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'Stalwart' former legislator Olivia Cajero Bedford dies at 83

Gov. orders flags to half-staff on Friday in her honor

Olivia Cajero Bedford, a former lawmaker from Southern Arizona who served for nearly 20 years, has died. Cajero Bedford followed her parents into the Legislature, with terms in both the state House and Senate.

The death of the Democratic politician was announced on the floor of the state Senate on Thursday. Cajero Bedford was 83 years old.

From 1966 through 2018, most elections in Southern Arizona saw a member of her family on the ballot for the Legislature.

Cajero Bedford, an owner of hair salons before she entered politics herself, first ran for the state House in LD11 in 2000, losing in the Democratic primary by just 143 votes as two incumbents prevailed. She then ran again two years later, winning a seat in the House. She would win elections for years to come, holding a House seat through 2011 and a state Senate seat through 2019.

In the 2018 election, she was termed out after 8 terms in the Senate, and narrowly lost her bid to return to the House, losing in the Democratic primary to newcomers Andrés Cano and Alma Hernandez.

Supervisor Sharon Bronson described her as a "stalwart advocate and defender of Southern Arizona in her nearly 20 years as a legislator, serving in both the House and the Senate. She followed in the footsteps of her parents, who both served in the Legislature for nearly 30 years. Like her parents, Olivia was a proponent of public schools and fought for adequate funding for teachers and facilities, especially career and technical education.

"Every year she sponsored high school field trips to the Legislature so that young men and women could see democracy in action," Bronson said. "I can attest that a career in public service can take a toll and the people of Pima County should be proud of this strong and resolute woman who has so faithfully and tirelessly served them at our state’s capitol for two decades. She will be missed."

Gov. Doug Ducey ordered that flags across the state be flown at half-staff on Friday in her honor.

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"Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford embodied strength, perseverance and sophistication," Ducey said in a statement released by his office. "Like her parents, she believed in the value of public service and was committed to ensuring the people of her Southern Arizona district were well represented."

Cajero Bedford followed her mother and father into politics.

Carmen Cajero — the primary proponent of free textbooks for Arizona schoolchildren when that measure passed in the 1980s — was appointed to the Legislature in 1973, filling the seat that had been held by her husband Bernardo Cajero, first elected in 1966.

Carmen Cajero was re-elected for decades after, finally retiring from the Legislature in 1996.

Rep. Cano, who was just re-elected to the Legislature, said Thursday that he was "very sad to learn about the passing of our dear friend."

"Olivia worked tirelessly to advocate for Southern Arizona during her near 20 years in the state Legislature," he posted online. "She made us proud, she always showed up, and she was fearless. I will always be thankful to have campaigned with — and for — her. May she rest in power — and may her family be surrounded with love during this time."

Rep. Hernandez called her a "great legend" Thursday evening, and posted online that Cajero Bedford "was my mentor in Women In Government. She will be greatly missed. Her legacy in LD3 and her commitment to our community will never be forgotten. May her memory forever be a blessing. I will always be forever grateful for her many years of service."

Cajero Bedford died from what her family called a "brief non-COVID-related illness."

She is survived by son Travis Bedford of Tucson, Tara Chipman and son-in-law David Chipman of Arlington, Va., grandchildren Allison and Carson Chipman of Keller, Texas, and sister Monica Cajero Tardino and brother-in-law Victor Tardino of Ridgefield, Conn.

A celebration of her life will be held March 25, 2022, at 11 a.m. at East Lawn Palms Mortuary, 5801 E. Grant Rd., Tucson.

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