Christine Marin, Ph.D.

Trailblazers 2011

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Carmen Cajero
Olivia Cajero Bedford

Former Gov. Bruce Babbitt with Carmen Cajero. Photo courtesy of Olivia Cajero Bedford

State senator Olivia Cajero Bedford didn’t have to look far from home for mentors. She credits her parents Bernardo and Carmen Cajero with having instilled in her a passion for civic engagement and public service.

The family’s history of public service started with Olivia’s father, Bernardo “Nayo” Cajero. The Morenci native settled in Tucson and opened a barber shop in the historic barrio known as “El Hoyo.” It attracted a steady clientele of neighbors, local politicians, teachers and prominent community leaders.

He entered politics encouraged in part by individuals affiliated with the civil rights organization Alianza Hispano Americana and members of the Democratic Party. In 1968, he won a District 10 seat in the Arizona House of Representatives. His work as a precinct and city ward committeeman, and his popularity as an astute businessman and president of Pueblo High School’s PTA, made his election an easy victory.

In January 1973, Bernardo passed away following a series of heart attacks, just as he was beginning his third term as a state representative. Gov. Jack Williams left it to the Pima County Board of Supervisors to select his successor; Carmen Cajero, his widow, was selected to finish his term.

Assuming office, Carmen matched Nayo’s zeal and soon established her own solid reputation as a skillful and smart legislator. Her calm but firm manner won her numerous friends and the respect of colleagues, many of whom fondly called her La Paloma.

She was a champion for the elderly, the poor, women and children. She was particularly proud of introducing an education bill that had been first favored by her husband. The bill called for free textbooks for Arizona’s high school students. She fought for this bill for more than a decade; it was finally passed and signed into law in 1985.

In the 1990s, she introduced a bill that provided state funds to the University of Arizona for bone marrow and cancer research. With her support, the university’s Cancer Research Center was established. She also supported funding for a clinic in her district to help victims of water contamination and pollution. The National Honor Roll of State Legislators acknowledged Carmen for her leadership and efforts to promote and protect the rights of women.

Olivia Cajero Bedford. Photo: Charles Sanderson

After 24 years of service, Rep. Cajero retired at the age of 81; she passed away April 1, 2007, at the age of 92.

Bernardo and Carmen’s legacy lives on in their daughter Olivia Cajero Bedford. She graduated from Tucson High School in 1956 and continued her education at Pima Community College and the University of Arizona. She worked as a hairstylist for 28 years and owned two O’Hair International salons. In addition, she also served as director of sales and marketing for the tourism/hotel industry. Years of business experience as an administrator and business owner have made her a strong advocate for small businesses and economic development.

Following in her parents’ footsteps, she became president of the Democrats of Greater Tucson and served as vice chair of the Pima County Democratic Party. In 2002, she ran for a seat in the House of Representatives in District 27 and won. In 2003, she introduced legislation to double the vocational education requirements for public high school students, given that “75 percent of children graduating from high school won’t go to college.”

She served in the Arizona State House of Representatives for seven years, until 2010, when term limits came into play. She ran unopposed for a senate seat in District 27 and took office on January 10, 2011.

Cajero Bedford is a graduate of the Council of State Governments’ Legislative Academy. She has made a name for herself as an education advocate and indefatigable supporter of women’s reproductive rights; her work has been recognized by numerous organizations, including the Victoria Foundation and the Arizona Medical Association.

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