Last year when Governor Jan Brewer tapped Jesse Hernandez as the unlikely candidate to fill the post of Chairman of the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency, his appointment was widely seen as having been motivated by nothing more than shady politics. Despite the fact that Hernandez was an unqualified political operative and former congressional field staffer with no clemency experience or expertise, he was offered the $84,000 a year position for which he resigned last Friday.
As part of an effort many alleged was an attempt to influence the outcome of clemency hearings, Governor Brewer replaced a number of members of the Board last year who had reputations among prosecutors, defense attorneys and anti-death-penalty advocates for being fair and open-minded. This served as the motivation for the dismissal of Hernandez’ predecessor – former Board Chairman and Executive Director, Duane Belcher.
Belcher had been on the board since 1992 after first being appointed by then-Governor Fife Symington, a Republican. He was reappointed in 2003 by then-Governor Janet Napolitano, a Democrat.
Although Hernandez clearly lacked the qualifications to fill the post, Governor Brewer had no intention of retaining Belcher. “Governors have the authority to put individuals on boards and committees — that’s one of the core functions that any governor has, and Gov. Brewer has always tried to appoint individuals that she thinks bring the most experience and best perspective to those positions,” said Brewer’s spokesman Matt Benson.
So, her logical choice was Jesse Hernandez.
Though he denies any wrong-doing, Hernandez submitted his resignation to the Governor’s office which was accepted after a state investigation found that he repeatedly committed acts of inappropriate behavior in addition to promoting an unqualified subordinate with whom he was romantically involved. As revealed by the results of the in-depth investigation into his illicit activities, Hernandez was found to have inappropriately offered a pay raise of more than $21,000 a year to his romantically linked co-worker. Like Hernandez, she was unqualified for the position.
Ironically, Hernandez claims he was forced to resign his position on the Board for reasons rooted in politics despite the fact that Brewer spokesperson (Andrew Wilder) called Hernandez’ behavior unacceptable. Wilder stated, “Mr. Hernandez recognized that and the Governor welcomed his resignation.” Hernandez maintains he was forced to resign because of a successful plot hatched by angry fellow board members disgruntled after he proposed to cuts their hours.
The initial Arizona Department of Administration investigation was prompted by a female clemency board employee’s complaint regarding the inappropriate relationship between Hernandez and his female subordinate which he denied. As part of her complaint, the woman alleged that Hernandez subjected her to discrimination based on her age, national origin, pregnancy and race, among other factors.
According to the Mohave News, the investigation found that Hernandez also tried to manipulate other employees and turn them against each other. He is also accused of falsely claiming that Governor Brewer gave him the unilateral authority to fine any of the four other board members. The investigation also revealed that other employees had been subjected to additional forms of harassment as Hernandez called members or their families “heathens” and “hillbillies.”
Inexcusable as that behavior was, it was also proven that Hernandez had called multiple inmates seeking early release “scumbags.”
Among the nine allegations against him that proved to be true, Hernandez was also exposed for having improperly granted a fourth hearing continuation for a family member of NBA star Amare Stoudemire even though the victim’s mother had driven 250 miles to attend the day’s hearing. Photos of Hernandez with Stoudemire were included in the released records.
Despite the severity of the accusations currently against him, Hernandez is no stranger to public scandal. A 2011 investigation, conducted by the Center for Competitive Politics, found that in 2008, Arizona State Senate Candidate Jesse Hernandez was at the center of a clean elections scandal. He was found to have gamed the system using “reverse targeting” in order to “circumvent contribution limits and disclosure requirements” to kill two birds with one stone, simultaneously hurting his democrat opponent and triggering free matching funds for Hernandez’s campaign.
While Hernandez says Brewer’s decision to force him to resign was motivated by politics, critics of Hernandez say it is appropriate; his hiring was political so why not his ouster?