Fort Worth

John McCain wouldn’t fire a Fort Worth man, even to help his presidential campaign

John McCain, left, and Juan Hernandez
John McCain, left, and Juan Hernandez Courtesy of Juan Hernadez

John McCain wouldn’t cave in on what he believed was right.

That’s why, during his 2008 presidential bid, he didn’t listen to the hordes of people asking him to fire Fort Worth’s Juan Hernandez, who was working as his Hispanic outreach coordinator.

“I was so pro-immigration reform ... and he was attacked for it,” Hernandez told the Star-Telegram Sunday, one day after McCain died. “Some claimed up to 500 calls were coming in to the campaign each day, asking him to fire Juan Hernandez.

“I went to resign and said, ‘I don’t think I’m helping your campaign anymore,’” he remembered telling McCain. “He hugged me, would not stop. He said, ‘Juan, do not quit. We must continue with the principles in what we believe in.’ I didn’t quit.”

Hernandez, a lightning rod because of his defense of immigrant rights, was the first U.S.-born person named to a Cabinet position in Mexico, under President Vicente Fox. He joined McCain’s presidential campaign as an unpaid volunteer who had the delicate task of trying to gain Latino support for McCain while fielding criticism for his position on immigration as well as for working for Fox.

On Sunday, Hernandez, 63, was among those remembering McCain for his courage, noting how he was undeterred in working for his beliefs.

“He was a maverick in many respects, in the sense of not being willing to accept the status quo of any organization, of any group, including his own party,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez recalled how, during the 2008 presidential bid, he and McCain worked together to prepare for some debates.

Before one of those debates, he became concerned when McCain wasn’t ready to leave his hotel room to go to the studio and review a few more questions.

So Hernandez knocked on the hotel room door. McCain invited him in but said he wasn’t quite ready.

“He was watching a basketball game,” Hernandez said with a laugh. “He wasn’t minimizing the campaign or the importance of the debate. He just had a peace about him, as if to say, ‘I’m ready, I’m prepared. And now I can do other things (including) finishing watching this very important basketball game.’

“I sat down and we watched the game,” he said. “I was trembling with nerves and he was watching the basketball game.”

Texas reaction

Here’s what some elected officials remembered about McCain.

“John McCain was born to lead. Throughout his military career, his years of cruel imprisonment and torture as a prisoner of war, his decades of dedicated service in Congress, and his quest as a candidate for the highest office, his fighting spirit could not be broken. Though he often could have chosen the easier path in life, John McCain would never surrender his love of country. He was an American warrior. Cecilia and I ask the people of Texas and of his beloved nation to join us in prayer as we mourn the loss of a true statesman.” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

“John McCain was one of the toughest men I knew. With his passing, we have lost a true hero and a patriot. I had the privilege to serve with Senator McCain on the International Republican Institute (IRI) board of directors and witnessed firsthand his dedication to freedom at home and abroad. I was particularly grateful to his commitment to advance the cause of women’s rights.” U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth

“Senator John McCain was a true patriot, who loved his family and this country before all else. He faced many hard fought battles, but his grit, his belief in working together for the greater good, and his deep loyalty to those in uniform show the measure of his character. He inspired many, and persevered for this country.” U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth

“During the 2008 presidential election, it was a privilege to work alongside Senator McCain as he shaped his health policy platform. Despite falling short of the White House, there is no question Senator McCain made an indelible impression on the American people. His servant-hearted leadership and service will be deeply missed in the halls of Congress and around the country.” U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point

“The nation lost a proud veteran, seasoned lawmaker, and beloved father. A true maverick and highly-effective statesman, John McCain’s career spanned the globe and was the envy of many. The firmness of his character, and unyielding love for this country, were unmatched. As we mourn the loss of John McCain, we’re called to be stronger patriots and better citizens. ... It’s hard to lose him, but I know the legacy he leaves will long remain.” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas

“Senator John McCain was a patriot, and an extraordinary American war hero. Born into a storied Navy family, he spent his entire life in service to his country, including 22 years in the Navy, five and a half of which were spent under the boots of North Vietnamese communists in a Hanoi prison. First elected to Congress during the Reagan Revolution, he championed the strong national defense that he knew would help ensure the survival of freedom and liberty across the globe. He did things his way, and conducted two campaigns for President of the United States with honor and integrity. Today, the State of Arizona, and our entire nation, have lost a great public servant. He was larger than life. Although he and I sometimes disagreed, I was deeply privileged to serve with him and proud to call him a friend.” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley
Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram