News » Local

Former Giffords Intern Hit With Homophobic Recall Campaign

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Tuesday August 27, 2013

The former intern who is credited with helping save Rep. Gabrielle Giffords life when she was shot in 2011 is now facing a nasty recall election in Tucson. Daniel Hernandez Jr., now an elected member of a Tucson-area school board, is now fighting to save his job for being openly gay and working toward gun violence prevention.

"I'm going to start raising money. I'm going to start talking to the community members so that they understand what's really going on," Hernandez told News 4 Tucson.

Four of the five members of the Sunnyside Unified School District, which includes parts of Tucson and surrounding areas, are now facing recall petitions -- two members who faced recall for their support of an embattled schools superintendent turned around and filed recall petitions on two members who opposed the superintendent, including Hernandez.

But the tactics being used against Hernandez are unusual. A source in the district sent us two flyers that Hernandez's opponents are reportedly handing out to parents dropping their children off at schools in the district.

Right Wing Watch repeatedly tried to contact Marcos Castro, the manager of the effort to recall Hernandez and brother in law of school board president Louie Gonzalez, to discover whether the flyers came from his campaign. Castro said that he himself got one of the flyers left at his house, but he has "no knowledge" of where they came from.

Hernandez is the subject of two attack ads. The first targets him for being openly gay, imploring, "Put a REAL Man on the Sunnyside Board... Daniel Hernandez is LGBT... We need someone who will support Sports and cares about our kids. We don't need someone who hates our values."

The second flyer attacks Hernandez's work on behalf of gun violence prevention in the wake of the Giffords shooting, claiming, "Daniel Hernandez cares about only one things [sic] taking your guns away."

"These efforts are really blatant efforts from Louie and Bobby to make sure that their recall doesn't go through," said Hernandez.

Hernandez told News 4 Tucson that critics had been gathering signatures to get rid of Sunnyside Unified School District governing members Louie Gonzales and Bobby Garcia, who were behind the effort to out him and board member Buck Crouch.

But Hernandez said that he and Crouch were not the ones who submitted the petition to recall Garcia and Gonzalez. Of the five school board members, only Eva Dong is not facing recall.

The reason for the first recall effort -- the one targeting Garcia and Gonzales -- is clear: They voted to extend Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo's contract against the wishes of many people in the community.

"They galvanized the community by keeping Isquierdo," said Richard Hernandez, who is leading the effort to recall Gonzales and Garcia.

Castro and Gonzales told the Arizona Daily Star that if the people trying to recall them would drop their effort, they would stop the effort to recall Crouch and Hernandez. The official drive to recall Hernandez was initiated by supporters of Gonzales following Hernandez's vote not to extend the contract of then-superintendent Isquierdo in June. They must amass 1,300 signatures by Dec. 14 to bring the issue to a public vote.

"There's a lot of negativity going out there, and we just want to set the record straight that we're going to fight to keep our seats as well as they are fighting to keep theirs, and we are going to go back to the people and find out what it is they want," said Gonzales.

Hernandez With Giffords Campaign Only Days Before Shooting

Hernandez, a University of Arizona student who started his internship with Giffords the Monday before the shooting is already a political veteran. He volunteered for Hillary Clinton's campaign, and as a volunteer helped Giffords get re-elected in 2008.

"I tried to find someone else who I could admire and help them get elected. Gabby immediately stood out," Hernandez told TIME Magazine, after working as a volunteer for Clinton's campaign.

He has also served as a campaign manager for a state representative and teaches young people how to run effective races. But the skill that may have counted most on Jan. 8, 2011 was the first aid he learned as part of a certified nurses' assisting program.

According to an article in TIME, Hernandez arrived at the fateful "Congress on Your Corner" event around 10 a.m. While signing people in to speak with the Congresswoman, he heard gunmen Jared Lee Loughner's first shots.

"I immediately knew that if there was a target, she would likely be it," he said. "I tuned everything out and started going into critical-thinking mode, which was that you need to get whoever's still alive some help until EMTs arrive."

President Barack Obama applauded Hernandez during a memorial service for the victims of the massacre in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 12, 2011

"He literally went in the line of fire to save Gabby," said Sami Hamed, a friend of both Hernandez and Giffords. "Not many people would do it. But also, not many people would be as calm as he was, during the shooting and after the shooting."

It looks like it will take more of this cool thinking under pressure to extricate himself from the debacle in Sunnyside.

"I'm not overly concerned they're going to get the 1,300 signatures, but just the negative tone and nature of the way they're doing it has been really bothersome and upsetting," he said. "It's disheartening that this is where we are in 2013, that people think it's okay to put out these kinds of flyers about anybody."

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.