Rep. Fer­nan­dez talks of pri­or­i­ties, prom­ises

Yuma Sun - - NEWS - BY BLAKE HER­ZOG @BLAKEHERZOG

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

CHAR­LENE FER­NAN­DEZ

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