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Fernandez talks up redistricting, ethics and kids

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CAMPAIGN TRAIL: House District 50 candidate Fernandez conversed with voters after the meeting of the Huntington County Democratic Party on Wednesday evening. Here, he focused on HCDC vice chair Pat McCloskey’s thoughts.
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DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE: Jorge Fernandez is a Democratic candidate running for the District 50 State House.

By NANCY R. ELLIOTT - nelliott@h-ponline.com

This is not Jorge Fernandez’ first time at the rodeo. The young Democratic candidate is making his second go at the District 50 State House seat held by Dan Leonard since 2002. The district includes all of Huntington County and portions of Allen and Wells counties.

“He knew that going into this, that he’d have to attack it,” said Huntington County Democratic chair Gary Beatty. Fernandez came to Huntington Wednesday evening to address the local Democratic Party.

Fernandez said that his civic engagement was rooted in his work as a teacher.

“I’m an educator. That’s really what got me involved in the political process,” said Fernandez. The 29-year-old candidate earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry education from Taylor University in 2011. He taught for five years in the Fort Wayne Community Schools, and currently subs and tutors while he stumps the campaign trail.

He said that becoming part of the educational system opened his eyes to things.

“What our legislators are doing – I don’t think it represents what we expect from our legislators,” said Fernandez. “People are not happy with what’s going on and want a different direction.”

One of his big issues is redistricting reform, referring to the practice of drawing legislative lines defining districts to partisan, not public, advantage. In one recent high profile instance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stepped in to redraw the state’s gerrymandered congressional districts.

“I’ve seen how that affects the dynamic,” said Fernandez. He cited district maps that split a Fort Wayne city council district in two. He pointed out that his opponent, Dan Leonard, was in the legislature at the time Indiana established the current district maps and voted to approve them. According to Vote Smart, Leonard did cast a yea vote on H1602 Congressional Redistricting in 2011.

Fernandez touched on other voting issues that could broaden participation, like easier access for absentee ballots and lengthened poll hours. He cited the fact that Indiana has one of the earliest poll closings in the nation: 6 p.m. He also suggested that voter registration periods could be shortened from the current 30 days.

Fernandez mentioned that the electoral college throws all of the votes to a candidate who achieves 51 percent of the vote. He suggested that proportional votes would more accurately reflect the will of the voters, saying that if votes had been awarded proportionally, “Trump wouldn’t have won – that’s under the radar.”

Another of Fernandez’ big issues is ethics and transparency. He cited the “revolving door,” describing the instance of a vaping law passed in the Indiana legislature in 2015 which served to benefit several corporations. He said that legislators involved in the passage of the law ultimately went to work for those corporations.

“Those kinds of things have to stop,” said Fernandez. “We need people with a high level of ethics.”

Citing an instance in which an Indiana legislator refused access to the media, Fernandez asserted, “A free press is extremely important to democracy.”

Finally, Fernandez said that investing in children is another of his priorities.

“Education is what brought me here,” said Fernandez.

He cited the takeover of Muncie Community Schools, noting that the involvement of state legislators and the elimination of democratic control set a bad precedent.

Fernandez described the push to utilize unlicensed teachers as “trying to lower the bar” rather than address flagging teacher salaries. He also decried the possibility of a movement toward more virtual education.

Noting that some suggest success equals a test score, Fernandez said, “We’ve lost the focus of a well-rounded education.”

In other matters, Fernandez touched on the UTEC plant closure affecting Huntington County jobs while still benefiting from millions in state tax incentives.

“I don’t think we should be subsidizing the end to people’s employment,” said Fernandez.

Also on the topic of employment, he noted, “The so-called right-to-work is not really right-to-work, it’s right to work for less ... It feels like a race to the bottom.”

Fernandez took questions from the audience which reflected deep concern over guns and schools. One audience member noted, “We’ve got kids in school that are in peril every day.”

While Fernandez said that he owns firearms and holds a CCW, he also said that universal background checks and banning of bump stocks are no-brainers. He suggested that more needs to be done.

“People just hear, ‘They’re coming for our guns,” but that’s not the case at all,” said Fernandez. “There are different solutions being proposed.”