‘adult abuse registry,’” he said. “The current State Question 793 was one which we had originally submitted for legislative action.”

House Bill 3064 requires the state attorney general’s office to establish and maintain the Vulnerable Adult Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Registry. State Question 793 proposed an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution to allow optometrists and opticians to practice in retail establishments, providing greater access for those geographically isolated from medical establishments.

Jeffrey takes pride in the fact that volunteers run the organization, which is funded through membership dues, filing fees and donations. Citizen Potawatomi Nation recently contributed $500 to support the group’s efforts. For the OSHL AA treasurer, keeping track of those finite resources and allocating them to their elected officials is essential.

If the responsibilities that Jeffrey and his fellow silver haired legislators carry seem like a burden for people trying to enjoy their golden years, it’s because they are. But the issues are too important.

“I enjoy having some political influence that may translate into the betterment of what the future holds in store, not only for myself, but my acquaintances and friends,” he said.

To learn more about the Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature and your community’s representative, contact your local AARP office or call the Oklahoma Department of Human Services Senior information line at 1-800-211-2116.

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