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josehernandez.JPGA Sacramento judge has ruled that Jose Hernandez, who flew in the shuttle Discovery three years ago, can use the ballot designation of "astronaut" in his current congressional bid.

The San Joaquin Valley Democrat is challenging freshman Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, for California's 10th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Balloting is in June.

A lawsuit filed by the Sacramento law firm of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk argued that a ballot designation of "astronaut" for Hernandez would violate state elections law because he has left NASA.

But Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd G. Connelly disagreed, and ruled this afternoon that Herrnandez can keep the moniker.

Ballot designations must reflect one's current profession or vocation, or one held during the previous calendar year, the lawsuit said.

The challenge was filed after Hernandez sought a ballot designation of "astronaut/scientist/engineer."

Hernandez flew aboard the shuttle Discovery between Aug. 28 and Sept. 11, 2009. He subsequently left NASA in January 2011.

The suit notes that Hernandez reported to the clerk of the House of Representatives that he received $150,000 last year for serving as the "executive director for strategic operations" with MEI Technologies.

Connelly said the fact that Hernandez worked for NASA only two weeks in 2011 does not mean that he cannot be called an astronaut that year, which also included service at MEI technologies that drew upon his scientific and engineering background.

A key question is whether the ballot designation of "astronaut/scientist/engineer" is misleading as to the cumulative work performed by Hernandez during the 12-month period, according to Connelly.

"Given the scope of the work performed in 2011, the court does not believe it is (misleading)," Connelly said.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jose Hernandez, a former NASA astronaut from Stockton, announces his run for Congress on Monday, Oct. 11, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua



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