By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
With a soon-to-be-vacated seat in Alabama Senate District 19, two members of the state House of Representatives are fighting for the closely contested Democratic nomination in the May 24 primary.
Louise “LuLu” Alexander, of Bessemer, and Merika Coleman, of Pleasant Grove, are vying for the Senate District 19 seat held by the retiring Priscilla Dunn since 2009, when she defeated both Alexander and Coleman in a special election.
Alexander has represented District 56 since 2014, when she won with 66 percent of the vote against Republican Darius Foster. Previously, Alexander was a member of the Bessemer City Council from 1998-2010 and has owned Alexander Unity Flowers and Gift since 2002.
Alexander said that while many people “campaign on Facebook,” she is a “ground-roots” candidate.
“What sets me apart is, I’m a people person. I’m somebody that citizens can connect to and connect with. I’m a person that can talk to the citizens, hear their problems and try to get them resolved…I give respect. I don’t disrespect,” Alexander said.
Coleman, assistant minority leader for the state house democratic caucus, has represented District 57 since 2002 and has worked in economic development and social justice for organizations such as the city of Bessemer, Miles College and Greater Birmingham Ministries. Currently, she runs her own law firm and works as a social justice initiative special assistant for Miles.
Coleman said she learned a lot about the seat from Dunn, who she said is a mentor.
“She taught me a lot about statesmanship, about representing your district well with integrity and class, and I’ve modeled that throughout my tenure in the House of Representatives and would be honored to continue modeling that class and integrity, and power and strength in the Alabama Senate,” Coleman said.
If elected, Alexander said one of her top priorities is expanding Medicaid and improving access to mental health services. The current state of mental and other health care leaves many in the district behind, she said.
“A lot of citizens out here, on the streets, that’s locked up in jail . . . It’s not that they’re a bad person, or they did something bad, they’ve got mental health problems,” Alexander said.
Instead of being locked up in jails individuals with mental health issues need to have access to appropriate facilities where they can find help, Alexander said.
Increasing support for senior citizens, many of whom are on fixed incomes, is another priority for Alexander who said she would like to set aside money, perhaps from federal COVID relief dollars, for improving seniors’ homes with roof repairs, bathroom upgrades and wheelchair ramps.
Coleman said she is focusing on a number of social justice issues pointing to a joint resolution she sponsored in the Legislature, which will give voters the option to ratify a new Alabama state constitution without racist language that is included in the original 1901 constitution.
In addition, Coleman also said she will continue her fight to increase voting access for Alabamians and for women and reproductive rights.
“[I will fight for] our health rights, the right to be able to make the decisions ourselves, about our bodies. There’s been a full movement in the state of Alabama to take that right away from women. And I have been one of those champions that have talked about this issue and fought against that both statewide and nationally,” she said.
Both Sides Of The Aisle
Both stressed the importance of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats in the Alabama Legislature.
Working across the aisle is important to get things done quickly and properly and Alexander said she and a number of representatives, regardless of party affiliation, have agreed to work together,
“However a bill goes, we’re going to discuss that bill, and we’re going to be cordial to each other on the floor, off the floor, and we’re still gonna be colleagues and friends at the end of the day,” Alexander said.
Coleman said she has been successful working with the GOP. “Because of how the [legislature] is made up, you have to be able to work across the aisle in order to get things done, and I’ve been very successful in doing that, especially over the past two terms, but we’ll take that spirit to the Alabama Senate, if I want to make sure that senate District 19 is impacted,” Coleman said.
As with many other elections throughout the nation, crime has also become a campaign issue.
Engaging young people in the district is a crucial way to reduce crime-related problems in the area and throughout Alabama, said both candidates.
Alexander said vocational training should be a part of the curriculum. When she was in high school, Alexander said, students had access to a variety of educational programs that included sewing, hairdressing and even masonry.
“Every child is not going to be able to go to college or doesn’t want to go to college, so we want them to use their hands for something good, instead of something bad,” Alexander said.
Beyond just vocational training, Alexander said she also wants to encourage more activities for students to participate in, both at and away from school.
“I feel like an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, and right now our kids don’t have anything to do. The only thing they can do is play on their computers, on Facebook…to me, it’s not good because they don’t ever get a chance to get out in the sun,” Alexander said.
Coleman, a lawyer who sometimes represents juvenile clients, said children need more resources
“We [should] have the resources and the support within our court systems, within our community, to prop [our students] up, to give them the life skills training, to give their parents the support that they need to make sure that, indeed, they are not lured into a life of crime,” Coleman said.
“We’ve got to get our children early, so that they can end up realizing the American dream,” she added.
Coleman also said teachers in Alabama should be paid more and recent salary increases passed by the legislature were not enough.
“We need to get our teachers and our support staff at the average of what these folks need to make because they are the one that are shaping the new minds. Those professionals are with our children more hours in the day than we actually are,” Coleman said.
LOUISE “LULU” ALEXANDER
Political experience: Bessemer City Council, 1998-2010; Alabama House of Representatives, District 56, 2014-present.
Professional experience: U.S. Army, 1978-1988; U.S. Postal Service, 1989-1993; executive secretary, Law Center of Civil and Criminal Justice, 1995-1998; owner, Alexander Unity Flowers & Gift, 2002-present; former director, Lumzy Funeral Home, 1989-2009; director, Chambers Funeral Home, 1974-present and Westside Funeral Home, 2002-present.
Civic experience: Board member, Save the Youth Inc.; vice president, National Dunbar Abrams Foundation; member, Concerned Citizens of Bessemer; 2008 Alabama Delegation the Democratic National Convention.
Education: Associate degrees, business administration and computer science, Southern College (now Southern Adventist University), Collegedale, TN.
Top contributors: Angus Capital Corporation, Birmingham, $10,000; WIN PAC, Tuscaloosa, $2,500; Alabama Development PAC, Birmingham, $2,500; Alabama Positive PAC, Montgomery, $2,000.
Political experience: Alabama House of Representatives, District 57, 2002-present.
Professional experience: Economic justice strategist, Greater Birmingham Ministries, 1992-2002; manager of economic development and community outreach, Lawson State Community College, 2002-2004; director of economic and community development, City of Bessemer, 2004-2006; assistant professor of political science, Miles College, 2008-present; director of economic and community development, Miles College, 2018-2019; founding attorney, Law Offices of Merika Coleman, LLC, 2019-present; social justice initiative special assistant, Miles College, 2020-present.
Civic experience: Board member emeritus, Greater Birmingham Ministries, 2002-2020; member and former board member, Women Legislators’ Lobby, 2003-present; member, National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women, 2003-present; founding member, Midfield Voter’s League, 2006; founding member, State Innovation Exchange, 2014-present; founding member, American State Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention, 2014-present; member, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, 1993-present; member, Bethel Baptist Church, Pratt City, 1992-Present.
Education: Bachelor of Arts in mass communication and Master of Public Administration, University of Alabama at Birmingham; Doctor of Jurisprudence from Birmingham School of Law.
Top Contributors: Alabama Voices, Montgomery, $15,000; Palace Ent. LLC, Knoxville, $10,000; TRUK PAK, Montgomery, $7,500; Free Enterprise PAC, Montgomery, $6,000.