August 17, 2008

Fort Worth man plays key role in McCain camp

Sun, Aug. 17, 2008


Juan Hernandez is a defender of immigrant rights, a position that puts him at odds with some in the GOP.

FORT WORTH — For years, Juan Hernandez was a familiar sight at Joe T. Garcia’s — strolling among diners and singing as a local troubadour.

His work there led to singing at weddings and recording albums in Spanish and English. He earned enough money to pay for graduate school and learned lessons that would help him through the years, said his father, Francisco Hernandez Sr. "His years as a troubadour gave him so much time working with people," he said. "He learned to win the appreciation of people."

That may have helped, as Juan Hernandez — a lightning rod because of his passionate defense of immigrant rights — has had a career that led him from teaching literature in Dallas to being the first U.S.-born person named to a Cabinet position in Mexico, under President Vicente Fox.

He is now the Hispanic outreach director for Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, an unpaid volunteer who has the delicate task of trying to gain Latino support for McCain while fielding criticism for his position on immigration as well as for the years he spent working for Fox.

"People tell him he should be in the Democratic Party," said his brother Francisco Hernandez Jr., a local attorney. "But he says the place you have to change hearts is in the Republican Party.

"He sees it as his mission. If he had $1 for every person in the McCain camp who . . . agrees with him, he’d be set financially for a year. But some people throw rocks at him."

The McCain campaign and Hernandez will be in the spotlight more than ever during the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, set for Sept. 1-4.

Family ties

Juan Hernandez, 53, is the eldest of six children — born to a Fort Worth mother, Mary Clay, and a Mexican father, Francisco Sr. — followed by Marjorie, Nina, Francisco Jr., Daniel and Mary Clay.

They grew up as dual citizens of the U.S. and Mexico, getting their education in English and Spanish, formally moving to Fort Worth in 1977. Their father, who has a law degree from Mexico that isn’t recognized in the U.S., worked as a roofer, interpreter and adviser.

Francisco Sr. doesn’t take government help, such as Social Security, but he does believe in giving back to his community.

He set the example as his children grew up, from fighting for a gymnasium to be built at a local elementary school to working for soccer fields to be created for area youths. Through the years, he has encouraged his children to help where possible.

"My dad thinks you can make a bigger impact in office," said Francisco Jr., a former associate municipal judge and past commissioner of the Texas Ethics Commission. "I think you can make a more important impact not being in office."

Juan’s path led him to work for Fox and now McCain.

Francisco Jr. runs a local law firm and serves on the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport Board after an unsuccessful bid for a Texas House seat in 1996.

Daniel also works at the law firm and the Fort Worth Housing Authority, after years on the zoning commission and months on the city building standards commission. He briefly considered a City Council bid last year when Councilwoman Wendy Davis stepped down.

"My dad instilled in us to do something for somebody else," Daniel Hernandez said. "It’s not so much about politics, but somehow giving back."

Two loves

Juan Hernandez was born in Fort Worth and has homes here, in Mexico and in Washington, D.C.

In the 1990s, he was a literature professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, where he founded the Center for U.S.-Mexico Studies, combining his love of the two countries.

He was in that role when he invited then-Guanajuato Gov. Vicente Fox to speak in Dallas and meet with then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Juan Hernandez ended up working with Fox for years, helping with free-trade issues and his presidential campaign.

After Fox won the presidency, he named Hernandez to his Cabinet, making him the first U.S.-born person to hold such a position, which included serving as director of the Presidential Office for Mexicans Abroad. The appointment drew strong criticism from some in Mexico and in the Mexican media.

"You’re going to have to have some thick skin in anything we do for a living," Daniel Hernandez said. "But we know who our family and friends are — and Juan’s Christian faith is unreal."

Under fire

Juan Hernandez has been taken to task by Republicans who criticize the government for not doing more on immigration. They have called on McCain to fire Hernandez, who has advocated open borders — a position sharply opposed in Republican Party platforms.

His home page includes a message to Congress, saying that "with solutions to border, immigration, and guest worker issues so logical and obvious, it can only be the handiwork of feuding Washington special interest groups to have befuddled and complicated what is clear and simple." And his 2006 book, The New American Pioneers, passionately defends Mexican immigrants.

"He rejects in principle the idea that we should have assimilation and we should have border enforcement," Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, has said.

Last year, when McCain’s campaign was being overshadowed by other Republican presidential hopefuls, including Rudy Giuliani, Juan Hernandez signed on to McCain’s campaign as an unpaid volunteer.

Hernandez declines interviews about his work with McCain. Newsweek recently ran an article, "Why Won’t Juan Come to the Phone?," saying Hernandez is "toxic to many conservatives" but "has good ties to the Latino community."

"It’s tough to hear the criticism," said Francisco Hernandez Sr. "The point is, I believe in many of his points."

He also believes in McCain and even got to go to breakfast with him and Juan — a move that won him over. "I didn’t know anything about him, really," Francisco Sr. said. "But to hear him talking, the way he was expressing himself, he was humble but he knew what he was doing.

"I will vote for him, not totally because Juan is working with him," he said. "But because he shows integrity, love and loyalty."


Juan Hernandez Age: 53

Where he’s from: Fort Worth, where he was born, and Guanajuato, Mexico, where he was raised when not in Fort Worth.

Where he lives: Fort Worth, Mexico, Washington, D.C.

Family: Married to Estela, his childhood sweetheart. They have four children — Estela, John, Laura Clay and Mariana. Parents: Francisco Hernandez Sr. from Guanajuato (state) and Mary Clay Hernandez, a Fort Worth native. Siblings: Marjorie, Nina, Francisco Jr., Daniel, Mary Clay.

Family tradition: Juan Hernandez and some of his siblings split their time between Mexico and Fort Worth. To this day, in their parents’ home, they speak Spanish to their father and English to their mother.

Party affiliation: He has been involved in Republican politics for 20 years. His brother, Francisco Jr., jokes that his bid for a Texas House seat — as a Democrat — is the one blemish on Juan Hernandez’s Republican voting record.

Little-known facts: He has written several books of poetry in both Spanish and English. And the only way he would work for McCain was as an unpaid volunteer. "That was his condition. He would go work for [McCain], but he wouldn’t take a paycheck," Francisco Jr. said. "Then you don’t have to compromise your beliefs."

— Anna M. Tinsley

ANNA M. TINSLEY, 817-390-7610

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