Charlene Fernandez is the Democratic Leader of the Arizona House of Representatives. She was first elected to the state House in 2014 and represents Southwestern Arizona, specifically, the majority of Yuma County, western Pima County, southwestern Maricopa County and southwestern Pinal County.
Early life and education
Fernandez was born in Yuma, Arizona to the late Antonio "Tony" Ramos and Carmen Ramos. She attended Yuma High School where she graduated, and went on to attend Arizona Western College before transferring to Northern Arizona University earning a Bachelor of Science degree in education.
Fernandez worked for Congressman Ed Pastor for twelve years, coordinating constituent services for the western portion of then Congressional District 2. While working for Congressman Pastor, Charlene spearheaded an effort that culminated in bringing a Veteran's Administration clinic to Yuma County for the first time in history; previously the Phoenix Veterans facility was the closest place for them to receive these services. Her experience led to her becoming a consultant for a software company that produced a Constituent Management System for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Charlene later served Governor Janet Napolitano as a liaison for the Arizona Department of Environment Quality in Yuma County. In this capacity she worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as its counterpart in the Republic of Mexico, to ensure that the air and water in Southwestern Arizona remained safe while ensuring that businesses faced minimal impact.
Candidacy for the Arizona House of Representatives
In May 2014, Fernandez announced her candidacy and won the August primary by a margin of 12.8%. The general election was unexpectedly competitive; Republican Richard Hopkins led Fernandez on election night as the heavily Republican portion of the district reported early. The next four days saw the margins go up and down, by the fifth day, with the Democratic strongholds in Pima and Yuma counties reporting, Fernandez was declared the victor by 188 votes.
In 2016 and 2018, Fernandez successfully ran for re-election.
Vice Chair of the Arizona Democratic Party
In 2008, Fernandez was elected by the Arizona Democratic State Committee to be First Vice Chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, she served in this capacity until 2009.
Yuma Union High School Board
Fernandez was elected to the Yuma Union High School District Governing Board, serving as both President and Vice President.
Arizona Legislative Career
Arizona House Democratic Leader
Fernandez was elected Democratic Leader on November 8, 2018 after serving as Whip for two prior sessions. The Arizona House Democrats defeated four Republican incumbents to bring the chamber to a 31-29 Republican majority, the smallest it's been since the 1960s.
Currently, Fernandez serves on the Committee on Appropriations that oversee's the state's budget and spending priorities. She's also previously served on:
- Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety, Infrastructure, and Resources
- Committee on Commerce
- Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Fernandez has been very supportive of the #RedforEd movement, advocating for better teacher pay and resources for students. Speaking to reporters she called public education, "The great equalizer."
Fernandez has worked with Save Our Schools Arizona, a grassroots organization collecting signatures to refer SB1431, the ESA voucher expansion bill, to the 2018 Arizona ballot, encouraging a "No" vote. The repeal was resoundingly successful with favor from about two-thirds of Arizonans.
In 2016, Fernandez was name Legislator of Year by the Arizona Parent Teacher Association.
The Arizona Republic published a guest editorial by Fernandez in September 2015 entitled, "How I'd reform private school tax credits." In it Fernandez details her views about Arizona education funding in general and private school tuition tax credits in particular.
Fernandez has been a supporter of gun safety measures, calling for a special session in the summer of 2019 to immediately stop the threat of mass shootings and violence. She has been criticized for recognizing students visiting the capitol advocating for such measures.
Sexual harassment reporting
Fernandez fought her Republican colleagues who sought to limit the ability of sexual harassment and assault victims to report. Stating that, "We're blaming people."
Fernandez has been an outspoken advocate of LGBTQ equality in the workplace, in housing, and more. She helped form the Arizona State Legislature's LGBTQ Caucus.
Fernandez was a supporter of the successful Proposition 206 which raised Arizona's minimum wage and is credited for propelling workers' wage growth and the economy through consumer spending.
Recognizing the impact of climate change on her district and the state of Arizona, Charlene Fernandez supports measures that encourage a shift towards renewable energy. She also understands the unique geographic and ecological richness Arizona has and is committed to ensuring her grandchildren have the same access to it as she did.
Fernandez has opposed the private prison system in Arizona supported by Governor Doug Ducey. She has challenged the governor's staff from her seat on the Appropriations Committee. She supports efforts to reform sentencing for fair terms..
Access to voting
Fernandez filed a declaration in support of a Plaintiffs' Motion for a preliminary injunction against the impact of HB 2023 in 2016. The law ,which criminalizes the activities of citizens seeking to assist those in returning early ballots who otherwise may not is still being litigated in the courts. Fernandez wrote, "The collection and personal delivery of early ballots is particularly crucial among my constituency. In areas like mine that are very rural, many voters lack home mail delivery and can have trouble receiving and mailing their early ballots.” At least one county election official, Helen Purcell, a Republican from Maricopa County, chose to not enforce the law saying, "We are not the police."
Fernandez serves or has served on the Yuma Community Foundation, Board of the United Way of Yuma County, and Yuma Leadership.
Fernandez and her husband Sergio have three adult children.