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GV News: Hernandez lacks UA degree despite claims

An editorial by the Green Valley News has blasted legislative candidate Daniel Hernandez Jr. over his claims to have a degree from the University of Arizona. Editor Dan Shearer reported that Hernandez has not graduated from the school, and that the Democratic candidate hemmed and hawed when Shearer looked into the matter.

Hernandez, who rose to national notice when he tended to then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' wounds in the aftermath of the Jan. 8 attack, said Saturday that he was "embarrassed" by what he said was "never an intentional misrepresentation" that he had graduated from the UA when he has not received a diploma from the school.

He said he would work to fulfill his graduation requirements.

Hernandez, 26, has served on the Sunnyside School District's Governing Board since being elected at age 21. He is running in the Democratic primary for one of two Legislative District 2 seats, which covers Green Valley and Sahuarita.

Many of Hernandez's online biographies have claimed that he was a graduate of the UA, including his campaign website, which he changed this week after Shearer questioned whether the candidate had gotten a diploma.

Saturday, Hernandez's bio on the Sunnyside website still read, "He received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Arizona."

Hernandez acknowledged in an interview with TucsonSentinel.com on Saturday that he was not a graduate, but that UA officials "told me it was OK if I called myself an 'alumni.'"

Hernandez said he was contacted in "late April" by university officials about the statement on his website.

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"I just haven't had time to take care of the situation," Hernandez said.

The legislative candidate said that Shearer's report that he was one class short of being eligible for a degree was "probably correct."

"I'll be down at the UA first thing Monday morning to do what I need to do to take care of this," Hernandez said. "If I have to take another class, I'll certainly do that. I'll take the math class online."

"This just passed me by," said Hernandez, listing a whirlwind of political activities in which he's been involved since his 2012 senior year: serving on the Sunnyside board, advocating for gun-control legislation, and traveling to make numerous speeches.

"It is embarrassing," he said. "I understand how this looks, and I want to take care of it."

In 2012, "I participated in the commencement ceremony and never really gave it a second thought," Hernandez told Shearer.

GV News editor Shearer said that UA officials told him they contacted Hernandez in 2013, informing the former Giffords intern that the bio associated with his book, "They Call Me a Hero," incorrectly asserted that he was a graduate.

"I don't remember that," Hernandez told TucsonSentinel.com. The UA may have sent a letter to his parents' address, rather than where he was living at the time, he said.

"I wasn't trying to obfuscate or make it more difficult," Hernandez said of his statements to Shearer.

The Green Valley journalist had a different take:

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Hernandez was a junior political science major when Giffords was shot and the interview requests started rolling in. He stayed in school and was on target to graduate in spring 2012. On Monday, he told me he did just that, and his bio on the Sunnyside website says the same thing — Daniel Hernandez, University of Arizona graduate. Dozens of stories about him online echo the claim, as do his online biographies with at least three speakers bureaus he’s connected to, including Simon & Schuster.

But Hernandez hasn’t graduated from college. I found out during a routine check with the UA as I was writing what was shaping up to be a rather glowing editorial about him. According to a UA spokesman, he is one math class short.

The lack of a diploma is insignificant. Hernandez has done a lot of good work in the past five years, and none of it required a degree. He’s driven, goal-oriented and smart. But Daniel Hernandez also lied. And when I called him Thursday to ask about the degree, the more he talked, the more he lied.

Over and over and over.

"Running for office without a college degree doesn’t mean a thing. Lying about having a college degree for years, then telling more lies in an attempt to cover it up, is a problem," Shearer editorialized.

Hernandez said Saturday that "Yes, I should have been more on top of this. I'm not asking for forgiveness from anybody. I'm owning up to it."

"I'm not scared of math," he said, referring to the course credits he apparently still lacks. "What I am afraid of is candidates like (Republican) Chris Ackerley who will walk away, and leave 30,000 kids without healthcare."

"I was an SCHIP kid," Hernandez said. "Without (the State Children's Health Insurance Program), I probably would have been dead, having been diagnosed with Grave's disease."

Hernandez jested that he might have to ask for tutoring help from some Sunnyside graduates, "because of the great education they've had," and that he'd invite Shearer to a graduation party when he finally receives his UA diploma "to show that there are no hard feelings."

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Will Seberger Photography

Daniel Hernandez at the makeshift memorial at University Medical Center in the wake of the 2011 attack.