Democratic congressional candidate Jose Hernandez failed to vote in 13 elections during the last decade, according to his Republican opponent.
Rep. Jeff Denham criticized Hernandez's spotty voting record Wednesday during candidate interviews with The Bee's Editorial Board.
Denham questioned his challenger's commitment to the representative process, noting how Hernandez had skipped many voting opportunities while living in Texas.
A list from the Texas Secretary of State, provided by Denham, shows Hernandez did not participate in at least one election every year from 2001 through 2010.
Seven of those missed elections were Democratic primaries, and six others were local elections with votes on state propositions, including a proposed ban on same-sex marriage.
Denham stressed the importance of participating in elections and said he voted even when he was serving abroad in the military.
"I don't miss a school board election or even a water board election because I think those are important," Denham assured.
Hernandez was surprised by Denham's criticism.
"I thought I voted a lot more than that," he said, explaining that he frequently traveled overseas while working for NASA, so he probably was away on some election days.
Hernandez, 50, acknowledged he likely missed several local elections, but he said he believes he has voted in every presidential election since becoming an adult.
Voting records from Texas confirm he voted in the 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 general elections, and one primary in 2008.
"I have voted more than average citizens have voted," Hernandez said.
Denham, 45, suggested that wasn't good enough for a congressional candidate.
This is Hernandez's first bid for public office. He retired last year from NASA, where he served as an astronaut and flew on a space shuttle mission.
Hernandez said he considers being a political newcomer an advantage, citing how his engineering background and problem-solving experience differs from the partisan bickering prevalent in Washington.
"Perhaps we have to give opportunities to citizen candidates, not career politicians," Hernandez said.
In his recently published biography, "Reaching for the Stars," Hernandez recounts how in September 2011 President Barack Obama urged him to consider running for Congress and how "this presidential push helped me make the decision."
Hernandez then moved from Houston back to the Northern San Joaquin Valley to seek election in the 10th Congressional District.
The district's newly redrawn boundaries include Stanislaus County, plus Escalon, Ripon, Manteca and Tracy. Hernandez currently lives with relatives in Lodi, but is building a home in Manteca and plans to move there next month.
During his interview at The Bee, Denham stressed his legislative track record, which he said includes a history of working toward bipartisan solutions.
Before he was elected to Congress two years ago in the 19th Congressional District (which includes half of Stanislaus County), Denham served two terms in the state Senate.
Denham said he has broad community support, including endorsements from more than 45 elected officials within the district.
"I've never had so much Democratic support," said Denham.
Hernandez sees things differently, and he criticized Denham and other congressional Republicans as being "willing to hold the country hostage on principal alone" just because they don't want to raise taxes.
"There's real people being affected by the inactivity of Congress," Hernandez said.
Denham acknowledged the conflicts between the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democrat-controlled Senate.
"We haven't passed a budget in four years," Denham noted.
Despite that, Denham said he is proud to have been able to have one of his bills passed and signed into law this year. That legislation is designed to help veterans qualify for more jobs by certifying the work skills they attained while in the military.
Hernandez and Denham promised that, if elected, they would work with people from all parties to do what's best for the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2196.
The two 10th Congressional District candidates will participate in a public forum at 6 p.m. Monday at California State University, Stanislaus. Republican Jeff Denham and Democrat Jose Hernandez have committed to attending the forum, which is sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Stanislaus County. The 10th District covers all of Stanislaus County, plus Escalon, Ripon, Manteca and Tracy. The event will be in Snider Hall on the Turlock campus.