Last Friday evening my wife and I attended a fundraiser for Jose Hernandez, who is running for Congress in California's 10th Congressional District.
Every election cycle, I kind of enjoy going to house parties for candidates and issues, so when I got an email from a local organizer for Democracy for America, asking if I would like to attend a campaign fundraiser and rally for Hernandez, I jumped at the chance.
And I'm very glad we went!
The event was held in nearby Atherton, a very nice community a bit north of where we live. I guess that more than 100 people attended, which was a very nice turnout and filled the backyard of our host.
The food was nice, and the wine was flowing, but that was just warmup to the main event: first-time candidate Jose Hernandez, who was warm and pleasant, and who would be a definite upgrade to this seat over his Tea-Party opponent, Jeff Denham, who is currently holding the seat in California's 19th district.
Hernandez' life story is very compelling. It's a cliche to call it "The American Dream," but there are no better words.
The son of Mexican farm laborers, Hernandez was born in California. His parents followed the crops each year, spending time in both countries to earn their living.
At 10, Hernandez said, came the event that would change his life: The Apollo 17 moon mission. Hernandez said he was enthralled watching coverage of the mission on the small black-and-white TV they owned.
And, after watching the astronauts, Hernandez' father did not laugh at him when the youngster said that he would like to become an astronaut. His father sat him down and gave Hernandez some fatherly guidance: Make a plan; be determined; above all be as dedicated to his education as he was to his fieldwork.
Those lessons took hold, and Hernandez, who did not learn English until he was 12, received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1984, and a master's degree in electrical and computer engineering in 1986 from UC Santa Barbara.
He took a job at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he helped develop digital mammography tools that are now helping diagnose breast cancer. Hernandez said those tools came about due to some imaging experiments he was working on, but that the program funding the experiments got cancelled. However, he said, he and a partner had a wealth of information so they set out to figure out how best to apply the technology, and the imaging tools they developed were perfect for mammography.
That mammography technology is his proudest achievement, he said, because it's directly saving women's lives.
After his stint at Lawrence Livermore, Hernandez got an engineering job at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, which put him a step closer to his childhood goal.
Remembering his father's long-ago advice, Hernandez kept applying, being turned down, and reapplying, for an astronaut slot. After a dozen applications, he was accepted.
Jose Hernandez became an astronaut. After training, Hernandez was assigned to a 2009 space shuttle mission to the International Space Station.
As with most astronauts, he said, his experience in space changed his life. He saw the thin blue atmosphere of Earth and realized how tenuous is life on this planet.
"I became an instant environmentalist," he said.
In his remarks last week, Hernandez indicated he would be a reliable Democratic vote and supports President Obama's programs. When asked about the recent Supreme Court ruling on behalf of the Affordable Care Act, Hernandez said that, while the law is not perfect, he thinks it is a vital piece of legislation.
"I want my children to have the same access to health care that I have," he said.
The new, redistricted CA-10 encompasses the larger cities of Tracy, Modesto, and Manteca, with numerous smaller communities. The rural district is right in the heart of California's Central Valley, which is, not surprisingly, a fairly conservative electorate.
He said Hispanics make up 40 percent of the district, but that only 20 percent are of voting age. The district split its 2008 vote fairly evenly between Obama and McCain, though Democrats hold the edge in registration. In the June primary, Denham got less than 50 percent of the vote, with the Democratic vote split between two candidates.
If you add the total Democratic vote together, it would have about equaled the Republican vote. In November, presumably, Hernandez will get these same Democratic votes, so the fight will be, as usual, for the independent voters of the district.
The DCCC has named Hernandez to its list of "Red to Blue" candidates, and I believe he has a good chance of taking the seat. Several diaries on Kos have this race as leaning Republican.
But a good Democratic turnout for Obama in November, combined with a serious get-out-the-vote effort, especially in the Hispanic community, could indeed make this seat one of the vital pickups that Democrats can use to regain the U.S. House.
If you are a Kossack living in CA-10, this will be an easy choice for you in November. If you do not live in this district but have friends or family who do, make sure they know about Hernandez!
Hernandez' ActBlue page is locate here. You know what to do!
(In full disclosure: I am not, in any way, part of Hernandez' staff. But I became a fan last week. Let's get him elected!)