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Democratic State Rep. Fernandez resigns to take USDA post

Longtime Democratic State Representative Charlene Fernandez resigned on Thursday to take a position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The former Arizona House minority leader is leaving Legislative District 4, which she has served since 2014, to become the Director of Rural Development for Arizona in the presidential cabinet, effective Nov. 15.

Her former state legislative district includes her native Yuma, and parts of western Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties, including the Tohono O’odham Nation. In her resignation letter, she says she’ll “continue serving those communities, with the same Democratic values, in a new capacity as I move on to a new chapter.”

“I have advocated for our border communities, Native nations, suburban neighborhoods, as well as the largest producers of lettuce across the world,” she said. “I can never adequately express the appreciation I have for the residents of District 4, my colleagues and my supporters. You have my respect and deepest gratitude for your trust and confidence in me.”

President Joe Biden announced the appointment of Fernandez on Thursday, as he filled six other regional roles in USDA and the Small Business Administration. The White House said the appointments “will be critical to the president’s efforts to rebuild communities most impacted by the pandemic, the economic recovery, and climate change.”

“They bring deep expertise in their issue areas as well as critical relationships with federal, state, tribal, and local leaders. And, consistent with the President’s commitment to building an administration that looks like America, these regional appointees represent the diversity of America and the communities they serve.”

Fernandez, who has spent her career in public service, worked for Democratic Congressman Ed Pastor for 12 years and later for Congressman Raúl Grijalva. She also worked for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality under former Gov. Janet Napolitano.

During her tenure representing LD 4, Fernandez served as a member of the Arizona Department of Agriculture’s Food & Agriculture Policy Advisory Committee, and played an important role in the Drought Contingency Plan agreement in 2019.

Fernandez's replacement will be determined by the Yuma County Board of Supervisors, which has a 3-2 Democratic majority. The district is also represented in the state house by Republican Joel John and in the state senate by Democrat Lisa Otondo.

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Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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Delia Johnson/Cronkite News

Rep. Charlene Fernandez speaking at the Capitol calling in April, 2019.