Westside Legislative District 3, which includes the University of Arizona, downtown and Tucson's west side, is such a heavily Democratic district that it didn't even draw a Republican candidate in the general election (although Green Party candidate Beryl Baker will be on the November ballot.)
That means, for all intents and purposes, the Aug. 28 primary will decide who will be serving in the Arizona House of Representatives. The incumbents have hit their term limits, so there are three Democrats running for two open seats: state Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford; Andres Cano, an aide to Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias; and Alma Hernandez, whose brother, Daniel Hernandez, already serves in the Arizona House of Representatives.
Olivia Cajero Bedford: "I'm going to be elected"
Olivia Cajero Bedford is confident going into the LD 3 Dem House primary. She's served in the Arizona legislature since 2002, between the House and the Senate, and says constituents continually encourage her to seek re-election. And her campaign tactics, including driving a bright purple truck adorned with matching campaign signs through the district and building rapport with the residents, have helped her continually win those elections.
Over her 16 years in public office, Cajero Bedford says she's been "honored and proud" to serve LD 3.
She said her greatest accomplishments at the state Legislature include engaging the public on issues of state government and serving 14 years on the Appropriations Committee, which oversees the budget for the state. Cajero Bedford said this is the most important work: recognizing the issues to help decide a budget that's over $10 billion. Cajero Bedford has hit her term limit in the Senate, so she is running to serve once again in the House of Representatives. If she's successful, she hopes to continue serving on the appropriations committee.
She has some other priorities, driven by stories she's heard from constituents. Specifically, she wants to increase the amount of time people have to file legal claims against public entities in wrongful death cases. The current "notice of claim" rule gives people 180 days to file a claim, but Cajero Bedford wants to see that time extended to a year. This was inspired by a constituent who lost her son to suicide after possible malpractice at a county crisis center. The mother was unable to file a claim because she couldn't gather all the necessary paperwork in 180 days.
In her interview with Tucson Weekly, Cajero Bedford also weighed in on a variety of hot-button issues.
On education, she supports the #RedforEd movement and hopes to see funding for public education increased to the levels it was at 10 years ago, per student. She hopes a Democratic governor will be elected to replace Gov. Doug Ducey because she believes that would be key to having more education funding. She'd also like the state to develop tougher regulations on charter schools. Her support for public education earned her the endorsement of Save Our Schools Arizona Chair Beth Lewis.
In the wake of school shootings nationwide, Cajero Bedford supports universal background checks on firearm sales. She opposes plans to arm teachers.
"Every single teacher I talk to, if that issue was brought up, none of them wanted more guns on a school campus," she said.
Unlike some Democrats, Cajero Bedford doesn't support legalizing marijuana, but she believes decriminalizing the drug would benefit minority communities that are unevenly affected by enforcement.
In the LD 3 Democratic primary race, Cajero Bedford is the candidate who has been in politics the longest, and it's not even close. The other two candidates, Andrés Cano and Alma Hernandez, were still in elementary school when she first took state office.
In fact, her statehouse connections and experience make it easy for opponents to label her as part of the "establishment." And her time in the legislature hasn't been entirely without controversy. But if that fazes Cajero Bedford at all, she doesn't show it. She offered a confident assessment of her chances in August's primary.
"I'm going to be elected," she said.
Andrés Cano: "I'm going to support any effort that stands behind investment in public education"
Andrés Cano wants everyone to know he's a proud product of Arizona's public schools.
At just 26 years old, the Democratic primary candidate for LD 3 House is not too far removed from that education.
"I graduated from City High School, which is downtown (Tucson), and they're the ones that taught me about what it means to contribute to our community and to learn from the folks around us," he said.
Since finishing high school, Cano became the first in his family to graduate from college and later became an aide to Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías. In 2016, he became the first Latino recipient of the Emerging Leader award from the Center for the Future of Arizona, awarded to a promising early-stage public servant.
Cano believes education is the most important issue in his district, which includes much of downtown and west Tucson, home to some 86,000 active voters. He wants to protect Arizona's public education system, a system he says gave him "hope and opportunity," but which he feels is under attack from the state Legislature.
Specifically, he objects to the expansion of a system that uses publicly funded vouchers to send students to private schools. Voters will decide whether to expand the system in November. While supporters of vouchers argue that all parents should have the ability to send their kids to private or religious schools, Cano sees it differently.
"I think it's another attempt for us to try to dismantle our public schools," he said. "I think the reality is, we have good schools right now that we should be investing in that have crumbling infrastructure, leaking water pipes. I think it's upon us to be able to support the schools that are in existence."
Cano supports the Invest in Education Act, which would increase income taxes on the wealthy for teacher pay and school maintenance and operations. The initative is still undergoing a check of signatures and is facing a legal challenge from opponents who want to keep it off the November ballot.
Cano is also a staunch supporter of the #RedforEd campaign, citing his endorsements from numerous education leaders and his presence at rallies throughout the movement. He said it was "ludicrous" that some teachers to have to pay out of pocket to provide classroom supplies and snacks for students: "I asked [teachers], 'How much money do you spend every year in providing for your students?'
"They said, 'We don't even keep track of that anymore because it's just a part of what we do.' And I consider that kind of devotion God's work, and we have to continue to do everything possible to restore the funding that has been cut."
Beyond public school funding, Cano said he would push for more state support for community colleges, including his district's Pima Community College. He called it "a travesty" that the state cut support for the college, saying there is bipartisan support for restoring lost funding.
Cano also believes the government can do more to prevent shootings in schools. He objected to Gov. Ducey's plan for school safety over its failure to address the "gun show loophole," which allows people to purchase firearms from second-hand gun dealers without a background check.
While Cano isn't running on education alone—he cited criminal justice reform and closing tax loopholes for corporations as two other issues that matter in his district—the preservation of Arizona's public schools is the backbone of his campaign. If elected, he vows to be steadfast in that area, saying simply: "I'm going to support any effort that stands behind investment in public education."
Alma Hernandez: "I have seen what the budget cuts do"
When David Duke targeted Arizona House candidate Alma Hernandez on Twitter, she considered it a sign she was doing something right. The LD 3 candidate is proud to be Jewish, Hispanic and a progressive Democrat, three areas that make her a natural target of the former KKK leader.
While the tweet intimidated her at first, Hernandez said she refuses to live in fear, instead continuing to focus on the issues she says are most important to LD 3 residents. Those issues include health care, public education and criminal justice reform—all of which have had an impact Hernandez personally.
Having worked in both public health and politics, she has seen the often-complicated interactions between those two fields and has ideas about how the state government can help Arizona become healthier, such as using more state funds for prevention programs and research that would lower the rate of illnesses such as diabetes and opioid addiction.
"If we were actually investing as a state in preventing some of these diseases and negative, adverse health effects that affect the people of our community, we wouldn't be spending as much on health care," she said.
On education, she strongly opposes expansion of the private-school voucher program and wants to see more state support for public schools.
"Being that I was born and raised in the south part of Tucson and going to Sunnyside schools, I have seen what the budget cuts do, not only to our staff but to the children in our schools," she said. Her advocacy for public education led her to support the #RedforEd movement and more school funding, but she said any new funding initiative should be "equitable."
Hernandez's desire to reform the criminal justice system was born when, as a high school freshman, she was attacked from behind by two women outside her school. She said a school resource officer saw the attack and rushed to the scene, but he responded aggressively and ultimately did more harm than good.
"The officer ended up attacking me during that process," she said. "So unfortunately, now I suffer from severe spinal damage."
The incident resulted in the arrest of both the attackers and Hernandez. Hernandez was charged and sent to a juvenile detention facility. She was eventually released and the charges dropped, but the memory has become a big motivator in her political career, certainly regarding criminal justice reform but also school safety.
Staunchly opposed to Gov. Ducey's school safety proposal, Hernandez also questions whether the presence of school resource officers and metal detectors make Arizona schools safer, saying they are "militarizing" the school environment. Instead, she advocates for more counselors who could identify and treat students who display the capacity for violence.
"If someone wants to hurt people, they're going to find a way to do it," she said. "I personally think that before we talk about putting more armed people on our school campuses, we should be talking about actually funding things like school counselors and working with people who actually have mental health issues."
Additionally, Hernandez opposes the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders, especially marijuana users. She said the state is spending money on incarcerating people who smoke weed instead of funding education programs. She also opposes private prisons.
Despite much of her platform reflecting common progressive Democrat positions, Hernandez views herself as outside the political establishment. She said she is not supported by the Democratic party in LD 3, which she sees as giving her an advantage over her opponents.
"In Legislative District 3, what we've noticed is for far too long, people have said that they're not going to vote in these elections anymore because it's always the same people with the same ideas running," she said. "I'm doing this on my own. I don't have someone telling me what I need to be thinking or what I need to be doing."