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Hernandez says politics is ‘not rocket science’

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POSTED September 5, 2012 1:10 a.m.

STOCKTON – Jose Hernandez continues to reach for the stars.

He did it as a youngster who dared to dream about someday blasting into space.

Hernandez, who retired not too long ago from NASA – the highlight of his 10-year career as an astronaut was his 2009 shuttle mission aboard the International Space Station – is the Democratic candidate for the 10th Congressional District.

He’ll be squaring off against Republican Jeff Denham come November.

The district covers Manteca, Ripon, Escalon and Stanislaus County.

Hernandez is a newcomer to the political ring. Yet at Tuesday’s “A Conversation With” series hosted by the San Joaquin County Office of Education, he told Superintendent of Schools Mick Founts that his inexperience might be a plus.

He sees himself as a “fresh face with a lot of common sense” as well as a citizen politician over that of a career politician. He is devoid of alliances with any special interest groups.

“Besides, (politics) is not rocket science,” Hernandez said. “If not, I already have that covered.”

A son of a migrant farm worker, a product of Stockton Unified School District – Hernandez attended Franklin High (Class of 1980) and Fillmore Elementary School – a graduate of the University of the Pacific (Electrical Engineering, Bachelors) and the University of California, Santa Barbara (Electrical and Computer Engineering, Masters), and an engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, he followed a recipe made possible by his father a long time ago.

Hernandez, who, like many youngsters back then, was greatly influenced by the late Neil Armstrong taking that first step on the moon.

He recalled the events of July 20, 1969 with Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin walking on the surface of the moon on the Apollo 11 mission. The youngest of four siblings, Hernandez, who was age 7 at the time, had the duty of taking hold of the rabbit-eared antenna in hopes of getting better reception on the family’s old black and white television.

“I think it was through osmoses that I wanted to become an astronaut,” he said.

Hernandez then shared that dream with his father. Rather than discourage the youngster, the older Hernandez provided five ingredients to make that dream come true.

Decide what you want to do with your life was listed as No. 1, according to Jose Hernandez as he spoke to those in attendance at SJCOE’s Burwood Auditorium.

Next was recognizing how far you’re from that goal.

No. 3 was to draw a road map while detailing every step. “Now, you might be tempted to take short cuts, my dad said, but it’s important that you do the work,” Hernandez noted.

He continued: “No. 4, get an education.”

As for No. 5, Hernandez added, “Always give more than what’s expected.”

Meanwhile, his autobiography “Reaching for the Stars: The Inspiring Story of a Migrant Farmworker Turned Astronaut” was just released.

Hernandez is in the process of moving into his new home in Manteca. He and his wife, Adela, have five children, while previously living in Modesto and Lodi.

He continues to value education, crediting his second grade teacher Mrs. Young for influencing his parents to stay put.

Hernandez, who was born in French Camp, recalled that he and his siblings attended schools in Salida, Tracy, Modesto and Stockton while following the harvest. “We would have to do three months of homework during the summer each year,” he said.

His teacher told his parents to “not look at the kids as trees.” Staying at one school allowed the young Jose Hernandez to make the most of the classroom experience.

As for the current state of education, he believes that the federal government dictates too much at what goes on at the local level.

“They’re concerned about test scores rather than students learning the material,” Hernandez said. “We need to let the teachers create – they know what’s best for their kids.

SJCOE invited the top candidates in the Nov. 6 election for the sit-down format with Founts.

“We’re not endorsing any one candidate,” said Deputy Superintendent Gary Dei Rossi.

Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston was there last week. Assemblyman Bill Berryhill (State Senate, 5th District) is scheduled for Sept. 18.

Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (State Assembly, 12th District) will be at SJCOE on Sept. 25 while congressional candidate Ricky Gill (9th District) will close out the series on Oct. 2.

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