By Tobey Alexandra Schmidt
State Rep. Daniel Hernandez is well-known, beyond his notoriety for helping save Rep. Gabby Giffords’ life seven years ago as a college intern during the Tucson mass shooting.
The Tucson Democrat, who is seeking re-election this year, has been a Sunnyside Unified School District board member since 2011, and at 28 years old, he’s the youngest legislator. Since 2016, he has represented LD2, which includes South Tucson, Sahuarita, Green Valley and Santa Cruz County. The primary is August 28, while the general election is November 6.
“Even though I’m new, even though I’m younger and even though I’m a Democrat, I’m able to find ways to get things done,” Hernandez says.
He describes himself as a pragmatic progressive – very progressive on social issues – but he understands he lives in Arizona, a historically Republican state.
“I am not going to get 100 percent of what I want,” he says.
“If I can get 10 percent now and come back later, I will always do that. If I’m going to lose, I’m going to lose forward.”
He stands up for what he believes in, but tries to find common ground with fellow politicians, he says. He received bipartisan support on a sexual assault bill, getting 10 Republican cosponsors, and 60 out of 60 votes on the House floor.
“That doesn’t happen for Democrats very often,” he says.
His life revolves around politics, but it wasn’t always that way.
“We grew up in a family that wasn’t political at all,” he says.
When he says “we,” he’s referring to his two sisters, Alma and Consuelo Hernandez, who are also running for office. Alma is in the race for State House in LD3, while Consuelo is running for her brother’s Sunnyside board seat. Hernandez is on the board through the end of 2018.
The three of them grew up in the Sunnyside Unified School District area, near the famous El Guero Canelo Sonoran-style hot dog stand. Their parents moved to Tucson in 1989, and their Sonoran mother became a U.S. citizen in 2016.
“It wasn’t enough that I ran for office twice, that wasn’t enough to persuade her to become a citizen,” Hernandez jokes.
In 2007, at age 17, Hernandez signed up to work for Hillary Clinton’s campaign via her website and didn’t expect a call back. The next day, her committee called and soon he was attending events, knocking on doors, making phone calls, and eating plenty of stale, cold pizza.
When the Clinton run ended in 2008, Hernandez began working for Giffords’ campaign. In 2011, during his junior year at UA, Hernandez worked as an intern for Giffords and attended a political event at a local grocery store on January 8. A man opened fire, with Giffords as the target. Hernandez took actions that changed his and Giffords’ lives.
“The shooting forced me to become uncomfortable, because 12 hours after the shooting I was doing my first interview and within a week I had done over 100 interviews,” he says.
At the time, Hernandez aspired to become a doctor. However, Giffords challenged him to be the voice of people who didn’t have one. After the shooting, he decided he to work in advocacy and policy.
In addition to running his campaign, Hernandez is finishing his bachelor’s degree in political science. He continues to work for nonprofit organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for gun control and against gun violence, and Planned Parenthood.
Hernandez says he doesn’t have a five-year plan and he still doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up. After all, he’s only 28, he says..