Disabled veteran, K-State student becomes democratic delegate

George Hanna, veteran and junior in social sciences, will be a delegate at the Democratic National Convention. (Mauricio Caldera | The Collegian)

George Hanna, veteran and junior in social sciences, is a democratic delegate heading to the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer.

In 1989, Hanna was an electronics technician third class in the U.S. Navy. Almost a year after joining, Hanna said he injured his knee sliding down a ladder in the submarine he manned.

Hanna said a couple of knee surgeries later, he decided to leave the military because he could no longer serve in a submarine.

During the ’90s, Hanna said he became engaged in the world of politics in Topeka. He was last politically involved when he chaired a subcommittee for the USD 501 school board before becoming the captain of the Bernie Sanders caucus in Manhattan.

“The purpose for (my involvement in USD 501) was because I opposed the deplorable actions of the Westboro Baptist Church, and felt it was my moral responsibility to help ensure the WBC could not purchase a neighborhood school building to preach their hate,” Hanna said.

Hanna was also instrumental in starting the City of Topeka chapter of the Kansas Association of Public Employees Union and was the president for the first ratification of its contract, securing the first raise in years for most of the city employees, he said.

“Now I find myself in a similar position,” Hanna said. “It is my moral responsibility to help ensure my country does not elect a president that also preaches hate in a party supporting inequality.”

His time in politics eventually came to an end, and for the next 15 years, Hanna said he worked in mid-management in the automotive industry in the Manhattan area.

Then in 2011, Hanna said his life changed after a motorcycle accident. A driver who was texting and driving ran a red light at the intersection of Juliette and Bluemont avenues and struck Hanna’s motorcycle.

“I was rushed to the trauma center in Wichita with a head injury and 21 fractures,” Hanna said. “I was hospitalized for multiple surgeries for over four weeks. I was in a wheelchair for nearly a year. As you can imagine, my jobs were gone, and what I’ve done my entire life, I could no longer do. My private insurance covered most of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills, but not all.”

Hanna said the injuries he sustained in the accident prevent him from working in a physically demanding setting. He said he decided to return to K-State and is currently majoring in social sciences with a minor in fine arts.

That is when inflated educational costs on top of his medical expenses became an issue, Hanna said.

“When I started going to school here at Kansas State, the interest rate on an unsubsidized student loan was 4 percent,” Hanna said. “Today, it is over 8 percent, and to me, that is ludicrous. You can get a mortgage at 3 percent but to better yourself through education it’s going to cost you 8 percent.”

Finding a solution for inflated health care and educational costs is the reason Hanna said he supports Sanders.

Hanna said he agrees with Sanders’ vision for a single-payer national health care program and free tuition at public colleges and universities.

Results from the Kansas Democratic Caucus in March showed that Sanders won 23 delegates while Hillary Clinton took 10 delegates, according to the Kansas Democratic Party’s website.

Hanna is one of three delegates elected locally who are pledged to Sanders to represent the 1st Congressional District at the convention from June 25-28.

Erin Bishop, credit programs coordinator for UFM Community Learning Center at K-State’s Global Campus, said she met Hanna while training to volunteer at the caucus for Sanders in March. At the time, Hanna was captain of the 22nd District caucus in Manhattan.

“I think his passion for Bernie is wonderful,” Bishop said. “I think he represented us well as a captain at our caucus for Senate District 22 for Bernie. A veteran and a nontraditional student is a great mix to represent our community.”

According to Nathaniel Birkhead, assistant professor of political science, the party’s nominating conventions are where the primary campaign ends and the general election begins, with each party formally making their nominations.

“The first thing to know is that, from 1972-2012, for both the Republican and Democratic parties, the role of the delegates in the party’s nominating conventions is really symbolic,” Birkhead said. “In each of these contests, the winner had long been established, and the delegates simply went through the motions. The 2016 Democratic primary should fit that mold. It’s exceedingly likely that Clinton will secure the nomination based on pledged delegates alone, and as such, be assured of the nomination well before the primary. In this case, Mr. Hanna’s role in the process is important for symbolic, rather than practical, reasons.”

Birkhead said there is a decent chance of a contested convention in the 2016 Republican primary, in which case, delegates’ decisions can be decisive for determining the eventual nominee.

Hanna is currently raising funds for his trip to the convention this summer on a GoFundMe page.

Due to the presence of the president and Secret Service at the convention, Hanna said staying at a hotel outside of the convention site would be a major inconvenience due to tight security constraints and his disability; however, staying at the convention-site hotel is expensive, and Hanna said he expects the trip to cost around $6,000.

“I’m trying to fundraise $6,000 dollars, which is ludicrous but $6,000 to be able to do my job that I was elected to do,” Hanna said. “I would be more than happy to provide copies of receipts as I am more than happy to be accountable for my actions.”