Rep. Fernandez talks of priorities, promises
Democratic state Rep. Charlene Fernandez of Yuma, who is running for her third term in the Legislature, has many reasons for wanting to go back to the House.
“I think there’s a lot of work that we started two years ago, four years ago, that continues to need our attention,” she said. “When we first got there, we (Democrats) only had 23 members. Right now we have 25, and there’s a good chance we’ll add three more, which will bring us to 28.”
She also said she promised she would seek up to four terms in the House during her first campaign. If she wins, the 2020 election will be her last before “terming out” of the Arizona House of Representatives, though some switch between the House and Senate once they hit term limits.
Having been the House minority whip for the last two years, Fernandez has entered into another race for House minority leader, which will be chosen by the Democrats’ new slate of representatives two days after the Nov. 6 general election.
She said if she wins that position, south Yuma County and the rest of District 4 will remain her top concern.
“I don’t have an outside job. I tell everyone I drive to Phoenix every Sunday to go to work on Monday and I leave on a Thursday evening. I work a full four days and then I go back to my district, I always go back, so I know what’s going on,” she said.
Conversely, it’s hard to know whether her leading the House’s Democratic caucus would prove to be advantageous for the Yuma area, she said.
“Just as with the minority whip, where I learned a lot, you’re there to guide, but you learn at the end of the day you’re kinda just like everyone else, working very hard,” she said.
Fernandez said education funding will remain a primary issue for Democrats this upcoming session, after the #RedForEd teacher walkouts last spring led to a phased-in 20 percent pay increase from the state, after being among the lowest-paid in the U.S. for years.
Charter schools, school vouchers and tax cuts remain a threat to funding traditional public school districts, she said.
Along with health care, she said, “We know that public education, the great equalizer, is very, very important. That our constituents want to make sure it’s fully funded, that our teachers are paid well, and our schools are filled with the resources needed so we can raise that next generation of leaders.”
Besides addressing those issues, she said, there’s other state funding that can be channeled into education, she said. “It depends on how many (Democrats) we come back with, and how committed people are.”
Arizona’s portion of the Colorado River basin’s Drought Contingency Plan are expected to be a factor early in the next session, which begins in January. She blamed the failure of several pieces of waterrelated bills to pass during this year’s session on Gov. Doug Ducey not bringing enough people to the table to get consensus.
“People are concerned, and they should be concerned. When we get back in January, I think that’s the first thing we’re going to see. I’m hoping they’re going to be quality water bills and things we can get behind, and get implemented to we can be a player.
“Otherwise Nevada and California are going to be dictating what we can do,” she said.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released draft agreements for the upperand lower-basin drought contingency plans this week, but the details for Arizona’s portion still need to be finalized, with some components going to the Legislature.
Fernandez, born and raised in Yuma, earned a degree in elementary education from Northern Arizona University. She worked on the staffs for congressmen Ed Pastor and Raul Grijalva, as well as former Gov. Janet Napolitano. So she is familiar with Yuma County’s long-running issue with high unemployment figures, which she partly attributes to the highly seasonal agriculture industry.
“That’s not to say that we don’t have an unemployment issue, we do need to be more vigilant about getting industry there, in Yuma County and the outlying areas,” she said.
She said investments in education as well as infrastructure are crucial in attracting more jobs, and she said a new state fee on driver’s licenses moves things in the right direction by ending sweeps of state Highway User Revenue Fund revenue from local governments in favor of the Department of Public Safety.
“I think we have a lot to offer in Yuma County. I’m always proud to talk about what’s going on there. We’re so unique, with the border with California and the international border. We just have to keep promoting ourselves, and I think we have really good people doing that,” she said.
Fernandez and the other District 4 House incumbent, Rep. Gerae Peten, D-Goodyear, are running to retain their seats against Green Party opponent Sara Mae Williams of Sells. The district includes the south Yuma County communities of San Luis, Somerton and Gadsden, along with the city of Yuma north of 24th Street and west of Pacific Avenue.
“I think we have a lot to offer in Yuma County. I’m always proud to talk about what’s going on there. We’re so unique, with the border with California and the international border. We just have to keep promoting ourselves, and I think we have really good people doing that.” Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma